The Metanarrative of the Bible
Today, I am continuing my series of posts related to The Mission of God Study Bible. The essay below was written by the Reverend Dr. Christopher J. H. Wright, the international director of the Langham Partnership International. He was born in Belfast but later moved to Cambridge where he earned his doctorate in the field of Old Testament studies. Chris and his wife Liz also served as missionary partners of Crosslinks to India where he taught at Union Biblical Seminary. He now lives and ministers in London.
The Metanarrative of God’s Mission
Too often, the church has separated theology (as a discipline about God—what God is like, what God has said, and what God has done), from missions (being about us and what we do). However, our mission is derived from God’s own mission—the missio Dei—which in turn is a reflection of what God is like, what God has said, and what God has done (and is doing and has yet to do). This unity between theology and missions is one key way of looking at the grand story of Scripture. Our theology of God must include the mission of God as a unifying metanarrative for the whole Bible.
Some people use the term missio Dei as referring only to the sending action of God. The reason they do this is that the “root” of the Latin verb mitto means “to send.” However, if we reduce our focus only to the sending acts of God, we may ignore a number of important missional themes and teachings in the Bible, which are crucial for our understanding of the fullness of God’s mission and our own practice of missions.
Missio Dei can have a broader sense drawn from the way the Bible paints a picture of the purposefulness of God. The mission of God is the commitment of God to make Himself known to His creation ultimately for the purpose of redeeming and restoring all creation to its right relationship with God. The story of God making Himself known is the grand narrative of the Bible. God’s mighty acts make Him known to the peoples of the world and are predicted, proclaimed, explained, and celebrated throughout the biblical storyline.
In His election of Abraham, God makes Himself known, and launches His great agenda of bringing blessing to all nations on earth (Genesis 12:1-3), repeating this promise five times in Genesis. Paul defined this great missional purpose of God as “the good news ahead of time” (Galatians 3:6-8), and understood his own mission, and the church’s mission, in light of it.
Through the experience of God’s grace, God makes Himself known. God declares His desire to be known through salvation (Exodus 5:22-6:8, Isaiah 46:9-10). He declares Himself to be the king over the whole earth through His redemptive acts (Exodus 2:23-24, 15:18, Ezekiel 36:21-23). Based on His redemptive deeds, the Bible proclaims that there is “no other” god than the God of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:32-39, Isaiah 41:22- 23). Unlike the fictional gods of the other peoples, who were thought of as having limited power that allowed them to rule only over specific locations, the God of the Bible has unlimited power and extends His reign over all of creation (Jeremiah 10:10-12; Psalm 45:11-13). He is the only and only God, and the whole universe is His to rule as He pleases.
Even through the experience of judgment, God makes Himself known. Through the plagues and Red Sea, Pharaoh learns why he should obey the God of Israel (Exodus 5:2). Israel and the nations learned of God’s uniqueness and sovereignty over the whole earth through the exile of Israel (2 Kings 18:32-35, Jeremiah 27:4-6). Even kings who do not know the one true God are used by Him to accomplish His purposes, much as an axe is used to chop wood (Isaiah 10:5-19). And yet God remains faithful and committed to His people even in the midst of sovereign judgment upon them (Jeremiah 27:1-14). Their punishment is to have a redeeming and purifying purpose.
In the New Testament, Jesus fulfills God’s mission to be known—identifying Himself with the God of Israel, fulfilling the promise made to Abraham by opening up the way to blessing for Jews and Gentiles alike. The biblical story reveals that God wills to be known through Jesus, His Son (John 1:18, 17:1-3, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
Making Himself known is God’s purpose in creation and His purpose in redemption. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). God’s “invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made” (Romans 1:20). The whole Bible presents a God of missional activity, from His purposeful, goal-oriented act of Creation to the completion of His mission through the redemption of all Creation in the new heavens and new earth, and the creation of a new humanity in Christ, redeemed from every nation on earth though the blood of the cross.
We also find in the Bible that humanity has a mission (to rule and care for the earth); Old Testament Israel had a mission (to be the agent of God’s blessing to all nations); Jesus had a mission (to embody and fulfill the mission of Israel, bringing blessing to the nations through bearing our sin on the Cross and anticipating the new Creation in His Resurrection); and the church has a mission (to participate with God in the ingathering of the nations in fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures).
The mission of God, then, governs the story of the Bible from the brokenness of the nations in Genesis 11 to the healing of the nations in Revelation 21-22. If the grand story of the Bible and our world is God making Himself known, then this is the motivation and purpose of the church’s mission. The church’s missional activities, to which they are called and sent on, flows directly from God’s mission. The church’s missional activities are acts of humble participation in God’s great work for His grand purpose.
God is on mission, and we, in that wonderful phrase of Paul’s, are “coworkers with God.”