Theology of Mission: A Concise Biblical Theology

Written by J. D. Payne Reviewed By Joshua Bowman

What defines the biblical mission of God? In answer to this question, J. D. Payne explores the how the unified story of Scripture testifies to God’s intention and desire to be glorified through his work among the nations. Payne emphasizes that God’s mission is not dependent on a single text alone; instead, every portion of Scripture is relevant to God’s purpose in the world.

Payne highlights a recurring biblical pattern in relation to God’s mission in history: sending to the world, proclaiming hope through judgment, entering relationship, and receiving blessing (p. iii). Payne helps readers sample these beautiful, consistent themes throughout Scripture while admitting he cannot provide an entire feast in this concise introduction to a theology of mission.

Chapter 1 briefly argues for a hermeneutical method that sees the person, work, and mission of Christ as the interpretive key (p. 3). In this chapter, Payne advocates a way of reading that recognizes unifying themes such as God’s mission to redeem a lost world and reconcile his relationship with the nations. Therefore, a missional hermeneutic that pays attention to a God who sends is the methodology that Payne utilizes to point out specific themes in the metanarrative of Scripture.

The second chapter emphasizes God as the initiator of missions as he is both the sender and the one who is sent. Payne orients newcomers to a theology of mission with the fact that mission belongs to God; therefore, he owns, directs, sustains, and calls others to join in what he is already doing. Payne shows his readers that the church does not choose or create the mission. Instead, they are co-laborers commissioned by God with specific tasks and goals. Before beginning the journey through the Old Testament, Payne explains how God chooses some in order to bless the many (universality and particularity) and the differences in the movement of the nations to God in the Old and New Testament (centripetal and centrifugal) (pp. 14–15).

Chapters 3–5 sketch the themes of missions, sending, and blessing the nations in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings of the Old Testament. Payne emphasizes that God’s mission continues through his people, and often despite those people. God’s mission is to have his glory fill the earth, and in the Torah, this is done through a person––Abraham, a people––Israel, and a place––the tabernacle (pp. 19–33).

On the heels of this section, Payne demonstrates that the prophets emphasize the desire for God’s blessings to reach the nations, how the nations were historically incorporated into Israel, and how the prophets look forward to a future ingathering of the nations. Chapter 5 on the Writings, the most concise chapter in the book, acknowledges God’s sovereignty and the invitation to the nations to praise the King. Readers wanting to dive into the treasures of the Psalms in relation to a theology of mission may find those desires whetted but not quenched.

As he moves the reader into the New Testament, Payne shows that the four Gospels provide particular clarity about the relationship of the Old and New Testaments regarding mission. Readers will find this section to be one of the clearest strengths of the book. Payne describes the mission of Jesus, his relation to both Jews and Gentiles, and the commissioning of the church as agents of God’s mission. Specifically looking at the Gospel of John, Payne walks through the Trinitarian nature of the mission and God’s sending of himself and his people. In this chapter, the reader encounters the repetition of themes introduced in earlier chapters about suffering and the target of missions. At the center of this concern is God’s desire to bring blessing and restoration to the nations.

Turning to Acts, Payne takes a slightly different approach by summarizing specific sections of the book and emphasizing the realization of God’s plan to include the Gentiles. Chapters 9–10 remind readers that the Epistles are not merely doctrinal, but address pastoral and missional issues in the church.

Finally, as Payne addresses the book of Revelation, he demonstrates its cohesive conclusion to the biblical story of mission. Revelation displays the fulfillment and culmination of God’s mission to receive the worship of the nations. All the way to the end of Payne’s book, he utilizes the common theme and header of “Blessing the Nations.” This consistent method reminds readers of the original promises to Abraham and the faithfulness of God to see his mission through to the end.

Undergraduate students, church mission committees, and those wanting a general overview of missions through the whole narrative of Scripture may benefit from time spent in these pages. Payne offers a taste of a theology of mission that serves the church and beginners very well, though admittedly more robust treatments are available for those wanting more. Readers unfamiliar with the subject will be challenged to read Scripture more carefully and notice the themes that have only been introduced. More knowledgeable audiences can fill in the blanks as they interact with familiar themes and references. Those wanting to dive deep into biblical theology should consult the bibliography and other sources. This text pairs well with the book by Edward Smither, Christian Mission: A Concise History, also published by Lexham Press.

Joshua Bowman

Joshua Bowman
Cedarville University
Cedarville, Ohio, USA

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