theologyontheunderground

Random thoughts and questions


How human do you feel today?

Moment of confession: I’m not sure I’m fully human until after my first morning coffee… Jeremy Vine on his lunch time Radio 2 show has been asking ‘What does it mean to be human?’ and the guest contributions have been quite fascinating and hugely varied.

Chris Wright looks at this through the lens of the Genesis account of God’s first commands to Adam & Eve, in other words ‘These things are your purpose.’  He also notes that the name Adam is closely connected to the Hebrew word for earth – so closely, that in fact translated the name could mean ‘earth-man.’  Adam is an integral part of the whole living eco-sphere, even though he’s about to be given a very particular role.  For Adam & Eve, read humanity: we do not exist separately from this planet; what affects it, affects us.

The commands that are given to Adam and Eve are these:

  • Be fruitful (Gen 1.28)
    Multiply – in fact, fill the earth. This bit humanity has quite successfully managed!
  • Rule over the land (Gen 1.28)
    This has been understood in many ways, with differing degrees of rapacity (sadly). Chris Wright’s interpretation is that this ‘dominion over’ or ‘subduing of’ the land is to be done in a way that is the image of God’s own kingship, ie we are to model his compassion and wisdom.  This instruction is not about tyranny over or exploitation of the land, but about stewardship – as the next words indicate…
  • Work the land (Gen 2.15)
    The oldest profession is gardener, not anything else. The word used is one that means ‘to serve’ – Chris Wright notes ‘with connotation of doing hard work in the process of serving.’†
  • Care for the land (Gen 2.15)
    Interesting one of the meanings of the Hebrew word that underlies the translation – which literally means ‘to keep safe’ – is to treat it ‘seriously as something worthy of devoted attention’ – ie by studying and understanding it.‡

Note that these commands form the mission given to humanity – the Christian is first a human (after coffee, anyway!) then a follower of Christ.

Chris Wright then goes onto explore how God’s people might more effectively think about the world around us as being a part of God’s plans – in worship, in redemption and in consummation.

Does all of this mean that the Church should be addressing a green agenda?  It does – the initial blessings bestowed by God are ones addressed to the living world.  ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ is a blessing addressed to humanity after the teeming creatures of both sea and sky have had a taste of it first!  What affects the planet affects us – we need to look after the world that first cares for us.

Does it mean that we can look at the living world as a place where God has spoken and can still speak?  A new and increasing interest in a nature-based spirituality that are very old (Celtic Christianity meets Forest Church) would say ‘Yes, we can.’

If we are aware of nature as the ‘second book of God’ (read Ps 19, verses 1-4) – how do we attune ourselves to hear things about God through it?

The more we are aware of the world we live in, the more human we are.

† p 51, ‘People who care for creation,’ Christopher JH Wright, ‘The Mission of God’s People’, Zondervan.

‡ ibid.


Looking wider (or – does my blog look big in this?)

There aren’t many books that are improved by starting to read twelves chapters in.  (Please feel free to suggest some that might do, if any occur to you.)

I mention this, because in the last blog, amongst other questions that arose, ‘Why start referring to the Bible at Genesis chapter 12?’ was one that was still lurking, waiting to be asked.

Actually, Chris Wright might be quite irked that I picked up his narrative at this point – because he very carefully starts at the beginning (ie Genesis chap. 1) and works forward from there. When he says ‘Whole Bible theology’ – he means it!

(Although it also has to be said, in considering the whole story*, he first references Jesus words of instruction to his followers to go and make disciples, which is set at the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – 28 chapters into the New Testament)

So what have I missed out?  The first 11 chapters of Genesis are big-screen stuff (quite literally in the case of Noah – although many would want to dispute large chunks of Darren Aronofsky’s recent epic film!); The universe comes into being, humanity springs up and falls over, there’s fratricidal murder, ecological catastrophe, animal rescue, drunkenness, sky-scrapers and city-building, the division of the nations…

These stories are the back-drop to Abraham’s story, describing a multi-ethnic region where cities abound, where trade goes alongside war and where immigrants were regarded with suspicion; an area where people thought ‘You know, once, it was all much nicer…’ Sound familiar?  The technology may be very different, but the people sound very much the same.

Within this back-drop is the thread of God’s reaching into the picture, indeed the making of the frame – his involvement in the whole business of the material world, his blessings, his judgments and indeed his first covenant promise.  (This covenant is notable because it is not made to an individual or a family or even just humans, but with every living creature on the planet.  Even cockroaches are recipients of God’s grace and promises!)  Many important themes that run through the whole of the Bible have their origin in these chapters (some would argue that all major threads start here).

SO – why start at chapter 12?  Mainly because the focus changes from ‘The way things are’ to ‘the story of a people charged with a mission.’  There is a movement from ‘pre-history’ to ‘the story of a tribe.’  The focus closes in on a single place and a single man; Abraham and his encounter with God that starts a whole new ball rolling and the beginning of a new episode in the story of God and humanity.

That story is something that the group of Jesus’ disciples understood as being their story; they were taking it on, making it real in their generation – obeying God to ‘Go – bless – and bless all nations.’  They weren’t starting something new; they were living out, sharing in a new way, the foundational and transformational message of God’s interest in and care for all people and nations.

So the question comes back to us again – is this our story? And how do we share it?

*Chapter 2 ‘People who know the story they are part of’, p 35, Christopher JH Wright, ‘The Mission of God’s People’, Zondervan.


Get on with it, then… and what’s with the penguins?

So what is this mission? I will not prevaricate about the bush any longer.

Chris Wright boils the mission down to this skeleton that comes from God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 12.1-3:

Go…

and be a blessing…

and all nations will be blessed through you.’*

Now you (like me!) may have various reactions to that.

  • Is that all?  Isn’t that just a bit simplistic? (To quote the penguins from the film Madagascar: ‘Smile and wave, boys, smile and wave…)
  • I can do that! Or I think I can – if blessings means smile & be pleasant to…
  • That doesn’t sound like what the Church has done to the world, to me.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Through me? How? All nations?

And the list might go on.  (Please feel free to add other reactions.)

My predominant reaction, though, is the glorious lightness of this task (even if it also promises to take me to dark places in order to fulfil it): I am (we are) supposed to be in the business of being a blessing to others.

And not just when they sneeze.

There are a number of questions that come out of this summary, of course (which is why Chris Wright’s book runs to nearly three hundred pages).  Stuff such as – ‘Why Go?,’ ‘Bless how?,’ ‘Which nations?’ and ‘What happened to Genesis chapters 1-11?’  More on these later.

(Bonus marks for those who can spot a hidden penguin in the above.)

* p. 73, The Mission of God’s People, Christopher JH Wright, Zondervan


Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

There is theology.  Then there is theology that is a pleasure to read.  This book is definitely in the latter category.  Chris Wright apologises in his introduction for any elements in the books that echo its origin in sermons that he has given – but this to my mind is a strength; he’s worked hard to make the ideas he’s sharing simple enough to speak, be heard and understood.  Having said that – those sermons will not have been short ones; there’s tons of good stuff here.

Not that this affects the depth of what Wright has to say; he has a profound thesis that he presents with clarity all the way through the book.  It is this: The mission of God’s people must reflect the mission of God.  Having written a whole book* on the latter (which he then unsurprisingly quotes widely), he now looks at the former and traces the echoes of the calling given to Abraham through the prophets which is expressed by Jesus and then in the thoughts of St Paul and St Peter, the early church leaders.

Some notes that Chris Wright makes right at the beginning should be echoed here.  This is theology that directly connects to mission: ‘No theology without missional impact: No mission without theological foundations.’  Additionally – this is theology that addresses the whole Bible – it starts in Genesis and ends up in Revelations. The fact that Abraham has already been mentioned is not by chance; the covenant made with him is a key point in Wright’s understanding of what God’s people are supposed to be about.

This is the question then: what is God up to – and how are we to echo it in the 21st Century?  The answers that Wright gives include ones that address life inside the church and out, at work, in the spheres of ecological response and public domain as well as the witness to and procamation of the Gospel message.

What’s your mission?

* The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bble’s Grand Narrative, Christopher J.H. Wright, pub. Downers Grove, Il: IVP, and Nottingham: IVP, 2007


So what’s the book…

…I hear you cry?
Actually – I have read two in recent weeks that have challenged me in my thinking.
Both are still sat on my bookshelf and will be re-read and then quoted, commented on and chewed over in this blog in days and weeks to come.
The first is ‘The Mission of God’s People’ by Christopher JH Wright (published by Zondervan). Subtitled ‘A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission’, the book is a part of Zondervan’s ‘Biblical Theology for Life’ series.
The second is technically not theology (sorry about that). It is, instead, ecclesiology ( thinking about the church); as  I have a slightly longer and probably more unfamiliar description, I hope you you’ll forgive this loose terminology. (It’ll probably get a lot looser than that, as we go on.) The book is ‘The Forgotten Ways’, by Alan Hirsch, published by Strand/BrazosPress.

If you’ve read these already – let me know your thoughts.


I just read this amazing book…

And what was even more amazing – it was theology.

‘Theology? Surely not! The paper version of mogadon on steroids.’ Not on this occasion.

Did someone pay you to read it?  Someone suggested I did (and that was connected to my job) – but they’re not paying me to review it, quote from it or argue with it.

Are you doing this with an end in mind? Yes – I hope to have conversations with fellow-travellers (of the faith variety) about the ‘whats’ and especially the ‘hows’ of Christian mission and ministry. I might one day also speak to someone else on the Tube!  But don’t hold your breath on that one. It’s NOT the done thing.  And I’m a introvert – much easier to read a book… (I think this where I came in…)