Dr. Kostenberger, thanks for taking time away from your busy schedule and before a trip overseas to answer a few questions for us about your book on The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples. (See yesterday’s post for an introduction to Dr. Kostenberger.)
1. This book grew out of your doctoral dissertation in 1993. Why were you interested in this topic? Is it still an interest of yours?
At the outset, I was intrigued by the apparent equation of Jesus’ and his followers’ mission (“As the Father sent me, so I am sending you”) in light of the fact that Jesus is obviously unique. He is the “one and only Son” from God the Father; he came from heaven to earth; etc. In what sense, then, can it be said that the disciples are sent the way Jesus was sent? That was the question I set out to answer. And, yes, I am still interested in this question! See the chapter on mission in my recent book (co-authored with Scott Swain) Father, Son & Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel (IVP) and the chapter in the inaugural volume of the Biblical Theology of the New Testament series, A Theology of John’s Gospel & Letters (Zondervan).
2. In a couple sentences, what is the mission of Jesus in the gospel of John? Is the mission of the disciples the same as Jesus’ mission?
Essentially, there are three facets to Jesus’ mission in John’s Gospel: he is (1) the sent Son; (2) the one came into the world and returned to the place from where he came (descent-ascent); and (3) the eschatological Shepherd-teacher. The mission of the disciples is similar to Jesus’ only with regard to his sending, that is, they are to emulate the obedient and faithful relationship Jesus sustained with the Father in their relationship with the exalted Jesus as they go about their mission.
3. You argue that “[T]he Fourth Gospel does therefore not appear to teach the kind of ‘incarnational model’ advocated by Stott and others” (217). Why are you critical of this approach? What are the exegetical problems? Is there a way we should be “incarnational” in our ministry?
The term that I think captures the nature of our mission according to John’s gospel is “representational.” That is, we are to re-present the message of redemption and eternal life in Jesus on the basis of the finished cross-work and resurrection of Christ. Clearly, John’s Gospel presents Jesus’ incarnation as utterly unique (read the introduction, 1:1–18!), so it is hard to conceive of John teaching an “incarnational model” in which the disciples share in Jesus’ incarnation in some way. Remember, my doctoral dissertation was just on John’s Gospel, and so I only addressed and critiqued an “incarnational model” from John’s vantage point. The major implication from this kind of “representational” model, then, is that we are to focus on the gospel message, not the messengers, and pass that message on faithfully and accurately in our mission to the world.
4. You also say “the church ought to be focused in the understanding of its mission” (219). Why is this focus important? When it comes to the church’s mission, what should be the focus?
As I said at the end of my answer to the previous question, there ought to be a focus on the salvation message of the gospel. In keeping with John’s own purpose statement, our purpose should be to bring others to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that they pass from death into life (5:24) and have eternal life. You see in John this single-minded focus on faith, whether in the pivot of the introduction (1:12) or at John 3:16. Maintaining a gospel focus will help the church avoid elevating secondary matters to primary importance and getting sidetracked from its primary mission.
5. Besides your books, what are some other works giving “a biblical theology of mission” that you recommend?
I very much like portions of Chris Wright’s book The Mission of God, even though it is a bit lopsided in dealing predominantly with the Old Testament (which makes sense in that Wright is an Old Testament scholar, but in the overall scheme of things, I would put more proportional weight in the biblical theology of mission on the New Testament than Wright has done). I also have the highest regard for Eckhard Schnabel’s 2-volume work Early Christian Mission and his book on Paul the missionary.
6. I’ve learned a lot from your exegetical and theological work. What new projects are your working on?
My current project is a book on academic excellence, to be published by Crossway. I also have a forthcoming hermeneutics text, due out with Kregel in the spring of next year. More imminent is the publication of two new books, the 2d edition of God, Marriage & Family (about to be released) and The Heresy of Orthodoxy (co-authored with Michael J. Kruger, to be published at the end of June). Thank you very much, Kevin, for allowing me to share some of my thoughts with you and your readers, and every blessing for your ministry.