Because of so many commitments in my life, I haven’t spent a lot of time writing for this blog. Even though I haven’t spent time blogging, I still have been thinking. (Although those around me might challenge that notion.)
One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the relationship between God’s mission and God’s kingdom. Because I lived in a flattened version of God’s Story years ago, whenever I heard the phrase “God’s mission,” I always assumed his mission began after the Fall. In other words, God created a good world and because human beings made a mess of it and themselves, God launched a rescue mission. And I used to understand that rescue mission as God saving human souls so they would one day leave this broken world for a better place. My understanding of God’s mission expanded later as I realized that God’s mission wasn’t simply about rescuing human beings from this world, but actually renewing and restoring human beings in order to renew and restore this world. But even in this newer version, I still viewed God’s mission as primarily rescuing.
Lately, I’ve been tinkering with the idea that perhaps God’s mission began with Creation and not the Fall. In other words, God’s mission has always been proactive, not reactive. His mission has always been to create a good and dynamic world that would be filled with his presence, beauty and glory. Surely, his mission has taken detours along the way, but the essence of his mission pre- and post-Fall remains unchanged. He is always moving creation forward to his original dream and intention, not backward to some idyllic state.
And the way God chooses to move his mission forward is through his reign. God’s kingdom, his reign, is the implementation of his mission. And his reign is always mediated through human beings. This was the project at Creation’s dawn as human beings were created in God’s image, reflecting into the earthly dimension God’s character, power, and stewardship as willed from the heavenly dimension. This was the project renewed in Israel as they are formed by covenant into a kingdom of priests among the nations. This was the project renewed once again in Jesus as he taught his apprentices to pray and live so that God’s kingdom and will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. And in the final moments in Revelation, we observe the full renewal of heaven and earth as God’s throne finally takes up home on earth and God’s people reign forever (Revelation 22:1-4).
So God’s mission is a mature creation, one in which heaven and earth are fully and harmoniously reconciled, merged and stitched together. Because of its current state, this requires renewal and restoration. But it’s the same mission — a creation and society that fully encompass God’s presence, life and glory as its natural habitat and environment.
And the implementation of that mission remains the same — through human beings. In Christ, humans are being renewed into Christ’s image, who is the fullness of God in human life. In other words, Jesus becomes the template of true image-bearing human life. And as his apprentices, we are being renewed into his image so we may participate with him in renewing creation and society.
This impacts a couple of other areas I’ve also been thinking about. However, I will need to unpack them in future posts. But let me at least throw a couple on the table. First, this impacts spiritual formation. Although evangelicalism’s rediscovery of spiritual formation is a wonderful thing, I believe a fundamental flaw exists. In a lot of the current literature and teaching on spiritual formation, it’s treated as something bolted onto one’s existing faith and spirituality. It’s discussed within the context of individualized spiritual yearning for something more. And even when spiritual formation is given primacy as an essential component of the Christian faith, I do not believe it’s importance has been explained adequately. I believe the above discussion anchors spiritual formation within its proper context — God’s mission implemented through God’s reign. God is on a mission to nurture a mature world. He does this by reigning through human beings who bear his image. Christ is the template of God’s fullness and reign in a human life. He is also the prototype of that mature creation — the future New Creation in human form in the present. As we follow Jesus as his apprentices, we grow in his likeness as both God’s mediated reign on earth as well as expressions of the future New Creation in human form in the present. In this light, spiritual formation finds its true meaning within missio dei.
Second, the above discussion also impacts ecclesiology. If God is on mission, then his people are defined primarily by mission. This was true of Israel. And it was true of Christ as Israel’s climactic representative. Also, if God’s mission is implemented through his kingdom mediated by human beings, then any identity or discussion of God’s people as a kingdom people must revolve around God’s mission. In other words, the Church is not simply a community. It is a community defined by and participating in God’s mission. It is a community “in Christ,” who was and is the fullness of God on mission to reconcile all things on earth and all things in heaven (Col 1:19-20). Practically speaking then, a gathering of Jesus’ apprentices must have essential characteristics that identify that group as a local, embedded expression of God’s people, the Church. Conversely, without them, they are not a local expression of the Church.
Third, any attempts at explaining God’s kingdom in relevant forms must somehow involve the idea of “reigning.” I understand the concept of kingdom is antiquated and somewhat irrelevant to our modern democratic notions of government. But the more I think about trying to communicate and teach God’s kingdom in relevant ways, the more I realize that whatever metaphor one chooses, it needs to communicate that fact that God reigns as king. God’s reign is a theme woven throughout the entire biblical story. And it is THE good news in both the Old and New Testament (Isaiah 52:7 and Mark 1:14-15).
Fourth, the discussion of mission and kingdom provides fresh definition to the concept of sin. Sin is not merely the breaking of Law. Rather it is anything that prevents the mission of God from moving forward. Scot McKnight offers a wonderful starting point in his most recent post on the subject:
“My own view on this is that we dare not let ourselves begin defining sin by reducing it to breaking the law. We have to begin with God, and define what is ultimately right by looking at God. I’m Trinitarian, and what is Ultimately Right is what drives the Life of the Trinity. That seems to be the Mutual Interpenetrating, Sacred, Loving Presence of the Father, Son and Spirit. This interpenetrating life of the Trinity, called the perichoresis, defines what is Right. What is Right is that engaged and engaging Relationship — and everything in our world that is “right” is a reflection of that perichoretic relationship.
“Now this leads me to this: Sin is whatever impedes the flow of human life and our world into that everflowing perichoretic loving dance within God. Whatever resists it; whatever works against it; whatever breaks down human union with God; whatever distorts the world’s design to participate in that dance is sin. This also means that whatever impedes proper love between humans and humans or between humans and this world is also sin. The law comes in merely to clarify where love is breaking down. Defining sin by ignoring love misses what sin really is.”
Well, this post has gone on longer than I expected. I hope I’ll have more time to unpack some of this stuff in the near future.