The garden needs weeding. Two, no, three loads of laundry need folding. A conversation with a friend whose husband was recently diagnosed with cancer is interrupted by my littlest who’s craving a popsicle. There’s a project for work to finish. An invoice to send. Tonight we’re hosting our small group for dinner, but I haven’t yet defrosted the chicken.
What do all these mundane tasks have to do with God’s mission? Is checking items off a to-do list what I was made for?
It’s easy to lose a sense of how these responsibilities and relationships are integrated into the gospel story—the story of God’s creative, redemptive, restorative work in the world. But a new book is reminding me that while the story of the Bible defines the contours of my worldview, it also imbues every day with meaning when I understand my mission as exalting Christ as king in every task and conversation.
In The Gospel of Our King: Bible, Worldview, and the Mission of Every Christian, Bruce Ashford, a professor of theology and culture, teams up with Heath Thomas, an Old Testament scholar, to demonstrate how every movement in the Bible’s story should inspire and inform the mission of the church:
If we ignore any one part of the biblical storyline, we will end up with a mission that is incomplete at best and harmful at worst. In fact, we think that people are often tempted to think about mission in ways that ignore or underemphasize the beginning and end of the biblical narrative—creation and new creation. (8)
If our mission is to be holistic, then we have to position the central climax of the narrative within the revealed beginning and end. We can’t skip the first and final acts.
There are lots of books out there on the Bible, on worldview, and on mission. But it’s rare to find one volume on the essential connections among all three. Often the motivation for Christian mission has been tethered to a few seminal New Testament passages when, in fact, the whole testimony of Scripture is vital for a comprehensive understanding of mission. As James K. A. Smith says in Imagining the Kingdom, “Our hearts traffic in stories.” This book is a prolonged plea for the church to become a “storied community” (118), which is a community that finds our identity, meaning, mission, and future hope within the four main movements of the biblical narrative—creation, fall, redemption, and new creation.
This accessible overview shows how the Bible—with its 66 books, dozens of authors, and multiple genres—comes together to provide an overarching story about God the King and explains how the Christian gospel and mission address the totality of human life. Written by a biblical scholar and a theologian, The Gospel of Our King shows how any account of gospel and mission can only be understood in light of the whole biblical testimony. The authors help us understand the Bible’s overarching narrative as the story that encompasses everything.
When Everything Is Mission
Current conversations around Christian mission tend to be characterized by concern on two opposing fronts. On one hand, some assert that broad definitions of mission that encompass ministries of healing, justice, and culture-making erode commitment to gospel proclamation, disciple-making, and church planting. On the other hand, some worry that defining mission too narrowly reinforces an unhealthy divide between mission professionals and everyone else in the church, unnecessarily flattening mission when it should be multi-dimensional.
Ashford and Thomas creatively resolve the friction between these two positions by expounding on the breadth of mission while holding fast to its center. Christian mission is broad because “every act of obedience—in every dimension of Christian life—is part of the Christian mission, a bold declaration that we support God’s claim to the throne. And because the assault on his throne comes from every corner of the world, we must aim our redirective efforts at every nook and cranny” of human life and culture (124). But the breadth of mission is oriented around and animated by a central, essential task that animates the whole: “Gospel proclamation must never be displaced as the center of mission” (196).
While the story of the Bible defines the contours of my worldview, it also imbues every day with meaning when I understand my mission as exalting Christ as king in every task and conversation.
Their balanced approach diffuses any perceived tension between ministries of proclamation and ministries of culture-making, care, and justice that alleviate human suffering and promote human flourishing. This fusion is most clearly seen in their definition of social mission as any sort of relational ministry that involves interaction with people. Social mission, then, includes unity within the church body, sharing gospel words through evangelism, and living out the gospel through acts of mercy and justice (136). Mission in word and deed are both fundamentally social because we engage in them within the context of relationships.
While this broad definition of mission may rankle those who like to remind us that when everything becomes mission then nothing really is, the characterization of mission as social is grounded on a theological foundation—a reminder that “the Bible’s radical monotheism is profoundly relational” (120). The roots of this aspect of mission run deep into the biblical story in which God speaks, reveals, covenants, saves, heals, restores—in sum, relates. Social mission, then, isn’t an equivocation or catch-all; it mirrors the character of the God who first related to us.
This framing of mission reminds me that restructuring my carefully engineered schedule to encourage and pray with a friend grieving a cancer diagnosis is part of mission, that prayerfully considering the percentage of my salary that should be given away to those in need is part of mission, that worshiping with my church is part of mission, that weeding my garden and crafting a beautiful sentence is part of mission. So long as I’m being obedient to the call God has placed on my life today and interacting with people in a way that brings glory to Christ, I’m on mission whether I’m walking across the street or flying across the Atlantic.
King for Our Secular Age
The Gospel of Our King was written to us—Western Christians immersed in a secular age plagued by an unraveling social fabric, epidemic loneliness, idolatrous exaltation of the self, and an insatiable appetite for consumption. This culture leaves us feeling anxious, God-haunted, and “fragilized” (115–17). In this context, mission requires much more than intellectual argument and a working knowledge of apologetic strategies. It demands a “comprehensive witness to Christ through word and deed in the totality of [our] personal, social, and cultural contexts” (196).
Jesus isn’t just my king; he’s our king—sovereign over every square inch of our world.
Holistic mission should be seen “not as a problem but as a prerequisite to understanding the nature of the new life found in Christ” (112). In this approach to mission there’s a refreshing eschewing of triumphalism. In our secular age Christian mission must be characterized by grace, conviction, civility, “humility rather than pride, persuasion rather than coercion, and a willingness to sacrifice and even suffer” (166).
The Gospel of Our King is incisive, accessible, informed, and, above all, Christ-centered: “Jesus is the prism through which the bright light of the Old Testament is broken into its full color” (4) and his dominion and redemption is “as wide as creation” (102).
No story is complete without the denouement. It’s fitting, then, that a book about the gospel of our king ends with a global vision of a multi-ethnic church worshiping around a single throne, the throne of the Lamb. Jesus isn’t just my king; he’s our king—sovereign over every square inch of our world.