If someone were to ask you what the Bible is about how would you answer? In chapter 2 of Mission of God's People Wright begins to answer that question but he does so in way that most Christians are completely unfamiliar with today. Wright has written extensively on the Grand Narrative of Scripture in his tome - The Mission of God. I think it is safe to say that most Christians understand that the Bible is about Jesus, foretold in the Old Testament, revealed in the New. Some may add it is the story of how God dealt with Israel and the Church. Some would undoubtedly say that is a love story or the greatest story ever told, but is that really sufficient? That's like saying that War and Peace is about war and peace, an unhelpful tautology.
Truth is, we have been taught to read the Bible, when we read it at all, as a devotional, random bits and pieces, isolating stories from the whole. Or, worse we get our Biblical diet from other "devotionals" instead of drinking from the source. This simply is insufficient as it doesn't connect the whole cosmic story together for us. It's like seeing a tree but missing the forest. Sadly, we have a tragic paucity of Biblical understanding in the Church today. How do I know this is true?
First, studies indicate a great lack of Biblical understanding by American Christians today. The fact is fewer than 1 in 10 Christians actually have a Biblical worldview. When we don't start there we will not even know there are deeper riches to be gleaned. I often encounter atheists who have a better understanding about our sacred text than most Christians. We may know some favorite Bible verses that give us comfort but we miss the Big Story, the meta-narrative, of the Bible and what it tells us about how we are to live sent today.
Second, my personal experience with the Perspectives study program makes this glaringly clear. Many students come to me after the Biblical section, the first five week, and ask, "How come I have never heard this before? I've been in church for ____ years." My simple response is, "because its not taught." This doesn't just apply for average Joe Christian who has sat in a pew for years but now wants to know what God has for them, so someone suggested they take Perspectives. I have had numerous veterans of missions, who have served the Lord for many years, have the same experience. One 30 year Wycliffe veteran, after understanding the Bible story we teach, gave testimony that, "now I see my ministry in a whole new light."
The fact is that we simply do not know what we do not know. And because we don't know this story we don't allow it to shape our lives. And when the story doesn't shape our lives we don't live the mission we are called to. But when we know the story, we live the story, just like so many Perspective alumni. who have been "ruined for the ordinary" (a little saying we have in Perspectives.)
Why aren't more Christians living sent today? Because they don't know the story we are in. But Wrights point out that this was not the issue for the first followers of Jesus and because they understood the mission of God went forth to live sent and shape the world across the last two thousand years.
Wright asks, "What was it that made Christianity a missionary faith from the beginning. What made the first followers of Jesus so passionately, courageously and unstoppably committed to telling the whole world about him?" Wright points out that it was not the Great Commission, although most Evangelical churches, who are at all mission oriented, use this as the rallying cry - "Go therefore and make disciples..." But as Wright points out the New Testament, with Matthew 28:19-20 recorded for all of history was not written until years following the launch of the mission enterprise we call the Church. That's not to imply Jesus didn't say this. However, as Wright points out, if it was the Great Commission that motivated and mobilized the Church, it wasn't mentioned in the Book of Acts by the early Church and Paul never once refers to it.
Wright points out that ut is also insufficient to say that the earlier followers of the Way simply were living out of obedience to what they understood and had been instructed to do. Then as now, Wright tells us that, "to call people to conversion was to confront them with serious and costly demand." We need to rethink what the Great Commission is, as it is not a call to an adventurous life to escape the monotony for average Jane Christian, as she heads off to some exotic foreign land. You cannot be in most churches long without hearing something about the Great Commission, that we need to live in obedience to it, that we should "go." Why then do most of us stay? Do we really want to live in disobedience, unwilling to lay down our 5 and 10 year plans? Maybe its deeper than that? Maybe we simply don't understand the story we are in?
One final thought here today, we also have some insufficient thinking about what the Great Commission calls us to. Many think that the Great Commission is a call to foreign missions - "Go into all the world" and that is way it is often communicated, as mission has been taught to be "over there." Then the result is, "I am not called to go overseas" and so we have an excuse to stay home and not be involved in mission (reflect back on the whole church, whole Gospel, whole world idea we looked at previously - see the menu on the right.) But what Jesus was really saying in the word "Go" is better translated, "as you continue on your way, make disciples..." I think it is safe to say that Jesus understood the story he was in. That being the case, perhaps we can rethink the Great Commission this way: "as you continue to live in my story, make disciples."
We'll look more at how we can know the whole story next time. We have to know His Story for living sent today.