Friday, October 12, 2007

Mission as faith in action

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapid, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. 1995. 192 pp

Chapter 4

Newbigin claims that we can look at the contemporary issues in mission from the Trinitarian faith. Thus in chapter four of this book, he declares that mission is proclaiming the kingdom of the Father. The Son did the proclamation, initially all throughout his three-year ministry. And since the gospel clearly states that the revelation of truth is the work of God alone—it is the work of the Holy Spirit. We have to note, however, that Jesus did not inaugurate the Kingdom. He inaugurated the proclamation of the Kingdom. There is not a time when God does not reign.

Christianity differs from other religions in that “it claims to show us the shape, the structure, the origin, and the goal not merely of human history, but of cosmic history” (31). God, the Father is not only the God of Israel and Christians but he is the God of the universe, the universal God who has been reigning even before the world began. The reign of God is his reign over all things.

This is the reason that in the gospel of John, Jesus is introduced as the one who was with God, and was God from the beginning, the Word through whom all things were made. A missionary who answers the question “who is Jesus?” asked by people who do not know him, can answer this question with this claim in the gospel of John.

God created the whole humanity and as we learn from the Genesis 3 the whole humanity fell because of sin. God therefore started the process of election to bring redemption to this fallen humanity. Those who are chosen are bearers of the blessing. God has chosen particular personality or community from each generation to become the bearer of God’s promise of being a blessing to all the nations like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, the nation Israel, the tribe of Judah and eventually the faithful remnant.

The mistaken notion of that election is a privilege rather than responsibility caused Israel to become unfaithful to their calling and they were punished for it. Thus the faithful remnant became smaller and smaller until the moment when the focus is narrowed down to one person—the one who bears the ultimate blessing for all nations. He is the one who saved the world and hailed as the son of God. This is the beginning of the gospel. Jesus Christ did not inaugurate the reign of God because the Father has been reigning since the beginning.

Jesus Christ proclaimed the reign of God. Jesus Christ announced that the reign of God is not something far up in heavens. It is an impending reality that everybody needs to make a decision about it. In announcing God’s reign Jesus used parables. Why did Jesus use parables? His intention then was so that his proclamation could not be understood by those who rejected it and at the same understood by those who believe. Those who accepted it were given comprehension. Parable is a mystery. It is both hidden and revealed. It means it is revealed for those whose eyes are opened and hidden for those who hardened their hearts. The ability to understand the hidden message is solely the work of God.

The supreme parable according to Newbigin is Jesus Christ. The reign of God is both revealed and hidden in the words and works of Jesus and supremely in his cross and resurrection. It has to be proclaimed to all the nations by those to whom its secret has been entrusted—the church. Here the mystery of being open and hidden is also at work. Some people understand the meaning of the cross and resurrection of Jesus while other people do not. Perhaps it is because the reign of God is made known under the form of weakness and foolishness to those whom God has chosen to make it known. Clearly what happened to Jesus or what he allowed to happen to him is a form of weakness and foolishness from the world’s perspective.

Since the church is chosen to make know the reign of God, Jesus reminded the believers that they have to suffer. This truth is clearly expressed by in the little apocalypse discourse in Mark 13. If I understood Newbigin’s argument here, the church will share the tribulations with Christ because of its role as the one who proclaims the kingdom of God. The suffering are the occasion of the Spirit’s witness, and his witness must be given to all nations. Suffering is an essential part of the proclamation. It is when the church is suffering that the proclamation of the gospel is on its best.

God’s reign is indeed at hand. God is indeed active in history. But his action is hidden within what seems to be its opposite—suffering and tribulation for his people. The secret has been entrusted to those whom God chose. They are to be witnesses of it to all nations. In fact, it will be the Spirit himself who bears this witness in and through the messianic tribulations to which they are called. Their task is to remain faithful to the end. By faith they know that the reign of God has conquered the powers of evil. Their calling is to proclaim it, but even more powerful will be the proclamation of the Spirit, who takes their faithful enduring rejection as the occasion of his witness. Mission, seen from this angle, is faith in action. It is the acting out by proclamation and by endurance, through all the events of history, of the faith that the kingdom of God has drawn near (39).

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