3. Living Within God's Story: The Missio Christianus (conc.)
Becoming Gospel-Bearers and Summation of the Missio Christianus.
The final point to be emphasized within this section on living within God’s story is that of the subversive nature of the missio Christianus. Because we live within the movement of overlap, we live in the midst of the tension between the old age and the new age. Indeed, Richard Hays suggests that the overlap of the ages is defined as a time of “cosmic conflict.” Jesus has triumphed over the powers but, for a little while longer, they continue exercise authority in resistance to God’s kingdom. Therefore, as a kingdom people, our missiology presents a revolutionary alternative to the powers. Indeed, by founding our missiology upon the resurrection, we have founded it upon a revolutionary doctrine. The notion of resurrection was always about the new age breaking into the here-and-now, which is why the Sadducees -– the compromised Jewish leaders who benefited from the status quo –- were so eager to deny its existence. The Sadducees, content as they were with the things were, denied the possibility of the resurrection. Consequently, any affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus is “political dynamite!” Tom Wright goes on to fill this thought out in greater detail:
No tyrant is threatened by Jesus going to heaven, leaving his body in a tomb. No governments face the authentic Christian challenge when the church’s social preaching tries to base itself on Jesus’ teaching [apart] from the central and energizing fact of his resurrection.
Resurrection overthrows death, the ultimate power of tyrants, and shows that all things matter and are claimed by God.
The subversive nature of Jesus’ death and resurrection are developed in the political theology of Paul’s gospel, which leads Paul to directly challenge the Roman Empire. This is increasingly becoming clear in contemporary Pauline studies as the previously overlooked nature of Paul’s terminology is become evident. Words like Kyrios, Soter, euaggelion, parousia, and dikaiosyne were all employed by the cult of the Emperor – Caesar was Savior and Lord, the gospel was good news about Caesar, the parousia was the triumphant return of Caesar to the people that he liberated, and the establishment of justice, peace, and righteousness was the accomplishment of Caesar – even the title “Son of God” was claimed by Caesar. By applying such language to Jesus – who died under imperial condemnation – Paul is radically subverting Caesar’s empire, and maintaining the radical politics established by Jesus’ use of the thoroughly political motif of the kingdom of God. Indeed, as Tom Wright says, to suggest to a Roman audience that salvation came through a cross would be akin to slapping the listeners in the face! And to claim that “Jesus is Lord” is, as Wright goes on to say, “the sort of thing that people had to be put into prison for saying… [therefore,] we should not be surprised to discover that that was where Paul was when he wrote half of his letters.”
Of course, as should now be clear, an anti-imperial stance should not be seen as unique to Paul within the context of the Roman empire – subversion and opposition will occur at all times because it is the inevitable confrontation of the gospel with all other powers. After the crucifixion of Jesus, after the subversive affirmation of the one God of the biblical story as the creator of all things, and after being filled with the subversive Spirit of the resurrection, the people of God must inevitably become a counter-cultural community. The good news of the Lordship of Jesus, the empowerment of the Spirit, and the reign of the Father, proclaims to all other rulers and powers that their time is up – their power will no longer be recognized or accepted. All rulers that claim to offer freedom, justice, peace, rights, and salvation have now been revealed as powers that corrupt the very things they claim to offer.
Thus, the Christian participation in the Father’s mission of life-giving and goodness-making requires Christians to live as a people absolutely committed to pursuing peace in a world where the powers rule through violence. In the embrace of cruciformity and godforsakenness that is a part of the Son’s mission, Christians carry this commitment so far that they choose to be killed rather than kill, they choose to be harmed rather than harm. In the embrace of humility, Christians reveal that the power of the Spirit found in weakness is greater than the forceful power wielded by the rulers. In a world where oppression is maintained through fragmentation and cycles of deepening division, Christians participate in the Son’s mission of ending exile and proclaim forgiveness and reconciliation. The Christian community proclaims that “the agonistic logic of rights is replaced by the peaceable logic of reconciliation.” Forgiveness opens the world to God’s future because it denies injustice the last word, and refuses to allow past wrongs to dictate what comes next. In a world where lies are the justification of so much evil, and where so many have bought into self-deprecating and self-destructive notions of who they are, Christians participate in the Spirit’s mission of transformation by speaking truth and comfort. In a world where people have increasingly become isolated, homeless individuals, Christians offer a community, a Church, a return home. In a world of death, dying and meaninglessness, Christians proclaim God’s Story – God’s subversive good news – and offer the resurrection life of the new age here and now.
Living Within God’s Story: Summation of the Missio Christianus
The mission of the Church is to be a community of Gospel-bearers. They are to become Spirit-people, thereby becoming the Son and the Godforsaken, and thereby becoming the Father. The missio Christianus is to live within God’s Story as God’s faithful covenant partner and, concomitantly, as the imago Dei, God’s true humanity. In this way, the Christian mission is to be God-With-Us. Christians are the presence of the Spirit within the physical world, the presence of the Son with the godforsaken, the presence of the Father with his creatures, and the presence of the overflowing perichoresis of the Trinity in a world that is still broken and longing for reconciliation.
Participating in the mission of the Spirit means that God’s Spirit-people bring transformation; they bring resurrection life to a dying world. They bring light, guidance, and truth into places darkness, confusion and deception; and they bring comfort into sorrowful places. Participating in the mission of the Son means that God’s cruciform people journey into the deepest places of exile and godforsakenness in order to bring about the end of exile. As God’s child-heirs, Christians go forth faithfully embodying the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. Finally, participating in the mission of the Father means that God’s vice-regents are agents of new creation, of new life, of new goodness, and of blessing. As God’s faithful covenant partner, Christians continually proclaim the subversive good news of God the Father, Son, and Spirit, to both the Church and the world. In all these things it is the mission of Christians to hope, to wait, to cry out, and to suffer, but to also rejoice, play, rest, and celebrate. In this way, Christians continually maintain the tension between the cross and the resurrection. They are liberated from their sins, so that they can suffer the consequences of the sins of others. They are called out of exile so that they can descend into hell. They are healed of their own brokenness, so that they can share in the sorrows of those who still weep. The mission of God’s kingly, priestly and prophetic people is to rule just as humbly as their kingly, priestly, and prophetic God rules.
Daniel M. Bell Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History: the refusal to cease suffering.
William T. Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism.
Michael Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.
Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.
N. T. Wright, “Paul and Caesar,” What Saint Paul Really Said, Paul in Fresh Perspective, and The Resurrection of the Son of God.