Thompson reaches a conclusion very different from Christopher Wright’s —
For Paul the missio Dei is the transformation of a people into the image of Christ. The church is the new humanity, which is now being transformed. Paul’s mission is to proclaim Christ and invite the people into this community. He writes letters and visits the churches he established to address obstacles in community formation and to encourage his converts. The converts demonstrate corporate formation as they share the destiny of Christ, deny themselves, and love others. Their mission is to grow up and to work together to complete the building that is under construction. Through this ethical behavior, they are a light to the world around them. Although they have no organized program of missions, they demonstrate a concern for evangelism as they communicate their faith to family and friends.
As the heir of Israel, the church’s continuing task is to be the “children of light” (1 Thess. 5: 5) who “shine like stars in the world” (Phil. 2: 15). The church will fulfill this mission only when it distinguishes itself sharply from other communities and from its culture. Only when the church provides a sharp alternative to the values of its culture can it be a light shining in the darkness.
Thompson, James W.. The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ (p. 247). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Continue reading
Several years ago, “spiritual formation” was all the rage. The movement was built on —
(Gal. 4:18-19 ESV) 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
“Spiritual formation” means having Jesus formed in you, that is, becoming like Jesus. And this is very sound teaching. I’m totally sold on this, but —
The phrase “until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4: 19) is more accurately rendered “until Christ is formed among you” … .
Thompson, James W.. The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ (p. 121). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Spiritual formations is, by definition, a congregational activity. Individual practices matter, of course, but the goal is for the church to become like Jesus — not just a few dedicated members.
And we botched it. Continue reading
At his Jesus Creed blog, Scot McKnight has posted a quick review of James W. Thompson’s The Church according to Paul.
Thompson is right: we need to begin, if we want to understand Paul and the church, with this corporate identity. “I” becomes “We” in the hands of Paul. Many people like this idea today until the “I” is no longer like their “I” and means including some in the “We” who are totally different. Liberals and conservatives, conservatives and liberals all in a “We” that outdoes the comfortable “I.”
To be church, folks, means to let “my” identity be reformed into a “we” identity in which those in the “we” are not chosen by “me” but by God and brought into fellowship with my “me” to form not a club of similars but a fellowship of differents.
Christopher Wright’s outline of mission is very sensible, and there’s much to support it in scripture. But there are problems, too. Thompson points out some difficult truths that force us to add a layer of nuance. And we American Christians don’t do nuance well — not at all.
Let’s talk about the Great Commission. Thompson focuses on Paul’s writings, and so he doesn’t say much about the Great Commission. Nonetheless, it’s a great place from which to make Thompson’s point.
(Matt. 28:18-20 ESV) 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
First, most preachers and teachers skip v. 18. The fact that Jesus has “all authority” is the predicate for his command, and we skip it. Too easy. Too obvious. But Jesus is announcing that he has been enthroned as King of the Universe. He has defeated or will defeat all opposing powers. There will be some resistance to be battled, but the victory of Jesus is assured. Therefore, we should take great comfort that the most powerful being in the Universe is with us — always — until he returns. Continue reading
We’ll return to Thompson’s book shortly. I want to digress just a hair to cover Wright’s understanding of mission so we can then reflect on the two differing perspectives.
In a recent lecture, Wright broke mission down into five elements:
- Evangelism (proclaim the good news of the kingdom)
- Teaching (teach, baptise and nurture new believers)
- Compassion (respond to human need by loving service)
- Justice (transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation)
- Creation care ( strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth)
All intrinsically flow from the Lordship of Christ
Now, I don’t see much to criticize here. This is certainly a more thoroughly worked out mission than most of what we read in church mission or vision statements. Continue reading
Finally, I’m well enough and my church has been kind enough to give me a Sunday morning class to teach. I call it “The Afterlife: Heaven and Hell and Points in Between.”
Some students have asked me to record and post the lessons — which is what I’m doing. But this will be familiar ground for long-time readers.
Here’s the streaming version:
To download, click June 5, 2016 Class on Heaven and Hell (1 Corinthians 15).
Now, the first time I did this, someone commented on my “hillbilly” accent. I’m still dealing with recurring nightmares from that. As any educated person should know, “hillbilly” refers to folks likely to be Tennessee fans. I am not a Tennessee fan. I’m an Alabama fan. “Redneck” would be more apropos.
The Missional Church
Technically, “missional” is a newly coined adjective for “mission.” A church truly on the right mission is missional. But, sadly, the term has been co-opted by some to refer to their particular way of being missional.
Advocates of the missional church have observed that the traditional understanding of the church as the place where the word is preached and the sacraments are administered fits within the context of Christendom but is inadequate in a post-Christian era, for its focus on the church as “the place where” offers no understanding of its mission.
Thompson, James W.. The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ (p. 12). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The goal, therefore, is to leave the building and enter the world as salt and light. Continue reading
Thompson begins his book by summarizing several possible views on the mission of the church.
Political Action Committee
While liberals and conservatives choose different issues, they agree that the task of the church is to mobilize and influence public opinion in a democracy. Liberals have addressed the most contentious issues of the day: wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the rights of the marginalized, and the evils of corporate capitalism. Conservatives have mobilized to shape public policy on sexual mores, abortion, and the maintenance of a “Christian America.” Despite their differing priorities, both hope to inject Christian values into the larger society, and both exist in continuity with the Constantinian relationship between church and society.
Thompson, James W. The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ (p. 9). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Thompson doesn’t unpack his conclusions in any detail, but there’s a lot of truth here to think about. For example, both Republican and Democratic Parties have libertarian strands. The Republicans want the government out of the way of business and education, but they want government to criminalize gay sex and to encourage family values, prayer in the schools, and such like. The Democrats want the government out of our sex lives — even to the extent of paying for abortions — but they want the government to compel businesses and individuals to respect the sexual freedoms of others by banning LGBT discrimination. And they love the idea of government strictly regulating business and education. Continue reading
As I mentioned in the last post, James W. Thompson, a professor at Abilene Christian, just published The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ.
He begins by reviewing several popular theories of church mission.
Having observed the numerous attempts at reimagining the church, I am convinced that the most basic questions are not being asked. In the various strategies for reinventing the church, the theological identity of the church is assumed but not examined. The crisis of the church pertains not only to the loss of numbers but also to the fundamental question, what kind of church should survive? That is, what is the purpose of the church?
Thompson, James W. The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ (p. 2). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I think this is exactly right. The need for church growth is assumed and is assumed to apply at the local congregational level. This seems obvious, but don’t we first need to be certain that our church is the sort that God would like to see grow? I mean, long before we get to growth, we need to cover faithfulness — and the church growth literature assumes faithfulness. But not all churches are faithful and not all deserve to grow. Some would serve the Kingdom better by dying — or, better yet, changing. Continue reading
I earlier introduced the readers to the writings of Christopher J. H. Wright (no kin to N.T.) in my review of his commentary on Ezekiel. Wright is a marvelous writer, and he’s twice turned his attention to the doctrine of mission.
In The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative Wright builds a hermeneutic based on mission. That is, he takes mission to be the central theme of scripture and then reads the entirety of scripture through that lens. This approach is very similar to John Walton’s Covenant: God Purpose, God’s Plan, which sees scripture through the lens of God’s self-revelation (which the covenants are a major part of). God’s self-revelation is, of course, for a purpose — and that purpose is mission.
Wright later published The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), which is written for a more popular audience and is about mission rather than hermeneutics. I’m reading this book as I write this series.
Also excellent is an article summarizing one of Wright’s lectures published May 16. I’ll cover this in a future post. Continue reading