Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Old Testament and the Missionary Nature of the Church--Part 1

Missions is considered by most to be a New Testament enterprise. From the inception of the Modern Missionary Movement, of which William Carey is considered the father, missions has been accomplished by means of missionary societies and agencies. The church has been a chief financial resource for the movement, but until recently, other than through individuals, the church has not been directly involved in the process, being separated by oceans and dependent on its agencies to carry out the work. Furthermore, the autonomy of churches that were being planted was not immediately assumed. Nonetheless, something about the nature of the church is missionary.

The classical marks of the church—one, holy, catholic, apostolic—assume a growing, universal mission. It is “One” in spite of its many congregations spread over the whole world. It is “Holy,” called out of the nations into a new people of God set apart for God and His purposes. The “Catholicity” of the church describes its universal nature, it crosses every geographic, racial, social and spiritual barrier in the power of the gospel. Finally, though “Apostolic” is generally concerned with the faithful passing on of the gospel, the fact that it is to be passed on points to a missionary purpose. In the 16th century, the reformers refocused the church on the gospel. Their marks of the church included the right preaching of the word and the right administration of the sacraments. Though the reformers have been critiqued for not being concerned with the conversion of the heathen, by keeping the gospel central in the nature of the church, they laid the foundations necessary for the great missionary movement beginning in the 18th century. Furthermore, the radical reformers, though perhaps because of persecution, were itinerant evangelists, with some Moravians allegedly selling themselves into slavery for the sake of the gospel. In contemporary ecclesiology, evangelism and social ministry are considered by most to be biblical marks of the church (see Hammett and also Warren). Moreover, discipleship is at the heart of the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). This brief survey of the historical considerations of the marks of the church reveals that mission lies deep at the heart of the church.

When it comes to missionary theology, the message of the Old Testament has not received the same scrutiny and consideration as the New Testament. The result is that readers of the Old Testament expect the same theological results from a cursory reading of the Old Testament that have seemingly popped up from the page through a “taken for granted” detailed and repeated reading of the New Testament. Allegorical and “moral” preaching of the Old Testament have not aided in the situation either. Furthermore, the poetic and prophetic genres of the Old Testament are some of the most difficult types of passages to interpret even through years of study. However, the renewed emphasis on Biblical Theology provides hope for this otherwise dark situation.

Key works that have addressed the Old Testament's contribution to missionary theology include the following:

Blauw, Johannes. The Missionary Nature of the Church: A Survey of the Biblical Theology of Mission. New York: and Toronto: and London: McGraw-Hill, 1962.

Filbeck, David. Yes, God of the Gentiles, Too: The Missionary Message of the Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: The Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College, 1994.

Kaiser, Walter C. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

K√∂stenberger, Andreas, and Peter T. O’Brien. Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2001.

Peters, George W. A Biblical Theology of Missions. Chicago: Moody, 1972.

Senior, Donald, and Carroll Stuhlmueller. The Biblical Foundations for Mission. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1983.

Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2006.

We will be interacting with these works, but the main focus of this inquiry is the unfolding message of scripture. Thus, rather than taking a synchronic approach that looks at certain themes individually and traces them throughout scripture, I will take a diachronic approach that investigates themes as they are produced in the text. However, at times I may vascillate between diachronic and synchronic. You will find that I prefer a Hebrew reading order of the Old Testament (the Tanak) and I will note, if necessary, places where there are differences in the order, even among Hebrew manuscripts (if I miss something, Dougald will fill us in through comments).

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