Archive for December, 2014

We are into chapter 2 of B and M now. Here Bauckham shows how his model of ‘movement from the particular to the universal’ pays off in terms of explanatory power for the Bible viewed holistically. This is where we get to do some serious engagement with the text, at a large scale level. Strap in for a test drive, with Bauckham at the wheel.

Bauckham follows four strands of the Bible story, each with its own ‘trajectory’. Starting with:

Abe-stars1. From Abraham to all the families of the earth

Abraham’s call is a striking narrowing-down after the universality of the early chapters of Genesis. However from the start it is clear that this election has the nations in view also. The promises to Abraham emphasise ‘blessing’, but this is to be for all nations. The rest of Genesis, following Abraham’s offspring, creates an expectation in the reader that blessing to the world is the goal of this family’s story. However after this the theme drops off, with just a few glimpses in the rest of the OT. The most notable is Isaiah 19:24-25: “Blessed be Egypt my people and Assyria the work of my hands and Israel my inheritance.”

The NT takes a lot more interest in this Abrahamic promise, esp. Paul in Galatians 3. Matthew begins and ends his gospel with this theme of the promise to Abraham for the nations.

The ‘trajectory’ of this strand, then, is ‘blessing’. This concept sums up in the most comprehensive way God’s purpose for his creation, from Genesis 1 onwards. Blessing includes salvation as well as creation goods, the former being God’s re-assertion and rescue of his own purposes for the creation, in the face of sin and the curse. Curse and blessing run in parallel through much of the Bible story, but with Christ bearing away the curse in his own body, blessing is finally established as God’s last word to his creation. In fact Paul calls this word ‘the gospel’ (Gal. 3:8-9).

That’s the first strand of ‘particular to universal’ offered by Bauckham. Nice strand.

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Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 12.58.36 PM3. Anticipated closure and permanent narrative openness.

Another mouthful of a title! But there’s good stuff in here. The NT often seems to indulge in hyperbole when speaking of the extent of the spread of God’s kingdom. Paul has the gospel proclaimed ‘through the whole world’, to ‘every creature’ etc. Revelation contrasts Rome’s claims to universal rule with the church’s universality.

This hyperbole of completion might seem to suggest a final arrival, an end to the movement from particular to universal. But in fact it does not close off options for the future. The NT narratives make it clear the mission is not complete, e.g. the open ending of Acts 28. Nor are we given a timetable from here till the parousia. So then the church in every age finds itself plunged ‘into the midst of the biblical story where the words of the great commission still ring in its ears.’

Thus we live in ‘a dialectic of anticipated closure and permanent openness.’ This presses the reality of God’s unfolding purposes for the world hard on the church’s consciousness. We are caught up in something global that he is doing now, expressed in a unique way in our particular locality. 

Assessment:

I’m less sure what I think about this part. It’s very interesting! There certainly are the two sides of anticipated closure and ongoing openness, in the NT. It’s helpful to have that spelt out so clearly. However, I’m not entirely comfortable with structuring it as a dialectic. In fact, I’m always suspicious of dialectics: they remind me too much of Enlightenment German philosophy.

I think what I’m missing here is the language of eschatological arrival, of the ‘ends of the ages’ which seems to be the NT way of expressing closure. Rather than being anticipated, it’s a closure that is occuring now. Calling it anticipated, describing us as plunged in the midst of history, seems to me to locate us wrongly in history. We are not in the middle, but at the end. I doubt RB would disagree, but I don’t quite like the structure of his thought here.

Also, calling the openness permanent is a bit ambiguous. I suppose he means ongoing. Whenever you live, prior to the return of Christ, openness is still there.

I think the structure of a dialectic between permanent openness and anticipated closure makes it feel too abstract and unreal, too much like a paradox. The way I read the NT, it’s more like, history is closing up, drawing to a fast conclusion, and the time is short. We are living in the last days. Yet there is still time right now. Seems pretty simple to me. Maybe I’ve missed something?

Overall, however, I like the picture. The church lives caught up in the movement of God’s uncompleted worldwide mission, which he is bringing to its conclusion. Consciousness of this pushes us forward. We express our part in that cosmic program through the unique particulars of our local situation. Yes.

2. Outlines of a hermeneutic for the kingdom of God515gxgjcZSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Bauckham explains that he is not doing a biblical theology of mission. Rather he aims to outline an approach to reading Scripture that ‘takes seriously its missionary direction’. The Bible story is about ‘a project aimed at the kingdom of God’, i.e. the arrival of God’s universal purpose for the creation. However it always starts off with particulars, with individuals and communities. This movement out from the particular to the universal is …mission.

This hermetic will need to view the bible as a whole story, or metanarrative, with an awareness of the powerful potential such a story will have on our lives. It will focus on the way this story moves from the particular to the universal. This movement corresponds to God’s identity as the one who is God of Israel so that he may be Lord of all creation.

This outward movement has three dimensions:

The temporal movement from the old and particular into the new and universal future of God.  From Jesus’ sending by his Father, to his return in God’s kingdom.

The spatial/geographical movement from one place to every place, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

The social/numerical movement from the one to the many, from Abraham to many nations, from Jesus to all people.

God’s people are caught up in each of these movements, and this means mission.

The Bible’s story is full of instances of movement of these three kinds. Each story is unique and yet orientated towards the ‘universal horizon’ of God’s coming kingdom. I.e. they all fit into the big story. Jesus describes the final goal of the metanarrative using various narrative imagery: the seed that grows by itself (temporal movement), the mustard seed (spatial), the catch of fish (social/numerical). Each these stories is about mysterious growth – for the church’s mission is not something she can achieve herself. Nor is it a continuous movement. Rather mission is a collection of stories each one starting from the particular and growing outwards and into the future.

Evaluation:

In this section Bauckham lays the groundwork for his project in the whole book: he wants to show us how to read the Bible in a way that exposes its missional dimensions, so often overlooked. And he does this at the broadest possible level: he’s talking narrative deep-structure and everything above it, here. This little section does a lot of work: it provides us with a powerful analytic framework for grasping how mission functions in the Bible’s story. It’s not just Matthew 28! I reckon readers equipped with this 3-fold movement model are going to be reading in a much deeper and more sophisticated way than they were before. And therefore thinking mission in a much more thorough-going way too. Once again, Bauckham comes up with the goods!

I like it that this is Biblical theology he’s doing. It often bothers me how much theological discussion goes on without much reference to Scripture. Bauckham brings us back to the biblical narratives again and again, supremely to the gospel narrative of Jesus. His use of the parables and stories of Jesus is particularly enjoyable and insightful. So nice to be able to read Scripture along with a great exegete/interpreter like RB.

As I’ve mentioned, this would have been better as its own chapter, rather than a section in a larger one. It’s a big shift of gears from the previous section. And it’s enough for my little brain to chew on in one bite!

In summary: GOLD!

FoodMcworldThis is a small, non-technical and fairly easy to read book on the subject of mission, by one of the great Christian scholars of our generation. That’s gotta be good, hey?

Bauckham is a bit of a genius when it comes to writing short books that have a big impact. His God Crucified changed the face of Christological studies, in about 70 pages. This one weighs in at 110 pages: my sort of book!

The subtitle, ‘Christian Witness in a Postmodern World’ gives a clearer sense of what the book is about. What place can Christian mission have in a world where truth itself (and therefore mission) itself is frowned upon?

Chapter 1:  A Hermeneutic for the Kingdom of God.

That’s not a very friendly title for what is actually a ripper chapter. In fact it isn’t a good guide to the contents either.

1. Between McWorld and Jihad

September 11 2001, could be seen as the clash of ‘universalist cultures’ – those of Islam and of Global Capitalism. ‘Universalist’ means cultures that seek to impose themselves on the whole world in a way that crushes difference. Universalist cultures ‘threaten all things local, traditional and particular.’ Bauckham tells us his book is going to be about these issues – the local and particular, and the universal – as they relate to Christian mission.

Bauckham identifies two key concepts involved in the story of 9/11: metanarrative and globalisation. A metanarrative is a story about the meaning of reality as a whole, encompassing and integrates all its diversity. E.g.  ‘progress’ and Marxism. The new metanarrative of the West is Globalism with its story of economic salvation.

Postmodernism suspects and rejects metanarratives as tools of domination and oppression. It promotes instead particularity, diversity and localism. One Jewish postmodernist, Sacks, pleads for an approach to religion which distinguishes it from God. God is universal, but all religions are particulars and should remain so. I.e. give up universalist dreams such as those of Islam.

So where does Christianity stand when confronted with McWorld and Jihad? Bauckham points out that “almost certainly Christianity exhibits more cultural diversity that any other religion, and that must say something about it.” But are God and religion are fundamentally different, one universal and one particular? RB points out that the idea that God is universal is itself particular to the Judeo-Christian tradition!

It is more accurate to say God is both universal and particular. ‘We find the universal God in his particularity as the God of Israel…and of Jesus’. Bauckham wants to examine how these two things – the particular and the universal –  are related, ‘because it is in that relationship that the church’s universal mission belongs and has its meaning…Mission takes place on the way from the particularity of God’s action in the story of Jesus to the universal coming of God’s kingdom.’ And here we have the thesis of the whole book.

But can Christian mission be justified at all? Is it not just ‘a tidal wave of religious homogenisation sweeping away all the diversity of the world.’

That would have been a great place to finish the first chapter – one suspects the book has retained the structure of the lectures on which it is based. We will stop here and reflect.

Evaluation:

Bauckham writes beautifully. His style is clear, concise and eloquent. 9/11 offers a compelling, if somewhat overused, way into the subject. He uses plenty of illustrations, making for easy reading.

He has introduced his key themes and terms: mission in the light of postmodern concerns about the universal and the particular, about metanarrative and globalisation. Each of these is explained clearly. He has raised his main issues cogently and compellingly.

If I have a criticism it would be that Bauckham undersells his product. The question he has raised here about the legitimacy of mission has not been a small one. In fact it has been massively powerful in the modern history of the church. Over the past 60 years this critique of universalist narratives (like the Christian one) has seeped into the bones of the churches and sapped their missionary zeal. It has come to seem arrogant and presumptuous to try to make ‘converts’ (i.e. disciples for Jesus). Church groups, under the influence of postmodern ideas, have lost confidence in the whole missionary endeavour, and often given it away. This has been a fundamental change in the outlook and action of Christians in the modern West. It would have been helpful for Bauckham to unpack this a bit, give some of this wider context, and explain what is at stake for the church, in the issues he is discussing. These things may have seemed obvious to Bauckham, but many of us don’t know even recent history or the history of ideas. Words like universalism, particularity and metanarrative can seem big and abstract and academic to readers unused to such vocabulary. They can mask the fact that Bauckham is actually dealing with a red-hot topic: Is mission an intrinsically violent movement? 

I think the average reader just needs a little bit more reason to care about the themes of the book, before diving into Bible-land with RB. Brief is good, but at this key moment in his book I feel he’s been a bit too brief! This book is so good I’d like it to be more accessible at a ”thinking reader” level, not just an academic one.

Godspeed, Greg Anderson

Posted: December 1, 2014 by J in Church

Read Anderson consecrated NT BishopDr Greg Anderson has been consecrated as the sixth Bishop of the the Northern Territory.

Greg has had a long association with gospel ministry in the Territory, having lived there for some years with his family, as missios amongst indigenous communities.

More recently he was at Moore College in Sydney, teaching Bible and Missions. He did a great job, but he always seemed a bit like a caged animal in that restricted environment.

Greg is known as an independent thinker, and necessarily kept a low profile at Moore. But students he trusted were aware that he read books on the proscribed list, and even liked them (!)

Now he has been set free, to once more roam the wilds and open spaces of the territory. We imagine him taking in deep breaths of warm tropical air.

Greg has a pastoral heart, as well as some serious smarts, and he loves Jesus. We expect he will make a fine bishop.

But it is another sad loss for Moore College, following the recent departure of its vice principal Bill Salier.

Note to other colleges: there are still a couple of gifted lecturers available at Moore, but you’ll have to get in quick now.