Missional Distinctiveness in the Public Square

by Tim Hoiland

Earlier this year I heard Christopher J.H. Wright speak here in Phoenix about “saints in the marketplace” — what it means to be a Christian whose work does not take place inside a Christian bubble.

I’ve been reading Wright’s excellent book The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Zondervan), which includes a chapter on mission in the public square, on which (I assume) his talk was based. For those unacquainted with the term public square, a synonym might be marketplace, though what Wright has in mind is broad: “the whole world of human cooperative effort in productive projects and creative activity.” He writes:

If society becomes more corrupt and dark, it’s no use blaming society. That’s what fallen human nature does, left unchecked and unchallenged. The question to ask is, Where are the Christians? Where are the saints who will actually live as saints — God’s different people, God’s counterculture — in the public square? Where are those who see their mission as God’s people to live and work and witness in the marketplace, and pay the cost of doing so?

Moral integrity is essential to Christian distinctiveness, which in turn is essential to Christian mission in the public arena. Integrity means that there is no dichotomy between our private and public “face”; between the sacred and the secular in our lives; between the person I am at work and the person I am in church; between what we say and what we do; between what we claim to believe and what we actually practice. This is a major challenge to all believers who live and work in the non-Christian world, and it raises endless ethical dilemmas and often wrenching difficulties of conscience. It is indeed a battlefield — internally and externally. But it is a struggle that cannot be avoided if we are to function with any effectiveness at all as salt and light in society.

He goes on to say that to do our work with missional distinctiveness, we must remember the story in which we are living, a story in which all of creation — the public square included — has been tainted by the fall, and yet is being redeemed by God even now.

Learning to discern the public square’s fallenness and learning to resist its temptations is crucial, he says, and it will not be easy, but it’s what we’re called to do as the people of God. And we can be assured that as we seek to participate in God’s mission in the public square, he will be faithful to us.

photo by Jil Robidoux

You can read more of Tim’s writings here.

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