The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s MissionWritten by Christopher J. H. Wright Reviewed By Jerry Hwang
The terms “theology” and “mission” typically do not appear in the same sentence except to question the possibility of whether any connection necessarily exists between the disciplines. The former is usually thought to be more theoretical and the latter more practical in nature. The unfortunate result of this dichotomy has been that theologians have often worked without an awareness of missiological issues such as contextualization and globalization, whereas missiologists have tended toward a pragmatic focus on techniques and models in evangelizing the unreached. In this volume Chris Wright, the International Director of the Langham Partnership International, attempts to draw together theology and mission in a more accessible way than his earlier magnum opus, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative (IVP, 2006). Though people often think that The Mission of God's People abridges The Mission of God, it answers a different set of questions: “What does the Bible as a whole in both testaments have to tell us about why the people of God exist and what it is they are supposed to be and do in the world?” (p. 17). The Mission of God's People thus builds upon The Mission of God while extending its arguments in more practical directions.
Wright's book represents the inaugural volume in Zondervan's Biblical Theology for Life series. As such, Wright follows the threefold structure prescribed by the series editor: (1) “Queuing the Questions” seeks to broaden the term “mission” from its narrow association with ministering cross-culturally; (2) “Arriving at Answers” explores various biblical descriptions of God's people; and (3) “Reflecting on Relevance” briefly summarizes the book. The halfway point of the book contains an “Interlude-Pause for Thought,” which reviews the preceding material while surveying the remainder of the book. Zondervan's new series is attractively packaged with short chapters, a user-friendly inductive format, and numerous headings and sidebars that orient the reader throughout the book.
As the bulk of the work, the “Arriving at Answers” section merits closer attention. Each of the thirteen chapters in this section explores one aspect of being God's people (e.g., people who know their story of redemption, people who are a blessing to the nations, and people who walk in God's way). Such an emphasis on “being” rather than “doing” stands in welcome contrast to the usual emphasis on missionary methods to the detriment of missionary holiness. The strengths of this approach are many, such as how Wright demonstrates that the entire Bible pulses with the heartbeat of a missionary God who seeks to redeem his entire creation in both spiritual and physical dimensions. His exposition of a “people who care for creation” (ch. 3) is particularly helpful in its treatment of biblical texts on “new creation” as the basis for ecological mission and creation care.
One weakness of the book bears mention. In broadening mission to include nearly every aspect of the church's purpose on earth, Wright has perhaps overcorrected the tendency to frame the missionary task as a series of false dichotomies (e.g., going vs. sending, spiritual vs. social gospels, evangelism vs. discipleship, and sacred vs. secular vocation). This leads Wright to neglect several important distinctives of the missionary enterprise in the last few decades. For example, Wright does not offer a systematic account of the eternal judgment of the unreached as one motivating factor (among many) in the work of mission, nor does he interact with Ralph Winter's seminal proposal at the 1974 Lausanne Congress that unreached people groups should receive priority in missionary work. More constructive engagement with these contemporary missiological trends would strengthen Wright's book. Though Wright would probably counter that such engagement falls outside his scope, these trends cannot be ignored because of their claim that making disciples of all nations possesses a certain primacy over other kinds of ministry in the mission of God's people.
These minor issues notwithstanding, The Mission of God's People shows Wright at his eloquent best as a missionary theologian and statesman. Scholars will find the detailed discussions in his earlier volume The Mission of God to be more comprehensive, but this book exemplifies Wright's ability to bring biblical theology to the masses in a compelling way. Thus, the book deserves careful attention from church leaders, laypeople, theologians, and missiologists alike. Few readers will fail to be moved by Wright's integrative and inspiring vision for what a biblical theology of the church should be: “No theology without missional impact; no mission without theological foundations” (p. 20).
Singapore Bible College
Republic of Singapore