[Note: I have revised my model somewhat. I was always intending to include a fifth stage in my conclusion, but I decided to rename the fourth stage and make mention of the fifth stage now.]
2. God’s Story: The Missio Dei
On Finding a Useful Model: why Creation-Fall-Recreation is not enough
Reflecting upon the story of God from a missiological perspective does not do violence to the nature of the biblical narrative. That is to say, reading the bible missiologically is not imposing a external lens upon the text. The story of God is fundamentally missiological, and reading it as such is simply to recognize that there is a telos to the story. This is not simply a story that is told for the sake of being told. This is a purposeful story, told purposefully. Furthermore, the purpose inherent to the story is not one that is simply fabricated by human authors. The story of God is purposeful because God is purposeful. The story of God is a story of God’s missional intentions and activities. As such, the biblical story of God is the story of the missio Dei.
In order to understand the mission of God, it is necessary to examine the story in its entirety. To do this within the limited scope of this paper, it is necessary to impose a schema upon the text. Instead of examining every passage, and every episode, we will examine the story through the lens of a series of movements. Of course, the most simple and most prominent schema used to do this is that of creation-fall-recreation. However, there are a few reasons to reject this model. To begin with, this model makes history appear as a cyclical movement. It seems to suggest that the entire goal of history is to get back a state of original perfection. Put even more simply, this model suggests we were created good, we became bad, but we will be made good again. Such an approach to the biblical meaning generates a significant crisis of meaning. If this is the trajectory of history, why is it taking so long to come to completion? Furthermore, if creation is just traveling “back to the garden” then we did God permit the fall in the first place? Granted, this model proposes a way in which evil is overcome but it does suggest that everything between creation and recreation is essentially meaningless. This model cannot account for God’s purpose for the fall; it cannot explain how the fall is a part of God’s activity. Within this model the fall is primarily a necessary result of human activity. Consequently, within this view of the fall, God is designated a fundamentally passive, responsive role, not an initiating, active role. This paper wants to suggest that such a view of the event of the fall is fundamentally flawed. Therefore, although a simple three-stage schema is appealing, we must reject this model as overly simplistic and even misleading.
Instead of a three stage creation-fall-recreation model, this paper proposes a five-stage model of (1) creation and covenant; (2) exile (3) out-of-exile; (4) overlap; (5) new creation of all things. This model is much stronger for several reasons. To begin with, it overcomes the cyclical perspective that the first model seems to impose on history. The end result of God’s work is not recreation – it is not restoring broken icons to their original perfection – rather, it is new creation – it is the transformation of God’s good creation, which became broken, into something even greater than it originally was. Thus, God’s act of new creation is just as much of a novum as God’s original act of creatio ex nihilo. The language of “recreation” does not sufficiently grasp this point. Furthermore, by employing “exile” language in place of “fall” language, this model presents a God that is intimately active and involved in all movements of the story. Humanity did not simply fall from grace, humanity was also cast out of the garden and sent into exile by God. As much as the current state of affairs is the result of human sinfulness it is also the result of godforsakenness. Finally, by incorporating the motifs of covenant and new covenant, this model stresses that humanity is not only God’s partner in the event of exile. Human does not simply play an active role in the fall. Humanity is God’s partner in all of God’s missional activity, and in the entire movement of the biblical story. God’s mission becomes humanity’s mission, and this is why the Church that tells God’s story, seeks to also live within that story.
Therefore, this section will present God’s story through the lens of five basic movements (that sometimes blur together and repeat on different levels): the movement of creation and covenant, the movement into exile, the movement out of exile, the movement of the overlap of the ages; and the movement of new creation. Creation and covenant will be explored as the mission of the Father, exile will be explored as the withdrawal of the missional activity of the Father, Son, and Spirit, the end of exile will be explored as the mission of the Son, the overlap will be explored as the mission of the Spirit, and the new creation of all things (which we will not address until the conclusion) will be explored as the mission of the trinity. Therefore, this missional movement can be diagrammed as follows:
[Creation & Covenant]-[Exile]-[Out-of-Exile]-[Overlap]-[New Creation of all]
[ ——– Father ——- ]-[ -?– ]-[ —-Son—– ]-[ -Spirit- ]-[ —–trinity—– ]
Particularly important to this model is the significance of exile and the resulting question of godforsakenness within the broader story of God’s missional activity. Indeed, the transformation of godforsakenness is one of the most wondrous elements of both God’s mission and the Christian mission, but we are, once again, skipping ahead in our argument. Therefore, let us start our exploration of this model, where the biblical story starts – “in the beginning.”