The Mission of God: Student Opinion

I wrote on this blog long ago that I was going to try using Chris Wright’s The Mission of God in my Introduction to the Bible class this semester; it’s a bit hefty for first-year students but this letter confirms that it was a good choice. I am thankful today for my students.

Hey Professor McKnight,

I had to email you because I just got done reading The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative
! I feel like the lamest college student — it’s Friday night! I just
had to let you know how amazingly influential this book has been. It was
a hard book to read no doubt, it got really lengthy at times, but the
last few chapters just tied it all together. It all made perfect sense.
I was so frustrated with this book so many nights, struggling to stay
awake, but I can’t believe how much incredible information it contains.
I loved it, end of story.



I feel privileged because here before me I
have the most meaningful piece of material in my life: the Bible, yet
to be read. I am so glad that the first time I read the Bible in full
it will be with all the tools provided by Wright and your class. I am
so excited to read the Bible and to discover even more clearly all the
points Wright elaborated on, and ultimately be in complete awe of God’s
word. I finally feel “prepared” to read the Bible, if that’s even
possible. I never have read the Bible simply because I  never knew
where to start, but now I feel as if I can work my way through it.  I
can read it and finally begin to understand the unfathomable importance
behind the stories. I know reading the Bible is a never ending journey
that can never be fully understood, but I am finally ready and excited
to start this long overdue journey. This book has truly been the most
influential book I have ever read.

So I guess in conclusion I emailed you to say thank you for assigning
this book, though I never thought I’d say that. This book has been a
complete privilege to read. It was all completely worth it in the end.

“So … like… thank you.” :D

Sincerely,
[Name]

P.S. I hope you have the greatest weekend of your life.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Luke

    I too am thankful for Wright’s book and think it’s a shame that this topic has not been pursued in scholarly circles until the last decade. For other similar books along the same line as Wright’s, see Arthur Glasser’s “Announcing the Kingdom,” Richard Bauckham’s “Bible and Mission,” and Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen’s “The Drama of Scripture.”
    Am I the only one that finds this approach as against the fundamental tenets of Calvinism? Maybe I’m just looking too much into it, but Wright’s view on election is particularly enlightening and about the exact opposite as what the Calvinists claim. I hope we see more interaction going on with this in the academy. I see it as a surge in “missional” and “narratival” theology, and am very optimistic about it.

  • Terry

    Luke,
    I’m puzzled by your comment because Wright is a Calvinist. I suspect that he would be as puzzled as I am. I wonder what it is in his presentation that you find at odds with Calvinism. Can you spell that out a bit?
    Thanks.

  • Scot McKnight

    Terry,
    Your comment surprises me because I would not have thought Wright is a Calvinist though I can’t say that I see him denying Calvinism either. But, the big point is how Wright frames election in non-individualistic and missional terms.

  • Luke

    Terry,
    Scot pretty much answered the question. A major part of the Calvinistic system is their view of “election” and how they believe it works out. God “elects” some to salvation while passing over others (the non-elect). So it is individualistic and not missional. However, Wright frames the term as the exact opposite. “Election” is non-individualistic and missional. Election is vocational, we are elected for a purpose. Election is not an exclusive idea, but it is inclusive because God elects people unto mission. So based on this view of election, I don’t see any way how Wright is a Calvinist. Can you point me to this in the literature, because I find it very surprising. Not once in any of his writings do I get any hint of Calvinism in him. The fact that, if this is true, it surprises Scot as well, should be enough evidence of this.

  • John Lussier

    Luke,
    What do you mean by saying Calvinism is “not missional”? Could you carry that thought a little further?

  • http://wwje.wordpress.com Lucas Land

    i absolutely love this book. it is one of a few from seminary that will always remain on my shelf. it fundamentally shaped my view of God, mission and scripture. i am a die hard wright-ite and not the NT variety, though he’s great. we read it for a class called Biblical and Theological Themes in Mission.
    not sure on the whole calvinism discussion, except that Wright’s view of election seems in line with Newbigin’s understanding.

  • http://mwalcher.auzigog.com Michael W

    Please, please stop recommending books.
    My wallet is empty, and they don’t have this book at the Minneapolis Public Library.
    …*added to Amazon wish-list*

  • Luke

    Terry,
    Scot pretty much answered the question. A major part of the Calvinistic system is their view of “election” and how they believe it works out. God “elects” some to salvation while passing over others (the non-elect). So it is individualistic and not missional. However, Wright frames the term as the exact opposite. “Election” is non-individualistic and missional. Election is vocational, we are elected for a purpose. Election is not an exclusive idea, but it is inclusive because God elects people unto mission. So based on this view of election, I don’t see any way how Wright is a Calvinist. Can you point me to this in the literature, because I find it very surprising. Not once in any of his writings do I get any hint of Calvinism in him. The fact that, if this is true, it surprises Scot as well, should be enough evidence of this.

  • Your Name

    Luke and Scot, I think it is a wonderful thing that a fine Calvinist like Christopher Wright can unpack the missional theme of Scripture so splendidly without turning off non-Calvinist readers. My wife and I are within a few pages of having read the book together and we too thoroughly enjoyed it, without anything Wright said raising any sense of dissonance with our Calvinistic theology. (He is a cousin of my wife so we read his work with a personal interest too.)
    It would be rather surprising, I think, if John Stott had chosen a non-Calvinist to take up leadership of the Langham Partnership when he passed it on. For published evidence of Wright’s Calvinism, I’d suggest his chapter on “Salvation and the Sovereignty of God” in Salvation Belongs to Our God.
    In his blurb for a book I wrote which was very obviously Calvinist in its soteriology, Wright said: “He offers what many of us have longed for—a fully worked-out, carefully biblical and Reformed case for the conviction that the sovereignty of God’s saving grace in all human history, while it is exclusively grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ, is not exclusively limited to the church’s evangelistic obedience (or lack of). . .” Would a non-Calvinist be longing for a Reformed case??
    I hope you won’t stop reading Wright’s work now that you know he is a Calvinist. Better to pray that his ilk may increase in the Reformed world.
    (On a technical note, Scot, I miss the ability to subscribe to emailed comments on a thread. RSS feed would be even better. I mentioned it to Beliefnet recently so maybe they will make it possible in future but you might consider adding your wait to the request.)

  • Terry

    Sorry, comment 10 was from me. For some reason my name didn’t show up, probably because it got lost when I was too long writing the post.

  • Luke

    John, I answered your question with a lengthy response, but for some reason it just reposted my earlier comment. Weird. I need to do some work, so I don’t have time to type it again, but hopefully later on tonight or tomorrow. Sorry.

  • Terry

    Luke, your explanation of why you thought Wright not Calvinistic deserves specific comment. I can see how Wright’s work might look non-Calvinistic because he does not speak of the election of individuals to salvation. His focus is, as you note, on God’s election of a missionary people. Given Wright’s particular focus, there was no need to speak of the salvation or otherwise of individual Israelites, of the faithful remnant preserved by God’s efficacious grace. It is important to observe, however, that nothing Wright says about God’s corporate election conflicts with the unconditional election of individuals to salvation which was the matter in dispute in the Arminian controversy. Wisely, Wright has not addressed matters not central to his focus and so he has been able to offer a biblical framework in regard to God’s mission which both Arminians and Calvinists can affirm. Right?

  • Luke

    Terry,
    Wright does not even allude to their being 2 different meanings in election. His view that it is the election of a person unto service is seemingly what he believes the Bible teaches about the concept of election. If what the Bible says about election is corporate and missional, then how in the world can anyone see it as individualistic. I agree that his thoughts don’t necessarily conflict per se, but they just seem like they would be difficult for a committed Calvinist to follow, that’s all. I never thought of him as an Arminian. My experience is that even if a scholar vehemently denies Calvinism, he/she will not say they are Arminian just b/c of the baggage of labels.
    I agree with your last statement, it just seems like for a Calvinist to admit that the Bible’s grand narrative and consistent theme is God’s mission creates a great amount of tension (not necessarily contradictory) in the Calvinistic system who emphasizes God’s sovereignty to an extreme degree. Maybe it’s b/c I’m not a Calvinist, but I just see this hermeneutic and way of viewing God/the Bible as being extremely tough for a Calvinist to swallow since God has had it all mapped out and pre-ordained from before time began anyways.
    If Wright is a Calvinist as you say, then I am surprised and I commend him for writing such a work. I must admit, I would not have guessed that a Calvinist could produce a work like this and it leaves me optimistic. Maybe it’s the brand of Calvinism that I’ve always interacted with, but the last idea I have ever gotten is mission from the Calvinists in my life. It’s usually “sovereignty, glory, sovereignty, glory, supremacy, joy, sovereignty, glory, God, God, God, sovereignty, glory, God-centered, glory, sovereignty,” while none of these words communicates anything about mission to me since mission has to do with becoming something you’re not for the sake of others as opposed to being all into yourself. Would you not agree that there is a profound difference between Piper’s mission book and Wright’s? I don’t even think you can compare the two. Piper is obviously Calvinistic in his view of mission/election, but Wright just doesn’t come across that way at all. I know hyper-Calvinism is claimed as an immature way of viewing true Calvinism, but the fundamental tenets of Calvinism just seem to easily foster the hyper-Calvinist way of thinking, which a natural result of this would be anti-mission. Suffice it to say, I would have never in a thousand years imagined that Wright would be a Calvinist after the way he views election. Election viewed as individualistic and out of God’s sovereignty is fundamental to Calvinism, and in Wright I see a completely revamped and “reformed” (no irony) definition of election that just doesn’t seem to fit well into the system. More power to him if he is truly a Calvinist, he has fooled a lot of people.
    I certainly won’t stop reading Wright if he is indeed a Calvinist (that would be foolish!). And I do, in fact, pray that his ilk may increase in the reformed world. If Calvinists are jumping on the bandwagon of missional theology, then lets do ministry together! I can do ministry all day with a guy like Wright, but I coudln’t say the same thing about 80% of the other Calvinists I have encountered. Thanks for commenting.

  • http://benburch.blogspot.com Ben

    I would agree with Scot and Luke, Wright’s view of Election seems extremely difficult to reconcile with Calvinism. My two good calvinist friends won’t even consider it as valid, in fact they regard the idea as being elected to mission as a nonsense-acle reading of Isreal’s election, since only so much of Israel was actually to be saved (elected), and that was the remnant. However, i will echo Luke, if Wright IS Calvinist, I will probably jump for joy at such an amazing missional work put forth by a Calvinist. Maybe then my calvinist friends will read it and get on board. Terry, I’d also be interested in how you reconcile Wright’s view of corporate, missional election, with Individual election to salvation. How can it be that a corporate body, comprised of both the regenerate and retrobate, constitute a whole missionally elected body? I find that incredibly hard to reconcile with Calvinist Theology.
    Also, as far as an Arminian looking for a “reformed response,” I think John Wesley would be one. I personally am Wesleyan and though modern wesleyanism and classical arminianism tend to be slightly at odds with traditional Wesleyan soteriology, Wright seems to run the Wesleyan middle road in “Salvation and the Sovereignty of God.” For one, I have never met a Calvinist who would support his view of the fate of the un-evangelized (though I must admit that it is more faithful to Calvinist Sovereignty). Wesley was extremely centered on the Sovereignty of God and the Total Depravity of man. After reading “Mission of God” and “Salvation belongs to our God,” Wright has seemed like a traditional Wesleyan-Arminian to me, but that might just be my misreading him.
    Again, if he is indeed calvinist i am most impressed with his focus on mission, the narrative grand picture of scripture, and lastly his ability to leave reformed theology at the door in order to properly treat scripture and certain topics in a way that engages Arminians. Either way, mucho Kudos Christopher Wright!

  • Ben

    i meant to say “typical arminainism” not “traditional”
    my bad


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