Since we moved to Cyprus a friend has repeatedly asked, “How is the experience of mission changing you?” Chris Wright has written this majestic book because he has begun to understand how God’s mission is changing him and how it should change us.
I confess to being a rather punch-drunk mission leader. The role is new and unproven, the people scattered, the churches mixed, the region more complex and challenging than ever. We’re working a two-way street, expressing support for Middle East churches on the one hand, telling their story and drawing on their experience on the other. Can I help colleagues and churches think about mission in this context? It’s slippery stuff. Where are the rocks in the mud, the footholds in the cliff?
Here they are – and they’ve been there all along. I don’t know how we missed them. One thing is clear, once you begin to notice them, the more you look the more you see.
Chris Wright’s point is this: we’ve had things the wrong way round for too long. It’s time for what he calls “the great reversal.” For generations we’ve talked about mission as what we do, our response to God, how we do his work. “The driving will of the one true living God is to be known throughout his whole creation for who he truly is;” he has done, is doing and will do all in his power to ensure this happens. “In this story, God is about the business of transforming the world to fit the shape of the gospel.” Astonishingly, we find ourselves involved: the question is therefore not where God fits in to my life “but where do I fit with him and his ways? It makes me smaller and him bigger; and leads us into wonder and celebration at being allowed – desired – to be co-workers with God.” The question is not how God fits into our mission, but “What kind of church God expects.., what kind of me God wants for his mission” (page 534). And what kind of mission agencies will fit God’s purposes now?
An inspirational conclusion, patiently and steadily established. Make no mistake, you’ll need to take your time with this book. Page by thorough page, with useful tables and memorable diagrams, Wright brings together what we’ve held apart for far too long. His twin skills in Old Testament and mission combine as he traces God’s activity through the whole of Scripture and throughout the whole world. His striking personal translations of classic texts show how adept he is (NIV readers beware). He builds on the famous foundations of John R W Stott, Alec Motyer and John Goldingay but is never afraid to engage with them. Thorough indexes will help you find your way round (though for some reason the contents page doesn’t give page numbers).
To grasp what he’s saying will be to think again. You can no longer say “we don’t do politics” because to say “Jesus is Lord” is the most highly charged political statement in history. You should not mistake the “ultimacy of evangelism” for hesitation about social action and engagement with burning issues of human life and suffering because God’s words and works address the whole of human life and experience. You will be delivered from the twin errors of twentieth-century individualism and twenty-first century environmental apathy. These are both the context for and colours of God’s mission.
Now, it’s time I started to read it again.
An extract of this review appeared in the Spring 2007 edition of Global Connections’ newsletter