Towards a theology of global mission: reconciliation and eschatology

In this third in a series of blog posts looking for a theological grounding to global mission I want to think about reconciliation and eschatology.

In the two previous blogs I’ve looked at invitational community and Missio Dei & the resurrected Christ. These three things can be thought of as the legs of a stool, if one leg is missing the mission stool falls over. They are perhaps better thought of as three overlapping sources; the three tributaries that create a lake.

Eschatology is important because it reveals the plans and purpose of God in making all things new and in bringing judgement. Whether these plans are to be understood as pre, post or a-millennial is an interesting debate but not central, though I personally balk at J N Darby’s attempts at rationalising the texts. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, preaching that in him it had come near; at communion we break bread and anticipate the full arrival of the kingdom; looking forward to his coming again. But for now we live in between these two book ends waiting but praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven and working to play our part in this.

Reconciliation is related, not simply because it is at the heart of the gospel but because it demonstrates the cosmic nature of the gospel and its intended goal. Eschatology exists because of the reconciling work of the Son.

As Colossians 1 explains,

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Reconciliation is all encompassing; it doesn’t just cover our reconciliation to God, the message of which we are now ambassadors, but the whole of God’s plans for the universe. Reconciliation and Eschatology therefore go together.

This has implications for mission and for the breadth of the life we seek to live. Irenaeus famously spoke of the Son and Spirit as being the two hands of God in his description of the Trinity and we can see the ongoing work of the Trinity in this cosmic reconciliation. The two arms forming us after God’s likeness and moulding us by his hands but staying with us from the beginning of creation to its fulfilment; recapitulating humanity and drawing it to relational fullness. Through this we can also see that salvation and the purpose of God is both the reconciliation of humanity to God and the whole of creation which has implications for issues of justice, creation care, community transformation as well as church planting and evangelism.

As Bishop Kallistos Ware notes, “man is not saved from his body, but in it; not saved from the material world but with it.” Our missional activity needs to be grounded in this broad understanding of God’s cosmic reconciliation and renewal.

Eschatology reminds us that there is a rightness(justice) in God’s ways; mission is not the free for all activity of a materialistic age, nor the self-assertive evangelicalism of people unaware of their own cultural particularities – rather it is the commission God gave to present to you the word of God in its fullness – 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

A view towards the eschaton provides a perspective in which we live towards, recognising the current fallen-ness of the world but confident in the larger purposes of God. As M Volf suggests, the movement of a triune God towards sinful humanity to take them up into the circle of the divine communal love.  

As mission communities, societies and agencies it is important that we keep in mind the overarching purpose of God; that our commitment to bring hope to people and communities doesn’t simply focus on what Jesus has done for them on the cross but on what he is doing today and will do in the future. Our commitment to the God who brings justice to the oppressed, life in all its fullness to all people and calls us both to spread news of his kingship and glory to the ends of the earth as well as steward his creation means that we need to live with our eyes lifted up to the Lord as well as keeping our feet firmly fixed in the earth. (Our commitment to the message and mission of the risen Christ, and to the Spirit’s creation of community helps us understand that bringing justice and helping the oppressed are not things that we do to people in the name of Christ, but are the activity of God which we can share in (often alongside those who are experiencing the oppression).

Anyway, as I finish this series here I’m hoping that you will find these reflections helpful. My aim is to find time to work on the ideas here and write a more coherent paper that creates a cogent argument for a theological grounding of global mission; but the reality of the day job and its demands means it will probably be several months before I get the chance.

Nevertheless, as we work through changing mission paradigms; grapple with finance, structures and futures; and try to understand our future direction I suggest that it will be found in the interplay between these three things. Invitational Community, the mission of the risen Christ and the hope of reconciliation. I recognise that those who feel mission is about evangelism, making disciples and planting churches (and that ameliorating social conditions, ministering to medical needs or providing aid are never the primary focus) may well think that I’ve deviated from the Biblical pattern of mission. In contrast I contend that it is in the interplay between these things that we have a proper understanding of mission; they help us understand and respond to the question ‘what is mission’, they help us think about what we understand by ‘the gospel’ because they also help us to understand the working of the triune God and answer the question ‘what kind of God?’.

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