The Cross Shapes the Whole of Our Mission

Two books on mission that I have been reading of late are Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Peter T. O’Brien (in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series by IVP) and Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible’s Central Story by Christopher J.H. Wright.  Those of you who are familiar with writing with also know that he is the author of the excellent book The Mission of God as well as the Old Testament triology Knowing the Father Through the Old Testament, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testamant, and Knowing the Spirit Through the Old Testament.

While I happen to have serious disagreements with Wright on his soteriological inclusivism (which he brings out in his current book – Wright has written some excellent material on biblical theology and the centrality of the gospel.  Toward the conclusion of book, Wright shares how the cross shapes the whole of our mission.  Here is an excerpt that I wanted to pass along:

“All Christian mission flows from the cross–as its source, as its power, and as that which defines its scope.  It is vital that we see the cross as central to every aspect of holistic, biblical mission–that is, at the center of all we do in the name of the crucified and risen Jeus. . . . The fact is that sin and evil constitute bad news in every area of life on this planet.  The saving work of God through the cross of Christ is good news for every area of life touched by sin–which means every area of life.  Bluntly, we need a holistic gospel and a holistic mission because the world is in a holistic mess.  And by God’s incredible grace we have a gospel big enough for all that sin and evil has touched.  And every dimension of that good news is good news utterly and only because of the blood of Christ on the cross.  Ultimately all that will be there in the new and redeemed creation will be there because of the cross.  And conversely, all that will not be there (suffering, tears, sin, corruption, decay and death) will not be there because they will have been destroyed by the cross.”

– Christopher J.H. Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible’s Central Story (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Presss, 2007), 188-89.

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9 Comments on “The Cross Shapes the Whole of Our Mission”

  1. Jason Button Says:

    Not long ago, I read and reviewed this same book (posted at TheoSource). The quote you have provided is a great summary of his argument.

    I will admit that I had to re-read a couple of sections to determine if Wright was promoting “soteriological inclusivism” or not. I came to the conclusion that he was not suggesting “soteriological inclusivism,” but, rather, the need for “a holistic theology of salvation” (p. 189). I could be mistaken. Would you be willing to share a statement or two where Wright clearly promotes “soteriological inclusivism”?

    Seeking clarity,

  2. Jason,

    I need to pull out my inclusivism research to retrieve a journal article on Wright regarding his position on the unevangelized. In his current book, he argues for salvation based on special revelation, although not explicit saving faith (where Jesus is the object). Generally, those who believe that there is no epistemological necessity while holding to an ontological necessity of Christ fall into the inclusivist camp; however, I do not see Wright advocating the position of Pinnock, Sanders, and other more hard-line inclusivists (people are saved through general revelation). If God’s mission in redeeming sinners is greater than the mission of the church, several (more) questions then must be answered.

    I would be happy to bring the nuance out more at a latter time, but I am hard pressed with a short week! I will try to get back with great detail in the near future.

  3. One quote from Salvation belongs to Our God:

    “It seems to me to be presumptuous for us to limit the sovereignty of God’s saving grace to the evangelistic obedience of he church (or more often, the lack of it). That is to say, while I strongly affirm that people can only be saved by Christ, and that the normal way that God brings salvation is through those who know Christ witnessing to those who do not yet and leading them to repentance and faith (i.e. evangelism), I cannot take the further step of saying that God is somehow unable or unwilling to save anybody at any time in human history, unless and until a Christian reaches them with an intelligible explanation of the story of the gospel” (168).

    Now, several things come to play here. First, if God is truly sovereign, why is it that He can be in complete control of His redemptive mission and not be in complete control of the vehicle He uses to accomplish that mission (the church)? God is sovereign in the mission but not sovereign in the church? Is Christ not the head? And if He is the head, does He not order and orchestrate the body to bring Him glory? Wright is talking like God is sovereign in one area (mission) and not in the other (His church). God indeed is not limited by the church, for He is Lord of the Christian and Head of the church. In other words, to say that God’s saving grace and the relationship of His sovereignty over His people is disconnected is something I cannot find in Scripture.

    Furthermore, when Paul speaks of the mystery of the gospel, he speaks of it in relation to its stewardship through the church. Consider for example:

    7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
    (Ephesians 3:7-13)

    God has an eternal purpose revealed in Jesus that through the church the gospel might go forth to Jew and Gentile alike, and such proclamation has cosmic implications (rules and authorities in the heavenly places). But the locus is the church; the message is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    The biblical testimony of the relationship of the church to the Gentiles is explicit (see again in Col. 1:24-26). God has an eternal plan of redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the church of which Christ is the Head. To separate missiology from ecclesiology in terms the salvation of sinners is to make a dichotomy I struggle to find in Scripture.

    At the conclusion of Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 3, he gives this benediction:

    “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

    In the church, in Jesus Christ, throughout all generations.

    Ergo, when Wright says,

    “[T]hose who will have responded to explicit Christian evangelism will be a subset of the finally elect and redeemed,” (169)

    he seems to be contradicting the account we have read from the missionary who went ‘where Christ is not named” so as not to build on another man’s foundation (Rom. 15:20).

  4. Oh, a couple more observations:

    Wright adds:

    “For God operates in his sovereign grace to reach out to and touch people to the ends of the earth and at all times in history” (169)

    That statements sounds awfully close to general revelation (revelation given to all people in all places in an ongoing manner). I would be interested in knowing just how he distinguishes between general revelation and special revelation (if he does at all).

    Wright follows,

    “The history of Christian mission has many examples of encounters with people who had had an experience of, or some revelation of, the saving grace of God even before Christian missionaries arrived, and who therefore welcomed the news about Jesus with open arms” (169).

    Can we make the leap that because people were positively responsive to the gospel of Jesus Christ that somehow the prior encounters constituted justification in the sight of God? If those whose faith in Jesus Christ is a subset, what are the others? How do you biblically classify them? Anonymous Christians? Make the dichotomy Sanders makes between “believers” and “Christians”? Assuming that the subset of Jesus-knowing and Jesus-worshipping believers will be considerably smaller than the unevangelized who have another form of special revelation (perhaps due to the failure of God to work through His church), then what shall we say about God’s purpose in His church and the glory and fame of Jesus spread to the ends of the earth?

    These are just a few questions I have for starters. 🙂

  5. Jason,

    To check out the other journal article I was referring to, here’s the bibliographic info:

    Wright, Christopher J.H. “The Christian and Other Religions: The Biblical Evidence.” Themelios 9/2 (January 1984): 4-15.

  6. Jason Button Says:

    I’m printing out your responses and will read over them. I’ve got to run to a meeting. Thanks for responding so quickly!

  7. Hey Timmy,

    First off, it was good to meet you last week at LEAD. Second, thanks for sharing not only this quote from Wright (which is awesome and challenging), but also your thoughts and research on his take on salvation and inclusivism. I’m benefiting from it. Thanks.

  8. Chris,

    It was great to meet you as well. Yeah, Wright has some great things to say, and I gladly recommend his book with the caveat of his inclusivism. I hope to bring out more from this book and his other one (The Mission of God) in the future.

  9. I have read the MOG and it is awesome. I’ll also recommend his previous and equally huge book, OT Ethics and the People of God. In a way, he does for me with the OT what Tim Keller does for me with the gospel – makes it both bigger and more poignant at the same time.

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