God’s mission is at stake. Therefore, China matters for the way we do theology.
God’s mission is at stake
This third reason naturally follows from what has been said. God’s promise to Abraham shapes all that happens in the rest of Scripture (Gen 12:3; 15:1–6; cf. Gal 3:8). God is righteous. He keeps his covenant. He will restore his kingdom over the whole world.
God does this through the revelation of truth (see my point #1). He especially reveals himself in the Bible (see my point #2). We don’t do theology for the sake of practicing our abstract problem solving skills. Becoming a theologian is also not a good way to get rich.
Theology exists for the sake of God’s mission in the world.
In Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper is says it perfectly, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man . . . It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.”
Lessons from Romans 10
Consider briefly a passage in Romans 10, which touches on each of the points I have mentioned.
In Rom 10:10–20, Paul says
For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
First, notice how Paul mingles his words. He first speaks of justification and then salvation in terms of shame.
Second, don’t miss that verse 12 makes a fundamental statement about God––He is one. Paul is simply reiterating his idea in Rom. 3:29–30. On this point, Paul asserts, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” Dare I say, “there is no distinction between Chinese and Westerners”?
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Those who will be saved must hear God’s message. In the context of Isa 52, which Paul here quotes, this good news is succinctly put, “Your God reigns!” (Isa 52:7).
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”
But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
Western Christians must take care to learn from the mistakes of these ancient Jews. Ancient Israel became exclusivistic, restricting salvation to those would become Jewish. They collapsed their culture and the gospel into one. In so doing, they thought they were being faithful to God.
I’m not at all accusing Western missionaries of doing exactly what Paul’s opponents were doing. Still, we are all sinners who have tendencies not unlike those early objectors to the faith. We are all prone to inwardness, self-preservation, and establishing subcultures that act as mini-kingdoms within Christendom. In humility, we have to take seriously these potential dangers.
God’s face is at stake.