From Paul Tripp’s book, Dangerous Calling:
We all know it, we’ve all seen it, we’ve all been uncomfortable with it, and we’ve all done it. The bottom line is this: proud people tend to talk about themselves a lot. Proud people tend to like their opinions more than the opinions of others. Proud people think their stories are more interesting and engaging than others. Proud people think they know and understand more than others’. Proud people think they’ve earned the right to be heard. Proud people think they have glory to offer. Proud people, because they are basically proud of what they know and of what they’ve done, talk a lot about both. Proud people don’t reference weakness. Proud people don’t talk about failure. Proud people don’t confess sin. So proud people are better at putting the spotlight on themselves than at shining the light of their stories and opinions on God’s glorious and utterly undeserved grace. (175)
Powerful. Convicting. Necessary.
Since The Masculine Mandate by Rick Phillips was available last week for free on Kindle, I decided to make it my Sunday reading yesterday. I was both encouraged and challenged by it, and this quote from the conclusion illustrates the central message of the book:
God placed man in the garden, just as He now sovereignly places us into covenant relationships and specific life situations. The Lord tells us “to work it and keep it,” so that in joyful obedience we may serve Him by building up, nurturing, and cultivating for growth, while also keeping and guarding so that all that is under our care is kept safe. It is a simple calling in that it is easy to understand, but it is not often easy to live. (Richard D. Phillips, The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men, pgs. 153-154)
I greatly enjoyed Timothy Tennent’s book on Trinitarian missiology for its attempt to root thoroughly all of missiology in the Trinity. There is much that I could write about his approach (and certain aspects have me thinking of how to apply it to future doctoral studies), but I just want to comment briefly on one aspect that I found interesting and questionable at the same time.
In discussing the Holy Spirit’s role in mission, Tennent makes the following comments:
The Reformation’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture, ecclesiology, and Christology are clearly reflected in the post-Reformation attempt to systematize the theological deposit of the Reformers. However, as was the case during the patristic period, this meant that a full development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was delayed and several vital aspects of the person and work of the Holy Spirit were neglected in post-Reformation Protestant theology in the West. Over time, several major theological traditions developed that either denied completely or extremely limited the active role of the Holy Spirit in miracles, divine healing, demonic deliverance, prophecy, tongues speaking, and other elements that later would become central features of the Pentecostal doctrine of the Holy Spirit. This tendency is evident in many expressions of Reformed theology, as well as the later nineteenth-century dispensationalism, although the precise lines of their argumentation against the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit today are quite different from one another.” (Kindle Locations 4719-4725)
Clearly Tennent seems to think that it’s not simply that the Reformers and their heirs did not focus enough on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but also that they were essentially wrong about the role of the Holy Spirit (and the rest of the chapter seems to indicate this as well).
I have heard from several places that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was underdeveloped in the Reformation and the Reformed tradition (though I have never studied this out myself). As an example later in the chapter, Tennent notes that in Berkhof’s classic systematic theology (now free online), he deals with the Holy Spirit almost exclusively with regard to soteriology, and that in classic Reformed works the Holy Spirit does not usually even get his own section.
I do hope to do a little more reading on this area in particular (update to add: a helpful commenter pointed to some good resources specifically related to the WCF: The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit, and the audio from the GPTS 2011 conference), but I must note two things:
(1) The Reformers, and even some of those that came after them, were not primarily concerned with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit because they were responding to so many other theological issues in light of their split from Rome. Thus it is possible that they didn’t always concentrate as much on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as did certain other movements. But this only indicates the way theology generally develops: in response to specific circumstances.
(2) The weight of his criticism depends on whether or not the Reformed theological evaluations of the issues he mentions are correct or not (“miracles, divine healing, demonic deliverance, prophecy, tongues speaking, and other elements that later would become central features of the Pentecostal doctrine of the Holy Spirit”). That is, he essentially criticizes the Reformers for being cessationists. Thus he assumes that continuationism is the only way to appropriately convey the role that the Holy Spirit plays in the work of the church today.
It seems that we can simultaneously affirm that the Reformed tradition has not always emphasized the full work of the Holy Spirit as it should have while yet also teaching that Scripture indicates that the manner in which the Spirit works through the church since the Apostles does not entail the ways that Pentecostalism has described that work.
Along those lines, I recently listened to Burk Parsons’ talk at TGC 2013, entitled “Recapturing a Robust Doctrine of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit.” I may post a summary and more thoughts later if time allows, but basically, while affirming cessationism, he urges toward a greater recognition of and dependence on the Holy Spirit in all of our theology and ministry.
And in case you’re wondering: there is no connection between the picture and the post. I’m just using pictures that I’ve taken through my world travels because I like them. That and I don’t have a time of time for Photoshop these days.
Having summarized Millar’s critique of Chris Wright and examined his minor concerns with The Mission of God, I now want to look at the substance of his critique. I do believe his major concerns warrant more attention, though I’m not sure they are all equally valid. I also want to offer a few other thoughts on Wright’s work, giving a few criticisms that Millar does not give.
Evaluating Millar’s Six Major Concerns
Millar’s first three concerns are closely related in that they have to do with how Wright interprets Scripture (both hermeneutics and exegesis) so I will discuss them together. Here are his first three criticisms in summary form:
(1) There is an absence of the Bible at key points.
(2) Millar says that there is a persistent exegetical carelessness in the book, which is uncharacteristic of Wright.
(3) Wright is unwilling to allow the NT to shape how we read the OT.
First, the second point seems a bit overstated. While certainly Millar cited some examples where Wright does seem to have misinterpreted passages (e.g., making Acts 6 primarily about physical help or social action, when the emphasis was clearly on the word and prayer), saying that there is a “persistent exegetical carelessness” in the book seems a bit strong. He may have not have been as careful as an exegete of specific passages, but surely others he simply exegetes and interprets them differently.
Secondly, Millar’s critique in points (1) and (3) seem to highlight one of the key issues for Wright’s work: the relationship of the OT and the NT. His lack of discussion of how the NT interprets and uses the Exodus, Jubilee, and exile themes is quite damaging to his thesis. This lack of an explicit explanation of the OT/NT relationship is likely what causes the absence of Scriptural support at key points.
To be clearer, the way the New Testament uses the exile and Exodus paradigm seems to primarily focus on the spiritual implications for the NT church. Though Wright may assert that we can’t cancel out the physical dimensions of the Exodus, the question remains why the NT authors do not seem to understand its significance in that way? While Wright is an OT scholar, surely more interaction with the NT at key points would have been helpful.
(4) Wright contends that evangelism is ultimate, but not primary.
This criticism is probably a little harder to pin down, as Millar cites a quote from Wright in which he says that mission has not been completed if the cross has not been proclaimed. I.e., the difference between “ultimacy” vs. “primacy” may be somewhat difficult to determine in his book. I think really what Millar is criticizing is Wright’s approach in which “everything mission.”
So he argues that Wright suggests that evangelism is simply one a number of the things that the church may rightly do, but it is not above any of the others in terms of hierarchy. While certainly Wright does not accept a hierarchy, he does seem to give it somewhat more importance than certain other aspects of what may be included in “mission,” as he doesn’t say that mission has not been done until plants have been cared as he does say about the proclamation of the cross. I believe that this criticism is really a subset of a larger issue that Millar did not mention, which I will bring up at the end.
(5) Millar argues that there is a weak doctrine of sin and judgment in the book.
(6) Millar notes that the word “gospel” is not present in the index, nor is it featured in the book itself.
These two criticisms naturally fit together. Regarding sin, I’m not sure that Millar paints Wright in completely fair terms, as he does talk about the various dimensions of the sin problem (vertical, horizontal, environmental, historical, etc). It’s probably fair to say that because Wright is seeking to correct a view which only ever talks about the vertical dimension of sin, he spends more time on the horizontal and environmental side of the discussion. This seems like a classic case of swinging a little far in one’s emphasis, rather than a complete lack of a doctrine of hell, as Millar seems to suggest.
Regarding the lack of “gospel” being present, of course, I believe this has to be a damaging criticism. Considering not just the emphasis on the gospel in the Epistles, but also the fact that Jesus came “preaching the gospel of the kingdom,” surely some attention should be given to that. And surely the discussion of the good news of the kingdom leads to a discussion of the already/not yet, which would help with some of the OT/NT issues that have already been pointed out.
Two Other Thoughts on Wright’s Work
(1) Wright never makes any distinction between the church or the people of God as institution versus organism.
In my opinion, this is the most glaring failure of Wright’s work. He simply never addresses this point. He simply assumes that what can be said of the “mission” of individual Christians as part of God’s people can be said of God’s people as a whole, that is, in the church.
This seems to me to be the issue behind many of the issues that Millar brought up. That is, he criticizes Wright for not discussing Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19-20, or other key “mission” texts. Wright does this because he wants to show how mission is not only throughout the Bible but the basis for the existence of the Bible. And that’s a good emphasis because it shows us that there is a much larger story going on in which we have a part to play.
But it’s dangerous because it disconnects the current mission of the church from what we see in the New Testament about how the apostles and the early church understood their mission.
In particular, in a world full of need, it gives little help to the church in figuring out how, as the church, God’s people should be involved in what God is doing. There is an institutional/organized component to the church in the New Testament, as we see the instructions about elders, deacons, worship, offerings, etc. The mission of that group seems to be considerably more narrowly focused than that of individual Christians. And Wright simply fails to ever acknowledge this distinction, and I find that to be a glaring problem.
(2) Is participation in God’s holistic mission the best way of formulating the way we are part of God’s mission?
Wright defines mission in this way: “Fundamentally, our mission, if it is biblically informed and validated, means our committed participation as God’s people at God’s invitation and command in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation.”
And so he sees, for example, the fighting of disease as part of the redemption of God’s creation. Accordingly, fighting disease is part of the church’s mission in his view.
This is a much larger discussion than I can get in to now, but it seems to me that “participation” may not be the best way of framing this. Or, to be more precise, our participation in the world of redemption itself may not be the best way of explaining our mission.
The New Testament (and even the Old Testament in many places) seems to indicate that our manner of participation is that of witness: we testify to the work of redemption that God is doing and will do. The primary means of this in the NT is through verbal proclamation. The church’s diaconal or mercy work certainly testifies to God’s interest in people as whole people, not disembodied spirits. But the language of testimony or witness to God’s work of redemption seems to keep God in his role and the church in his role.
In Part One, I summarized Gary Millar’s talk that he gave at the 2013 Gospel Coalition Conference. I had intended to write one more post analyzing it, but I believe that it will take two more posts to do so. In this one I plan on looking at Millar’s summary of Wright as well as his four minor concerns, to be followed in the third post by a consideration of his six deeper concerns.
Why I’m Interested in Wright
Some might be wondering why I am interested enough in Chris Wright’s work to type out all of this regarding Millar’s critique. Besides the obvious point that I like to read and write both academically and as a hobby, I feel like in some ways that Chris Wright’s thought has been with me on my own theological journey for a number of years.
I was first exposed to his book in college, and I greatly enjoyed The Mission of God. At the time, I found it to be an eye-opening look at biblical theology. That is, the way he showed how God’s mission to reach not only my suburban upbringing, but also the nations, was present throughout the Bible—New and Old Testaments—was powerful in my understanding of Scripture and the church’s task. I was also thinking through some of the things I had seen within a context of cultural fundamentalism (as opposed to simply being committed to the fundamentals of the faith), in which the proclamation of the gospel seemed to be the only thing that mattered. Works of justice and mercy—whether specifically run by the church or not—didn’t seem to get a lot of airtime.
So when I read Chris Wright, and he sought to demonstrate how God’s concern for the physical extended throughout all of Scripture alongside of his concern for men’s souls, I could not help but be interested in his approach. This was happening at the same time that I was beginning to travel more and have my eyes opened to the situation of the poor in many places around the world.
Several years later, after finishing seminary and heading towards ordination in the PCA, I found myself interacting with Kevin DeYoung’s work, particularly What is the Mission of the Church? as well other Reformed approaches to some of the same questions that Wright had raised. I could sense doubts about Wright’s approach beginning to arise, though I still saw great benefit in parts of his missional survey of Scripture. I later blogged my way through The Mission of God’s People, and then read through The Mission of God again. I was once again impressed by many aspects of it (many of the same ones that Millar highlights), though I was unsatisfied by other aspects.
So with that background in mind, I want to take a look at Millar’s critique and consider whether or not his criticisms hold water.
Millar’s Summary of Wright: Fair or Not?
On the whole, it seems to me that Millar’s summary of Wright represented his approach fairly. My concern is that Millar seemed to take quite a few jabs at Wright’s work during the summary. While obviously he was anticipating the critiques he would bring later, it seemed to hinder getting a fair presentation of exactly what Wright had written. In particular, his jab at the end of his summary that Wright’s book was not very clear was a bit odd. I found the book quite clear at most points. Even if there are serious issues of disagreement, that doesn’t mean it isn’t clear, only that it may be in error.
Assessing Millar’s Four Questions/Observations
Though not Millar’s deepest concerns, they clearly are important to him, as they resurface at the end in his scathing summary critique of Wright. Of these four concerns, in my admittedly not as well-informed opinion, only one of them rings completely true.
On Overstating the Case: Millar suggests that Wright at times overstates his case. I agree. To argue that the Exodus and the Jubilee are the major paradigms for mission in Scripture seems overstated. At the very least, if Wright is going to make that case more strongly, he would need to show how the NT writers relied on those two paradigms in their own understanding of their mission. I am not saying, of course, that for something from the OT to be valid, it must be repeated in the NT (I agree strongly with the covenant theology expressed in the Westminster Standards). But at the same time, Wright isn’t just saying that the Jubilee and Exodus are paradigms or helpful windows into mission in the OT. He is saying they are primary paradigms. Such a claim needs further evidence from within Scripture itself so far as I can see.
On the Missional Hermeneutic: Millar strongly criticizes Wright’s use of the term “missional hermeneutic.” He thinks it is unclear, and therefore not helpful. As I have read Wright, he is saying this: there is not so much a biblical basis for mission as there is a missional basis for the Bible. That is, as God’s revelation to his people, the Bible exists because God has a mission to redeem and renew all things.
Therefore, when we read Scripture, we need to view it, and all its contents from that perspective. Even the most common of stories in the Old Testament was written for the purpose of advancing God’s mission, and so we need to be aware of that and make that clear when we preach and teach it.
I understand that Millar’s problem lies more with the term “hermeneutic” than with “missional.” We can talk about a “grammatical-historical” hermeneutic and know that we need to read Scripture using the tools of grammar and history in order to do our exegesis, putting Scripture in its proper context. Millar doesn’t see how “missional hermeneutic” can be considered a method in any clear manner. But in the sense that I described above, I don’t find it unclear, though obviously it must still work in concert with proper principles of biblical interpretation.
On Having an Aversion to Going Anywhere: I found this critique a bit puzzling. Millar cited no statements from The Mission of God that explicitly illustrated such an idea from Wright. If I understood Millar correctly, his flow of thought seemed to go like this:
(1) Wright deemphasizes texts such as the Great Commission in favor of seeing mission from the whole Bible. (2) Wright sees everything as mission. (3) Accordingly, Wright must not think relocating for the sake of gospel ministry is important.
I’m not sure that is a fair reading of Wright’s work. As I will explore more later, I do think he needs to spend more time on the NT and how it discusses mission. But nonetheless, as I read Wright’s focus on the nations initially, I couldn’t help but be encouraged all the more to go to the nations. It is possible that I misread him, but I never got that sense.
That’s not to say that I don’t have deep concerns about his “everything is mission” paradigm, as that does seem to undercut gospel proclamation (more on this later). But to say that he has a “deep aversion” to going anywhere doesn’t seem to flow from what Wright himself has written.
On Using Straw Man Arguments: I do see Millar’s point here. But I’m not sure that is exactly what Wright was doing in some of the examples Millar provided, for one main reason.
While there may not be one single person who holds to all of the various extremes that Millar cited (only using Matthew 28, seeing no implications for politics or daily life from the resurrection, et al), there are certainly people who have advocated one or another of them in some way. Growing up, I certainly heard plenty of sermons on mission from Matthew 28, but very few from the Old Testament. Now scholarly circles may have done better in this area, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Dispensationalists could very well be said to cancel out much OT teaching (not just on mission) with NT teaching, seeing radical discontinuity there. So I’m not sure that these arguments are truly straw-men arguments. They might not be the best arguments, but that doesn’t mean they are straw-men arguments.
Now I would imagine that at some points Wright uses arguments that don’t perfectly describe the positions of his opponents. We all fail in being completely clear, so I don’t know that it’s particularly helpful in a 535-page book to bring out a few small examples of such things.
So thus far, while Millar, as far as I’m concerned, has not proven his case very well. But in the last post, I’ll look at his deeper concerns, which is really where the primary discussion will come.
In terms of previewing my perspective, I do think Millar’s six larger concerns are both more serious and generally more accurate. I’m not convinced however, that they truly advance the conversation or hit at some of the things that might ultimately help Wright’s project to be refined biblically.
At The Gospel Coalition national conference in April, Gary Millar gave a talk in which he critiqued Chris Wright’s massive tome, The Mission of God. I have read The Mission of God twice (in addition to others of Chris Wright’s works), and while I greatly appreciate much of what Wright has done in his books, I too have concerns about his approach to biblical theology. Obviously, I was quite curious to see what Millar would have to say about Wright’s book.
The audio was briefly put up on the Conference Media page, but it seems to in process again at this point. However, somehow I was able to get the audio when it was up briefly, and so I want to write two posts about the talk. In this first one, I will simply summarize Millar’s talk based on the notes I took on it. In the second post, I hope to examine Millar’s critiques and see if they hold water or not.
Millar’s Summary of The Mission of God
Millar begins his talk by summarizing the argument and flow of The Mission of God. He also notes that he has great appreciation for Chris Wright both academically and personally, but that obviously he believes there are things that need critique in his book. He gives three reasons for critiquing the book:
- The book is becoming a common textbook in “missio dei” classes and discussion.
- His approach (missoi dei–>mission of God’s people) is taken for granted.
- He believes Wright’s approach to be deeply flawed.
Four Key Conclusions from Wright
Millar summarizes what he sees as the four main conclusions that Wright presents in his work:
- Mission is the mission of God. As Wright puts it on page 22, “Fundamentally, our mission, if it is biblically informed and validated, means our committed participation as God’s people at God’s invitation and command in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation.”
- Everything is mission.
- The Great Commandment is as important as the Great Commission.
- The Jubilee and the Exodus are primary paradigms for mission.
Walking through The Mission of God
Millar then goes on to walk through the four parts of the book, though obviously, this is only a brief summary of the book, given it is 535 pages in total.
Part 1: The Bible and Mission
Here Wright summarizes his key terms and his approach, which he describes as a “missional hermeneutic.” Millar suggests that Wright is not merely saying that the Bible is a product of God’s mission (though it is certainly that), but that he is also saying that a “missional hermeneutic” is a certain method for reading the Scriptures also.
From that, Wright argues that we should not base our understanding of mission only on texts like the Great Commission in Matthew 28, but that we we must take the whole Bible into account. The overarching category of story–the story of the Bible as the story of God on mission–is the source for authority.
Part 2: The God of Mission
Millar highlights in this section how Wright sees the exodus and the return from exile as the main events that give shape to God’s mission in the OT. He also builds on his previous work on monotheism, idolatry, and critique of religious pluralism, all of which Millar finds helpful.
Part 3: The People of Mission
Millar notes some quibbles and some things he appreciates (such as the brilliant connection between the tower of Babel and the call of Abraham), but he hones in on three aspects of Wright’s approach in this section.
First, he notes that Wright makes the mission of Israel a controlling idea in the NT. Anticipating his coming critiques, he suggests that this idea is without sufficient exegetical warrant.
Secondly, he focuses on how Wright views the Exodus as paradigmatic for mission. The key point here is that Wright, unlike Millar, sees the Exodus as paradigmatic in all its aspects: political, social, and spiritual. That is, he sees it presenting a model which carries into the NT period, a model which says that God cares about redeeming his people from slavery, oppression, the effects of the curse, etc, not simply slavery to their own sin. Again anticipating his critique, Millar suggests this is lacking exegetically, particularly from the NT, as the NT makes the connection with the Exodus primarily in terms of Christ’s death on the cross in order to reconcile us to God.
Thirdly, he notes that Wright also sees the Jubilee as paradigmatic for mission, though again Millar suggests that this is thin exegetically, as the Jubilee gets very little airtime in the rest of Scripture, that is, outside of the original context in which it was given.
From these three points, Millar is showing that Wright thinks that mission is on every page of the OT, from Israel’s missional calling to the priesthood as symbolic of mission, to the Exodus and Jubilee, and so on.
Part 4: The Arena of Mission
Millar admits that he sees this section as the most problematic. In it, Wright makes his case that because the effects of sin extend to the relationship between God, humanity, and the earth, so also the extent of mission must deal with all of those relationships. And so Wright suggests (as he does in his later book, The Mission of God’s People), that mission extends to even working with the non-human.
Wright also argues that sin spreads horizontally in people and institutions and vertically through generations, and thus sin can be institutional, structural, endemic, and embedded in history. Millar doubts that these formulations have significant exegetical warrant. He also suggests that while Wright’s survey of the biblical teaching on the nations is helpful at many points, he gives far little space to the theme of the judgment of the nations, which is part of the biblical record.
A 7-Point Summary of The Mission of God
- Mission is God’s mission.
- Mission is central to the Bible.
- The Bible is written on mission and is the product of God’s people on their mission
- We need to read Bible through a missional lens and hermeneutic
- The whole Bible should shape our mission
- Sin is all-pervasive, between individuals, countries, structures, etc
- The primary paradigms for mission are the Exodus and the Jubilee
- God’s mission is all-embracing, setting all nations free from the all-encompassing problems of sin
In light of this summary, Millar says that he doesn’t believe this book is the clearest that has ever been written, despite his appreciation for others of Wright’s works. He then moves on to his affirmations and critiques.
Six Things Millar Loves about the Book
- The God-centeredness of Wright’s approach
- His brilliant defense of the uniqueness of Christ
- His insights into key OT texts like Genesis 11-12, and 18-19
- His discussion and exegesis of key OT missiological texts, despite his overly positive view of the nations in the OT
- His clear articulation of what what God asks of us: to be involved in what God is doing in the world, and to speak in a way that commends God to the nations
- His affirmation that evangelism is at the heart of mission
Four Things Millar Noticed and Questioned
- Some things are unclear, such as his use of the term “missional hermeneutic.” Millar suggests that it’s unclear what exactly this method is, whether it’s just the awareness of mission’s importance as we read it, or something more.
- Wright has a tendency to overstate his case, such as the missional role of Israel being everywhere, or the Jubilee and Exodus as paradigms for mission.
- Wright has an aversion to going anywhere. That is, Millar thinks he underplays the importance of the Great Commission and relocating for the sake of gospel ministry. Millar goes so far as to say that Wright relativizes Matthew 28.
- Wright has an annoying habit of using straw man arguments. Millar references several caricatures: that those who don’t agree with Wright only talk about Matthew 28:19-20 with reference to mission, that Jesus’ claims were misunderstood by Romans and Jews and that his death and resurrection have no impact on the real world, including politics, and that we can’t cancel out OT teaching on mission with NT teaching on mission. Along with others, Millar suggests that this is not an accurate picture of those who disagree with Wright, and so his arguments fall flat.
Millar’s Six Deep Concerns
- There is an absence of the Bible at key points. Millar specifically references the paradigmatic status given to the Exodus and Jubilee and the relationship of the OT and NT. He suggests that Wright assumes too much continuity without proving such, particularly in relation to the Exodus, without giving attention to how the NT interprets the exodus event through Christ.
- Millar says that there is a persisten exegetical carelessness in the book, which is uncharacteristic of Wright. He cites a number of examples: Wright’s skipping over how the verbs in Gen. 1:27 and 2:15 are later used for priestly activity, his replacing of “righteousness” with “justice” in Matt. 6:33 without exegetical defense, his use of Acts 6 to affirm the importance of social action, ignoring that the passage actually highlights the centrality of the ministry of word and prayer, and others.
- Wright is unwilling to allow the NT to shape how we read the OT. He again notes that Wright does not examine the NT passages on the Exodus to see how they shape our view of that event for the current age. He doesn’t look at how the experience of a Israelite slave freed from Egypt would differ from that of a Roman slave freed from the bondage of sin in the first century. He also notes that he doesn’t interact with other biblical theology very much.
- Wright contends that evangelism is ultimate, but not primary. Millar’s basic concern here is that evangelism, while not rejected, is simply put alongside a list of other things that we also must do as part of mission. That is, there is no hierarchy in terms of mission, and so ecological work can be put alongside of evangelism. Millar finds this particularly weak, given no sustained examination of Acts 1:8 (or the rest of Acts), the Great Commission, or the theme of witness in Revelation.
- Millar argues that there is a weak doctrine of sin and judgment in the book. Millar argues that Wright’s view of sin seems to primarily be horizontal in terms of its effects on our environment (speaking more broadly than, though including, the natural world). He notes that original sin does not seem to have much place in the book, nor substitutionary atonement. The positive evaluation of the nations and lack of discussion of the theme of judgment lead Millar to conclude that while Wright is not a universalistic himself, it opens the door wide for that view.
- Millar notes that the word “gospel” is not present in the index, nor is it featured in the book itself. He admits that Wright would likely say it’s the driving force behind all of mission, but Millar argues that it must be explicitly defined, discussed, and cited as the driving force behind mission.
Summary of Millar’s Concerns
Millar asks the following question: if this book dominates evangelical and Reformed missions for the next 30 years, where will we be?
There will be no hell, no judgment, not really any hope from the cross, no one will go anywhere, no one will preach to anyone, because we’re not sure that God cares that much, because everything is mission, and being is more important than going. Thus Millar says that it would be disastrous to take theology from TMoG.
Millar says that it’s not so much what’s in the book as it is what’s left out of it. His fear is that if we leave out what’s left out of The Mission of God, there will be no going, no preaching, because who would stand up and preach a gospel that will get us persecuted. There would be no evangelism, hell, judgment, and ultimately, no need for a cross. And therefore, ultimately, no mission.
Clearly, Millar’s critique, despite his expressed admiration for Chris Wright’s other work, is fairly scathing. I hope in Part 2 to look at some of his critiques and consider whether or not they are fair or not. Though I have not read Wright’s book in about a year, I have read it twice and spent quite a bit of time in his works, so I hope to offer some of my thoughts as I’m wrestling through some of these very issues.
I obviously would recommend actually listening to Millar’s critique and not relying on my notes on it. That will give better context for my interaction with his thoughts in the coming post.