Andreas Kostenberger is a Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author, editor, or translator of over twenty books, including God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation; Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15; Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission; and John in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series. He is also the founder of Biblical Foundations.

I’ve been reading Kostenberger lately for his work on missions. His book Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, co-authored with P.T. O’Brien is excellent. As is the book that grew out of his doctoral dissertation under D.A. Carson: The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples According to the Fourth Gospel: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church (also known by the convenient acronym TMOJATDATTFG:WIFTFGPATMOTCC).

Tomorrow I’ll have a brief interview with Dr. Kostenberger on this lengthy-titled book. But to whet your appetite I though I’d post a few of his provocative conclusions about the “incarnational model” of missions.

The “incarnational model” considers Jesus’ incarnation as the model for the church’s mission. The “representational” model, on the other hand, contends that the fourth evangelist presents Jesus’ incarnation as unique, viewing the relationship between Jesus and his followers merely in terms of representation. In the light of the findings of the present study, which of these models reflects John’s teaching on mission most accurately? (212)

Kostenberger argues against venerable church leaders like John Stott and suggests that the “incarnational model” is not taught in John’s gospel.

In the light of the findings of this present study, can Stott’s views be judged to represent an accurate reflection of the Fourth Gospel’s teaching on mission? The analysis of the missions of Jesus and of the disciples has shown that 17:18 and 20:21, while pointing to an analogous element in the missions of Jesus and of the disciples, do not equate these missions in every respect. The Fourth Gospel’s portrayal of Jesus’ mission centers on Jesus’ provision of salvation (often called the “giving of life”; cf. 3:16-17; 6:53-58; 10:10; 17:2) and the forgiveness of sin (cf. 1:29, 36; cf. also 20:23). Even Jesus’ signs transcend the actual works of Jesus, functioning as a revelation of the nature of Jesus’ sender, the Father, and of the authenticity of Jesus’ representation of his sender.

Both 17:18 and 20:21-23 indicate that these dimensions of Jesus’ mission are to continue in the disciples’ mission. The disciples are to bear witness to Jesus in an evil, hostile world (cf. also 15:27) and to pronounce forgiveness or retain people’s sins in continuation of Jesus’ mission (cf. 20:23). The notion of the disciples’ mission as a “service to humanity” founded on the model of Jesus’ mission appears, contrary to Stott’s assertions, to be inconsistent with the Fourth Gospel’s teaching on mission. A focus of human service and on human need, though often characteristic of contemporary mission practice, is not presented in the Fourth Gospel as the primary purpose of either Jesus’ or the disciples’ mission. (215)

Of course, we should all live self-emptying lives in the Philippians 2 sense of the incarnation. But, argues Kostenberger, this is not a model for mission in John’s gospel, and where it is an explicit model for Christian in the New Testament it concerns our attitude toward other believers. This doesn’t mean we not should be with people or try to understand people. It just means that the language of incarnational ministry may not be the most helpful.

Moreover, while Stott contends that the fourth evangelist portrays Jesus as a model of true servanthood, the context of 20:21 indicates that Jesus is a model for the disciples in his relationship to his sender, the Father: Jesus sought to bring glory to the one who sent him and to do his sender’s will rather than his own. He represented his sender faithfully and maintained a close relationship with him. The thrust of this passage appears to be that the disciples are to relate to Jesus in the same way as Jesus related to his sender, the Father.

What is even more important, the Fourth Gospel consistently affirms that the purpose for Jesus’ coming into the world was unique. Stott, by focusing on Jesus’ incarnation as a model for the church’s mission, seems to be at odds with the Fourth Gospel’s presentation of Jesus’ incarnation as a model for the church’s mission, seems to be at odds with the Fourth Gospel’s presentation of Jesus’ incarnation as thoroughly unique, unprecedented, and unrepeatable (cf. especially the designation … in 1:14, 18; 3:14, 18). The incarnation is linked with Jesus’ eternal preexistence (cf. 1:1, 14) and his unique relationship with God the Father (cf. 1:14, 18). Indeed, as the present study has indicated, a mission terminology such as “coming into the world” or “descending” and “ascending” is in the Fourth Gospel reserved for Jesus. (216)

And here’s Kostenberger’s conclusion:

The Fourth Gospel does therefore not appear to teach the kind of “incarnational model” advocated by Stott and others. Not the way in which Jesus came into the world (i.e., the incarnation), but the nature of Jesus’ relationship with his sender (i.e., one of obedience and utter dependence), is presented in the Fourth Gospel as the model for the disciples’ mission. Jesus’ followers are called to imitate Jesus’ selfless devotion in seeking his sender’s glory, to submit to their sender’s will, and to represent their sender accurately and know him intimately. (217)

Come back tomorrow for the interview which will explore these ideas further.

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5 thoughts on “Kostenberger on the Missions of Jesus and the Disciples”

  1. Pat Park says:

    Can’t wait to read more. Thanks.

  2. Steve Vanderwey says:

    I love convenient acronyms!

  3. Matthew Vent says:

    Hey Kevin, fantastic article. You may be unable to do it and if not, no worries, but Kostenberger has an umlaut – Köstenberger – O’Brien and Köstenberger are both wonderful scholars. Again, great article. I’m looking forward to the next one. Blessings.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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