Category Archives: CJH Wright

Living Within the Story of God’s Mission

Chris Wright on living in God’s story:

When we grasp that the whole Bible constitutes the coherent revelation of the mission of God, when we see this as the key that unlocks the driving purposefulness of the whole grand narrative, then we find our whole world view impacted by this vision. As has been well documented, every human worldview is an outworking of some narrative. We live out of the story or stories we believe to be true, the story of stories that ‘tell it like it is,’ we think.

So what does it mean to live out of this story? Here is The Story, the grand universal narrative that stretches from creation to new creation, and accounts for everything in between. This is The Story that tells us where we have come from, how we got to be here, who we are, why the world is in the mess it is, how it can be (and has been) changed, and where we are ultimately going.

And the whole story is predicated on the reality of this God and the mission of this God. He is the originator of the story, the teller of the story, the prime actor in the story, the planner and guide of the story’s plot, the meaning of the story and its ultimate completion. He is its beginning, end and center. It is the story of the mission of God, of this God and no other.”

–Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative , 533.

Paul, Faith’s Obedience, and the Mission of God

Chris Wright answers the question, “How did Paul understand his own a missionary life and work? What was he trying to accomplish? What kept him going through all the battery and bruising (literally) of his missionary career?”

Here’s his response:

… Paul tells us [his answer] in a phrase that comes at the beginning and end of his greatest letter. His calling as an apostle was, he says, “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ’s] name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5; repeated at 16:26 ESV)

Now that is an ambition that resonates with strong echoes of Abraham. For Abraham is the Old Testament character par excellence who was the model of faith and obedience – as Paul, James and the author of Hebrews all testify. And the horizon of “all the nations” goes back to God’s promise to Abraham that through him all the nations on earth will be blessed [Gen. 12].

So Paul is indicating, by this prominently placed phrase, that his lifetime’s service of the gospel was all about producing communities of Abraham look-alikes in all the nations, not just the nation physically descended from Abraham. In ambitious goal, for sure, but profoundly rooted in his reading of God’s mission as expressed in his promise to Abraham…

…Paul’s personal mission was to replicate Abrahamic faith and obedience among all nations, to bring about what God had originally promised Abraham. Paul’s theology of the gospel and his theology of mission are both Abrahamic. In Christ, the promise to Abraham is accomplished in principle, for salvation is now open to people of all nations. In mission, the promise to Abraham is worked out in the ongoing history of the church and its proclamation of the good news.

Thus, though we cannot now study the passages in detail, Paul’s argument from Romans 3:29 to the end of Romans 4, and even more so in Galatians 3, is not (as sometimes suggested) merely using Abraham as an illustration of his doctrine of justification by faith, but constitutes precisely his exposition of what that doctrine means. God has demonstrated his righteousness and his trustworthiness by keeping his promise to Abraham through providing, in Christ, the means by which people of all nations, not just Jews, can enter into the blessing of a right relationship with God by God’s grace through faith.

Paul’s doctrine of justification is essentially missional for it extends the blessing of the gospel, with no ethnic privileges or barriers, to all nations in principle, and therefore demands that it be extended to them in practice – that is, in the practice of evangelism, church planting and discipling communities who walk in “the obedience of faith” among the nations.

-Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, 63, 76

Reading Jesus’ Baptism in the light of the Old Testament

Many scholars have observed that the words from heaven during Jesus’ baptism are rooted in the Old Testament. This is Mark’s account:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)

Though these words have meaning on their own, they come alive when set in their Old Testament context. Briefly, Christopher J. H. Wright draws out their significance:

This is/you are my son:

This is an echo of Psalm 2:7 which was originally a Psalm about King David and then any king descended from him. He need not fear the posturings and antagonism of his enemies because it is God himself who has anointed him king and protects him. The declaration: “you are my son; today I have begotten you”, which was probably said at the coronation or enthronement of Davidic kings as God’s way of endorsing their legitimacy and authority. However, the fall of Jerusalem and exile in 587 BC was the end of the line for the Davidic kings. So this Psalm was given a future look and applied to the expected, messianic, son of David would reign when God would restore Israel. The heavenly voice at his baptism identified Jesus as that very one.

My loved one, in whom I delight [am well pleased]:

This is an echo of Isaiah 42:1 which is the opening verse of a series of ‘songs’ in Isaiah 40 – 55 about one called the servant of the Lord. He is introduced rather like a king, but as the song develops (42:1, 49:1-6, 50:4-10, 52:13-53:12) it becomes clear that this servant will accomplish his calling, not by kingly power as we know it, but through frustration, suffering, rejection and death. By willing to pay that cost, however, the servant will not only bring restoration to Israel, but also be the instrument of bringing God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.

My son, my beloved son:

 Many scholars find in this phrase a third echo from the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 22:2, where God told Abraham, “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love”, and sacrifice him to the Lord. In the end, Isaac was spared, but Abraham was commended for his willingness to trust and obey God even to that ultimate end. This story, known in later Jewish lore as “the binding of Isaac”, was deeply studied and reflected on for double theme of Abraham’s  willingness as a father to sacrifice his son, and Isaac’s willingness as a son to be sacrificed.

Lastly, Wright highlights the meaning of this last phrase in light of Romans 8:32:

Paul probably had this story in mind when he wrote Romans 8:32, “he who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” And almost certainly it was in the mind of God the Father as he identifies Jesus at his baptism as his only Son whom he loved, but whom he was willing to sacrifice for the salvation of the world. Only this time it would be for real. There would be no ram to substitute at the last minute. -Chris Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, 106-107

For more, see:

God’s View of Mission

Chris Wright on the importance of mission to God:

[We ought to realize…that missionary commitment is not some kind of optional extra for the extra-enthusiastic. Nor was it just a new idea invented by Jesus to give his disciples something to do with the rest of their lives. Still less was it a merely modern movement of the church that coincided with colonial expansionism. Mission lies at the very heart of all God’s historical action in the Bible. Mission to his fallen, suffering, sinful human creation and indeed ultimately to his whole creation as well. That is why he called Abraham, send Jesus, and commissioned his apostles. For there is one servant people, one Servant King, one servant mission.

– Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Salvation Belongs to Our God

In John’s vision in Revelation chapter 7 he tells us of what must surely have been a breathtaking sight:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)

Chris Wright points our attention to something so basic, and yet so glorious and moving, that we tend to miss it in our reading of the passage:

The song of the redeemed in Revelation 7:10 is very specific and particular. “Salvation belongs to our God,” they sing. They are not merely saying that there some kind of link between salvation and deity as an abstract transcendent concept. The witness of this vast crowd is not to say, “if you want salvation, get yourself a god; any god will do.” No, they are claiming that salvation belongs to our God – to this God. It is this God, the God of the biblical revelation in redemption, Yahweh the God of Old Testament Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who is not ashamed to be called “our God.” This is the God to whom salvation belongs. So we move on from the previous point, salvation is the property of God, to a further point that salvation is the property of this very particular God – this God and no other. – Christopher J. H. Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God

Jesus Never Read the New Testament

Why read the Old Testament? Chris Wright answers:

In the midst of the many intrinsically fascinating reasons why Old Testament study is so rewarding, the most exciting to me is the way it never fails to add new depths to my understanding of Jesus. I find myself aware that in reading the Hebrew scriptures I am handling something that gives me a closer common link with Jesus than any archaeological artifact could do. For these are the words He read. These were the stories He knew. These were the songs He sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped His whole view of ‘life, the universe and everything.’ This is where He found His insights into the mind of His Father God. Above all, this is where He found the shape of His own identity and the goal of His own mission. In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus. (After all, Jesus never actually read the New Testament!).”

–Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, ix.

(HT: Tolle Lege)

Spiritual Redemption and Social Concern

Listen carefully to how Chris Wright ties together both spiritual redemption and God’s social concern for Israel in their exodus from Egypt:

In the exodus God responded to all the dimensions of Israel’s need. God’s momentous act of redemption did not merely rescued Israel from political, economic and social oppression and then leave them to their own devices to worship whom they pleased. Nor did God merely offer them spiritual comfort of hope for some brighter future in a home beyond the sky while leaving their historical condition unchanged. No, the exodus affected real change in the people’s real historical situation and at the same time called them into a real new relationship with the living God. This was God’s total response to Israel’s total need

-Christopher J. H Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, 271-272

What is the Gospel, then for Paul?

Christopher Wright Answers:

  • It is historical and also ecclesial; that is it includes facts of history about Christ and the reality of a new humanity in Christ.
  • It is faith and obedience.
  • It is a message that must be heard and a life that must be seen.
  • It is personal and cosmic.
  • It is above all “the Gospel of God” – the grace of God, the promise of God, the faithfulness of God, the salvation of God, the son of God, the people of God, and the glory of God.

How the Gospel Challenges Us

Under the heading “The gospel is truth to be defended” Christopher Wright explains the threatening nature of the gospel to those who reject it.

Good news can also be bad news for those who’s vested interests are threatened by it. There is, therefore, a battle to be fought to make sure that the truth of the gospel is preserved, clarified and defended against denials, distortions and betrayals.

  • The fact of the gospel of Christ is for all people, and not just the privilege of one ethnic community, threatens those who stake their claim on belonging to the “right people”.
  • The fact that the gospel is utterly the gift of God’s grace offends those who take pride in their own achievements.
  • The fact that the gospel locates the glorious salvation of the living God in the person of one who’s lived in up security and died in excruciating shame is a laughingstock to those who want their salvation to come from a more reputable religious emporium.
  • The fact that the gospel summons people to repentance and they radically changed personal and social ethic riles those who want the benefits of the gospel but resist its demands.

So there is a polemical dimension to the gospel. The gospel confronts things that contradict it or people who deny or reject it. It exists in explicit contrast and conflict with other worldviews and ultimate commitments that people have. So to be a servant of the gospel necessarily involves costly struggle and spiritual battle (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

For more see:

Like Old Testament Israel, We Are…

In a post I wrote a while back, I drew parallels between the life of the Christian believer and that of the Old Testament Israelite. Here Christopher Wright does the same, only much better :

Like Old Testament Israel, we are people with experience past grace – God’s historical acts of redemption, at the exodus and supremely, of course, at the cross.

Like Old Testament Israel, we are people who God wants to use for the mission that is driven forward by his future grace – bring people of all nations in the whole earth to into that multinational family of those who know him, love him and worship him alone.

Like Old Testament Israel, we are people who are called to live in response to that grace, with lives that represent God to the world and that shows the difference between the holiness of the living God, seen especially in the face of Jesus Christ, and the degraded ugliness and impotence of all the false gods surround us.

In other words, we are exactly as Peter describes us, with the same identity, the same mission, and the same ethical responsibility.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Pet 2:9-12)

Peter applies Exodus 19:4 – 6 directly to Christians: ” You’ve had your Exodus experience [out of darkness],” he says. “You’ve tasted God’s grace and mercy. You are his precious, treasured possession, his very own people. Now then, live by that story. Live out of that identity. And live it with such attractive obedience of ‘good lives’ that people will be attracted to the God you worship, and whatever they say about you, they will come to glorify him.”

-Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People

A Theology of Easter: Resurrection in 3 Acts

In his introduction to biblical theology, According to Plan, Graeme Goldsworthy points out three aspects of regeneration (“renewal” or “rebirth”) in Scripture. I prefer to think of this in terms of resurrection. Goldsworthy’s statement is brief, but the truth is profound:

Thus we are able to speak of the regeneration in three ways: an objective regeneration in Christ, a subjective regeneration and us, and a comprehensive regeneration in the whole universe. The three are inseparably bound together, which is why a pre-occupation with one at the expense of the others can lead to distortions of biblical truth.

This is important for understanding both the Fall and redemption. When Adam as God’s vice-regent rebelled against his Maker he died spiritually and later died physically. Since he was commissioned with stewardship over all of creation, his fall meant the enslavement of the creation itself. As Paul teaches in Romans 8:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)

Since the vice-regent of God was subjected to death and decay, so was his subject, creation itself. But sin, sickness, and Satan will not have the last word. In Christ, the tides of death are definitively pushed back. Death is no longer our enemy, but our gateway into glory. By his perfect life, death, and resurrection, Jesus the Messiah reverses Satan’s reversal of God’s design. The Bible teaches a continuity between the curse placed on Adam, the curse placed on the creation, and the curse placed on Christ on behalf of his people (Gal. 3:13) .

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Theology and Mission

In opening of his latest work, The Mission of God’s People, Christopher Wright wonderfully ties together the purpose of doing theology: mission:

There should be no theology that does not relate to the mission of the church – either by being generated out of the church’s mission or by inspiring and shaping it. And there should be no mission of the church carried on without deep theological roots in the soil of the Bible.

No theology without a missional impact; no mission without theological foundations.

Oh, that we would all “do” mission and theology as integrated disciples of Christ!