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Does Mission Make the Church?

According to the early church’s own self-narration in the book of Acts it would seem so. In Acts 2 clearly it is the pentecostal coming of the Holy Spirit which initiates the new messianic reality through the apostles. But, the logic of the Spirit’s movement is not Pentecost-Church-Mission, but Pentecost-Mission-Church. The Spirit descends upon the apostles (2:2-4) who then proceed to proclaim the gospel (2:14ff). Only after the proclamation, the enactment in the Spirit of their missional vocation, do the apostles baptize those who are caught up into the gospel’s truth. Only after the missional proclamation of the truth about Jesus does the rudiments of a common missional life, the life of the ekklesia, begin to emerge (2:42-46).

The church, then is a response to the pentecostal mission of the Spirit through the apostolic proclamation of the truth about Jesus. And this response is one of being given over to the form of radical love displayed in Christ’s own revelation of Israel’s God. It is a movement of fellowship, solidarity, service, and mutual dispossession (v. 45).

Thus, the logic of mission and church is something like the following: the messianic mission of Christ calls forth the pentecostal mission of the Holy Spirit which brings about the aposolic mission of proclamation in word and deed of the radical love of Jesus. This apostolic mission takes shape in the ekklesia, a movement of communal cruciform love and service to the world.


  1. Richard H wrote:

    As long as we confess that we believe in an “apostolic” church, and as long as we consider the connection between “apostolic,” “apostello,” and, moving to Latin, “missio,” I don’t see how we can understand the church properly without mission. MAYBE One, Holy and Catholic, but NOT Apostolic.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  2. Maria Kirby wrote:

    Hmmm….seems to me that believers gathered regularly in the upper room to pray before the Holy Spirit came. They even conducted the business of filling Judas Iscariot position as leader of the new ‘church’? before Pentecost. Your distinction between which came first seems a little fuzzy to me. But I would agree with you that mission is the major business of the church, and without it there isn’t much of a church.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  3. robby wrote:

    Pat Keifert put it this way, “The church does not have a mission, the mission has a church.”

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Sure, there was gathering of the apostles and first disciples before penetecost. But most identify the coming of the Spirit with the beginning of the church as such. It may seem a minor point, but I think it has implications for how we understand the life of the church. Mission precedes the church, the makes the church what it is, and ultimately “church” cannot be understood as anything other than a sort of movement within mission itself. In short, church is mission, not an agent of mission as such.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  5. Darren wrote:

    Anyone remember that book The Shaping of Things to Come? It was a missional/emergent church hit a few years back. They had a phrase in there similar to this, something like Christology informs Missiology which informs Eccleisology. When you try to think along those lines what you end up wanting to call ‘church’ is not always clear from where you start. At least that’s how I remember thinking when I read it.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden,
    I agree with Maria. Is your definition (Pentacost=church) then controlling the ordering (mission–> church). In many ways I want to agree with you, but this seems like easy biblicism to read it right off the page.

    Why not instead look to the resurrection appearance at the end of the Gospel narratives where Jesus himself receives back the apostles from their lack of faith. Mission precedes the church, but can mission exist without the church? John 17 seems to say no.

    But I have no disagreement with the last two paragraphs above. I’m just not sure a temporal sequence in Acts 2 tells us all we need to know of the relationship between the church and mission.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    I agree that the matter has to be filled out further regarding the relationship between historical sequence and — for the lack of a better term — the ontology of the church vis a vis mission.

    However, I don’t think its too controversial to identify the event of pentecost with the beginning of the church. There seems to be plenty of theological warrant for this.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  8. Geoff Smith wrote:

    David Alan Black’s book “Christian Archy” says this of the church, “Missions is the inevitable and indispensible expression of the church’s essential nature as a fellowship of Christ’s disciples. The purpose of the body of Christ is to make Jesus visible in the world.” (pp 18)

    That makes sense to me, I remember writing a paper arguing that the church is constituted ontologically as “the community which intentionally adheres to the gospel,” which includes a telic aspect for the church, “the church is the community which seeks Jesus’ aims for the world,” which I identified as making disciples. So the faith and mission of the church (God’s electing of the church) constitute it’s churchliness, not any of the other marks of a true church, those are all important, but not constituitive of the church. All of that to say, I agree with what you wrote and was super excited to read it.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 12:53 am | Permalink
  9. Halden,
    I like where you go with this.
    In Acts 2 clearly it is the pentecostal coming of the Holy Spirit which initiates the new messianic reality through the apostles.

    It’s critical that your sentence end with through the apostles. This is because, apart from the apostles, the messianic reality has already been initiated by God in Christ – this is the point of the resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is the content to which mission points – i.e., this God truly lives, and has already completed the work of reconciliation with the world. Easter is real, and thus all authority and power have been given to Jesus as the Victor. On the basis of this “verdict,” the church receives its commission in Matthew 28 “to go and make disciples.” The Spirit is the presence of the ascended Christ with the church, and Pentecost is the beginning of their vocation. Pentecost is not, however, the initiation of messianic reality but a gift from God in order to proclaim this reality.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 9:38 am | Permalink
  10. kim fabricius wrote:

    “It is not the church which ‘undertakes’ mission; it is the missio Dei which constitutes the church…. The missio Dei purifies the church. It sets it under the cross – the only place where it is ever safe.”

    David J. Bosch, Transforming Mision: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (New York: Orbis Books, 1991), p. 519.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  11. The very fact that I said “mission points” already shows the degree to which clarity is needed regarding what we mean by “mission,” esp. given Kim’s excellent quote from Bosch below. The church’s missionary activity participates in God’s own missionary activity, and it does so as a witness.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  12. james wrote:

    “And this response is one of being given over to the form of radical love displayed in Christ’s own revelation of Israel’s God. It is a movement of fellowship, solidarity, service, and mutual dispossession (v. 45).”

    You claim to be prioritizing church and mission, but like Yoder it seems you are trying to make the boring, old ‘religious’ elements into social ones. The opposition in your thinking is between a self-interested, institutional, and perhaps strictly “religious” church and this mission of ‘radical love’ as you twice refer to it which the church is appended to. But Jesus’ radical love is nowhere mentioned as the content of the gospel or the message of the apostles in Acts. They are concerned with proclaiming resurrection, preaching repentance, and performance of miracles. This is also the mission of Jesus himself as they characterize it immediately after this in Acts 2:22,24,38 and especially Acts 3:28 “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (not characterized as greed!). They never highlight his radical love.
    Peter and John immediately “heal a crippled man” and make no mention of radical love to some outcast but simply note the power of the sign and its purpose to lead to repentance of the Jerusalem residents and leaders. No calls to “dispossession” either.
    No reference is ever made in Acts as to how Jesus conducted his social relations in his life as some sort of model. In other words, they are not witnesses to Jesus’ mission of radical social reorganization which was interrupted by his death and resurrection (as Yoder would have it). They are witnesses of the death and resurrection of the “author of life” 3:15 which God somehow intended which gives them miraculous power 3:16, 4:30 not ‘radical love’ in any special way.

    I think any idea that mission=any radical social rearrangement is overwhelmed by the lack of narration by the writer of Acts concerning anything like that particularly as the narrative progresses. Summary appendage passages about happiness, generosity and unity do indeed serve a narrative purpose but are never characterized as “the mission” but signs of good old days and happy fellowship. Many outside of Jerusalem are not part of such a community and are not told to enact such a community at home either. They are only told about resurrection and repentance.

    Notice how the nostalgic tales of sharing and unity aren’t fleshed out with much supporting detail when 5000 disciples show up in Acts 4. Uniform dispossession of houses seems unlikely or Josephus would surely have mentioned the Christian compound/suburb of Jerusalem. It seems they sold things to care for those in need not to equalize the community in some urgent ‘apocalyptic’ way. In any case if these social arrangements constituted ‘the mission’ one would expect them to be narrated more fully.

    I will grant that the Ananias and Sapphira episode seems unusually prominent by this theory, but I think it simply demonstrates the power of Peter as that is the lesson carried forward by the writer in the next chapters not any implications concerning property. As Luke T. Johnson has noted ‘power’ (dynamis) is the most emphasized effect of the gospel in the NT and he’s the guy who wrote on ‘Possesions in Luke-Acts”.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  13. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Excellent post, Halden. I would only add that it seems to me that “mission makes the church” precisely insofar as we insist upon the prevenience of Jesus as eternally apostolos — “the one who is sent” (Heb. 3:1) — who at one and the same time sends the Spirit. That is, all of this dogmatically seems to require something like the filioque.

    Monday, November 23, 2009 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  14. Halden,
    After doing some more reading, I decided to come back to this post. I think we need to consider God’s missionary activity (which, to my mind, is the same as what you call “messianic reality”) in the Old Testament. If “mission makes the church” then we must be faithful to the New Testament’s clear desire to locate God’s merciful deeds prior not only to the birth of the church but even prior to the incarnation. 1 Peter 2:9-10 clearly pushes in this direction, for example.

    Friday, December 4, 2009 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  15. Brad A. wrote:

    I’m in some agreement with Chris here. I’m not really sure what’s behind this post, Halden. It also suggests a bit too sharp of a disjuncture between Israel, Jesus, and the church. There’s more continuity there than your post here would suggest.

    Friday, December 4, 2009 at 8:27 pm | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    Brad, I find myself in agreement with Chris too. I don’t know though what that has to do with any alleged over-sharp disjunction between Israel, Jesus, and the church — though I assume you mostly mean Jesus and the church since Israel hasn’t really entered the discussion at all to this point.

    So can you clarify what it is that’s making you so uncomfortable here? I feel like the post is making a pretty simple and utterly biblical point, namely that the church and its mission is a response to the prior missional action of the Triune God in Christ and the Spirit.

    Like, are you really saying that’s wrong?

    Friday, December 4, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  17. Brad A. wrote:

    No, I think you’re quite right on the church and its mission as response; certainly we did not initiate things. On your main point here, and on your answer to the title question, I’m quite in agreement.

    I think my discomfort has more to do with the fact that the Holy Spirit’s activity takes place within the context of an already existing People of God. So it is the distinction I perceive you making between Israel on the one hand (as demonstrated by its absence here), and Jesus and the church on the other. I’ve read you recently (having looked at one or two archived posts on Israel) to argue for more of a disjuncture between Israel and the church than I think appropriate. So here, I read you (perhaps incorrectly) to be implying that the missional life of the People of God begins only at Pentecost, when in fact, it began at Sinai (at least), was fulfilled in Jesus, and is here, at Pentecost, embodied in the church via the Holy Spirit. In other words, with the Holy Spirit’s work, the church entered into the already existing mission of the People of God.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  18. james wrote:

    Just a note, 1 Peter 2:9-10 appropriates a promise to Israel in Hosea 2:23-24 to some gentile churches. Having just applied Israel’s status as a kingdom of priests, etc. to the churches in the previous verse, and further having referred to them as the “diaspora” in the book’s opening, it would appear to be typical replacement theology.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  19. Halden wrote:

    Well, I think perhaps you are relying on N.T. Wright’s reading of Israel here in which the church simply replaces/completes Israel. You should check out Martyn’s commentary on Galatians for more on this.

    For my part it seems very clear from the NT that the mission and reality of the church is a radically new reality, which — though only intelligible in light of God’s history with Israel — signifies a radically new event in God’s mission. To deny this seems to me to put one at odds with much or most of the NT.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  20. Halden wrote:

    To boil it down a little bit more the language you’re deploying here of “an already existing People of God” directly implies that there is a simple relation of identity between Israel and the church (and Jesus?). I don’t see how that is compatible with “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” (Gal 3:28) and “if anyone is in Christ there is a whole new world” (2 Cor 5:17).

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  21. Brad A. wrote:

    On the Wright point, quite the opposite. I’m trying to avoid that. Nothing I said suggests replacement or supersessionism.

    As I read your other comments on Israel, my response to your notion of the church as a radically new reality tends to downplay the radical nature of what God was doing in Israel. Is there a new reality? Sure, namely that Israel’s mission was fulfilled in Christ, and the church is the embodiment of that fulfillment. This isn’t at all at odds with the NT. I think Scott Bader-Saye (though I have disagreement at points) and Gerhard Lohfink are pretty helpful here.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  22. Brad A. wrote:

    I didn’t say a simply relation of identity, Halden. There is a difference, and that difference is located in Christ, to be sure. But to understand the church in radical discontinuity with Israel is simply untenable biblically.

    As the mission is opened up to the Gentiles in Christ, then yes, Gal 3 holds. The 2 Cor passage, as I read it, is not going from Israel to the church, but rather from utterly outside the People of God into it.

    My point is simply that there is far more continuity than is often acknowledged in these discussions, by my reading.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  23. Halden wrote:

    Well, Lohfink, at least to my memory, is very much a superssessionist. He claims that the church simply is “Israel reconstituted” around Jesus or “eschatological Israel.” Bader-Saye is quite different though I don’t know that I can comment knowledgeably about his position.

    But when you say “the church entered into the already existing mission of the People of God” that seems to imply a very static continuity of the mission which doesn’t give due weight to the newness of which the NT constantly speaks.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  24. Halden wrote:

    Yeah you didn’t say that, but you have said nothing to indicate that something fundamentally different is operative in your thought here.

    And the change can’t simply be that the mission is “opened” to the Gentiles in Christ. Israel was always open to Gentiles as Yoder and Neusner (in different ways) have clearly shown. So that can’t be the newness, let alone take realistically “no Jew or Gentile.”

    Could you maybe articulate precisely what sort of “continuity” you think the Scripture requires and how it does so? All you’ve said so far is “I don’t think there’s enough continuity here” but you’ve failed to say anything about why this undescribed vision of “continuity” is somehow theologically necessary.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  25. Halden wrote:

    And again, the way you keep saying “people of God” implies a sort of static macro-category to which the church and Israel both belong.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  26. Brad A. wrote:

    You may be right about Lohfink, though I’ve not read him that way. I never read those phrases as necessarily supersessionist, since they can be true in certain senses without actually replacing Israel (hence Bader-Saye’s affirming use of Lohfink in a book which is all about the errors of supersessionism). Bader-Saye, I will admit, may overstress the continuity a bit, and I certainly have issues with the way he presents Israel’s covenant as unqualifiably unconditional. That said, he makes a pretty strong case for the church being incorporated into Israel’s covenant, once that covenant is properly understood.

    My phrase you quote here could be taken that way, yes, so pardon any lack of clarity on my part. However, I don’t think it has to be taken that way, given my other statements about Jesus’ definitive fulfillment. Jesus is the pivot point, hence NT portrayals of newness. That said, there’s plenty of NT material indicating continuity, too, which is where I think Lohfink is helpful.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  27. Halden wrote:

    I think “pivot point” is far too weak to give due weight to the NT portrayal of Jesus and his work which is consistently described as nothing less than a new creation.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  28. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, you’re taking very specific points on my part and portraying them as comprehensively representative of my point of view.

    I didn’t say the change was limited to the mission being opened up. Yes, prior to Christ, the mission was open to Gentiles, but for the most part, only if they became Israelites/Jews first.

    The continuity is best articulated by Lohfink and, to a somewhat overstated degree, by Bader-Saye. A people is called to be the embodiment of God’s reign on earth, a visible sign of God’s salvation and restoration of creation. They fail, are forgiven and restored, fail, are forgiven and restored, etc., etc., until they are conquered and exiled. In the midst of their disestablishment as a theopolitical community proper, and during their subjection to yet another empire, Jesus comes generally as God and humanity incarnate, but also more specifically as Israel and Yahweh incarnate. As the church, we are the embodiment of that fulfillment, yet neither Jesus as Jesus nor we would make any sense without Israel. Hence the continuity.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink
  29. Brad A. wrote:

    I see where we are made new creations, but please cite to me where Jesus and his work are described as such, at least in the sense you mean of utter discontinuity with what went before.

    “New” need not mean completely other. Of course there is newness, since Torah had never previously been definitively fulfilled. And the church would have to be partly discontinuous with Israel, since it, indwelled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, is called to embody that definitive fulfillment. New covenant is new, to be sure, but it is also covenant, the language of which would mean little to nothing if it did not recall something prior.

    One cannot disassociate Jesus from Israel, since he in part incarnated Israel. One cannot ignore how he specifically ministered to Israel prior to opening up his ministry to the Gentiles, nor can one ignore the fact that until Paul, the nascent church was assumed to be Jewish. Why so, if there is no continuity according to the gospels? Paul, of course, provided necessary correction there, but why was it even an issue, if the newness was as utterly radical as you seem to suggest?

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
  30. Halden wrote:

    I do understand that perspective, indeed my own theological pilgrimage has taken me through it. I have come to believe though that it makes several important mistakes, the most important of which is elision of the proper distinction between divine and human action and also — as evidenced in this discussion — a general redefinition of the work of Christ away from new creation and towards a sort of integration in which the church, Christ, and Israel’s particularity tend to get fused in ways that compromise the singularity of Christ’s work of redemption.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  31. Halden wrote:

    I’d need to be convinced that I’ve “disassociated” Jesus from Israel. I don’t see how I’ve done anything of the kind, I’ve merely unpacked — biblically — the kind of implications that the singularity of Jesus has for Israel, the church, and the world. That isn’t “dissociation” in any sense, merely biblical inquiry into the true nature of the relations.

    As to the issue of newness, see 2 Cor 5:17 again:

    “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

    See also for example Gal 6:15:

    “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”

    None of this means it does not “recall something prior.” But the mode of the memory is remembering the old, that which has passed away/is passing away (cf. 1 Cor 7:13 & 1 John 2:17).

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  32. Brad A. wrote:

    But this utter newness, then, is us, not in God. Saying that all of our old associations are redefined in Christ (since we have not ceased being in some sense certain things we were before – they have been redefined, redeemed, reordered) does not necessitate utter discontinuity from our former selves.

    But that’s really beside the point. The fact that “anyone” is a new creation in Christ does not suggest that Jesus is in discontinuity with Israel. You’re conflating contexts here. Moreover, you run the danger of suggesting that that which Yahweh did in Israel passed away, i.e., was imperfect and lacking. Yet, the imperfection of the old covenant was on Israel’s part, not Yahweh’s, as I’m sure you’d agree. If what Yahweh did was perfect, then it stands to reason that it would continue in some form.

    I think you have indeed disassociated Jesus from Israel to a greater degree than appropriate (“greater,” since certain discontinuity, as I’ve said, is both necessary and important). Your commitment to the radical nature of what God does in Christ is commendable, and I’ve appreciated it, to be sure. But here and elsewhere, it tends to be rather dismissive of the radical nature of what God did with Israel in the OT, a radicality that is actually in considerable continuity with Jesus. That’s my main problem.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
  33. Brad A. wrote:

    My own theological pilgrimage has taken me here from something more like yours. So here we find ourselves, disagreeing, but hopefully still listening to one another.

    I don’t think I’ve elided divine and human action in the least (as you say, “I’d have to be convinced”), and as I’ve said, if one properly acknowledges the radical nature of Yahweh’s activity in and through Israel in the OT, one cannot help but see the continuity of God’s initiation and expectations for human response.

    All I can say to the last part of your post here is that I see you going too far in the other direction, seeming sometimes to make Christ so singular that a people is not even a necessary part of the picture. Not necessary because God inherently needs it, but because God has chosen to work that way, in continuity with God’s character. God’s people, in Israel and the Church (and yes, there are obvious ways in which they belong together, in addition to the ways they substantively differ), have always been part and parcel of God’s work of redemption. To sever them from that is to extract Christ from his proper context, i.e., a context of his own making.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  34. Halden wrote:

    I think you really need to read Yoder’s essay on 2 Cor 5 “There’s a Whole New World” in To Hear the Word. Paul’s point is emphatically not that “we” become new, it is rather that the entire cosmos is recreated in Christ. This is even more clear in Martyn’s work on Galatians which I mentioned above. What happens in Christ is nothing less than the creation of an entirely new world, a new cosmos. Douglas Harink’s article “Paul and Israel: An Apocalyptic Reading” might also be very helpful to you in understanding my perspective and how this relates to the question of Israel and the importance of a non-supercessionist theology.

    I’d also say that the book of Hebrews needs to be part of this discussion. No amount of hermeneutical gymnastics can make that book be read as “suggesting that that which Yahweh did in Israel passed away, i.e., was imperfect and lacking” — that’s the exact argument of the entire book, that the old covenant was inferior and, in Christ has passed away (see Heb 8-9; esp 8:7;13).

    Also, you’ve — again — simply re-asserted that I “dissociate” Jesus from Israel, but you haven’t shown me how I have supposedly done so, nor have you engaged in any of the Scriptural discussion I as I have tried to do for you. You simply continue to assert “continuity” as if it were a self-positing, self-evident criterion to which we must all, prima facie adhere. However, I’m more interested in what the NT itself has to say before positing “continuity” as a hermeneutical determinate to be imposed on the text. On that point, the point of actual discussion of the NT, you haven’t been willing to enter into the discussion.

    But to be clear, I’m not saying that God’s action in Israel is somehow at odds with God’s action in Jesus, only that God’s action in Jesus has an utterly singular quality that determines all that came before and comes after in an utterly irreducible way.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  35. Halden wrote:

    To be honest, I don’t think you yet quite know what my perspective is, at least from “inside” so to speak. I don’t mean that as a slight in any way, only to point out that I think you’re conflating what I’m saying with a sort of evangelical individualism that denigrates the importance of church/community altogether. That is not my position, as my comments on Acts 2 above make clear.

    But it is absolutely essential to recognize that neither Israel or the church can ever, biblically, be construed as “necessary” to God’s work of redemption. Otherwise grace is not grace. If the church or Israel is in any way necessary, their life is not longer gift.

    This is not to “sever” anything. It is only to understand the church rightly in light of the biblical story. It is to understand the church as the community of those who have been saved completely from beyond themselves, by God’s own radical action to which we contribute nothing.

    This does not render church, community, or common life unimportant unless we only understand importance to mean nothing less than “that upon which God depends.” Nothing is severed here it is merely placed in proper biblical and Christological context which does not demand that the church take on an importance that only Christ can have if we are to be true to the faith we confess.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  36. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, fair enough on the perspective point; I only ask that you extent the same courtesy to me, and not presume that I have some position of ignorance from which you have already been delivered. That is how your previous comment came across, and I attempted to deal with it as charitably as I could.

    Again, you seem to read too much into my comments. I didn’t say Israel and the church were necessary to God’s work of redemption, though I think in the very qualified way Lohfink presents it (where they are necessary as a function of God’s free, uninhibited choosing and initiation), they are. I said they’re a “necessary part of the picture,” meaning they can’t be made incidental, nor can the fact that God has chosen to use them as integral to his redemptive plan be dismissed.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  37. Halden wrote:

    Yes, let me say again that no slight is intended. I only mean to say that, based on the many conversations you’ve been a part of you seem to be — pretty much — a Hauerwasian, for a lack of a better word. I don’t view that as a “position of ignorance” only a position I once very passionately and informedly held and no longer do. And that’s really all I meant by it.

    However, I must say that I don’t believe I’ve said anything about the church being “incidental” or inconsequential. My point only has been that we must understand the church biblically and christologically — that is, in light of God’s prior action before which we were “no people” (1 Pet 2:10) and on which everything depends.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  38. james wrote:

    Halden, could the incarnation have happened in Cleveland and just have disregarded the story of Israel? Was it just accidentally located there? In what way was it necessarily tied there?

    Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
  39. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, each time you respond, you take my statements as some wide-ranging commentary instead of responses to your own specific points. I was addressing the notion of newness in those specific passages, in the sense of creation versus Creator, not of humanity versus the rest of the cosmos. Of course, I know the whole cosmos is redeemed.

    If we are talking about the same God operating in the OT as the NT – and this is my assumption, though I’m not sure all of us agree on that point, or what it means (“bugger Marcionism” comes to mind) – then we can’t say that this God did something imperfect in the OT that only gets perfected in the NT. There has to be some other dimension involved.

    And yes, the book of Hebrews should be included in the discussion, despite its rather strident supersessionist tendencies (which you say you want to avoid, and I concur with you). But we should be clear what Hebrews is saying. Hebrews 8 does not say the old covenant was inferior wrt its author or its content, but merely because it was not followed. Covenant consists not only of Torah, but of the agreement of the people to follow it. In that sense (Heb. 8:9), and that sense only, did it pass away. Yet even there, we cannot safely say “pass away” given that Jesus himself said it wouldn’t except in his own fulfillment of it, which means it rather mattered for him. Also, Hebrews 8-9 is talking about covenant with…wait for it…Israel, which according to the NT is only subsequently opened to the rest of humanity (though that was, of course, always the intent). If so, then how does that context not matter, or how would we not see continuity between the OT and NT in this regard?

    I hadn’t cited passages pointing to the continuity, because the entire context of the gospel and several epistles is saturated with it. Also, I thought you had read Lohfink, which would highlight many of them, as does Bader-Saye. But we could consider things like the Magnificat or other pre-birth/birth narratives, or we could point to the fact that while Jesus is certainly as definitive as you say, he wasn’t crucified only as the singularly unique irruption of God into the world, but also as “King of the Jews.” Or we could point to the incredibly important 1 Pet 2:8-9, which as you know appropriates for the church Israel’s own calling in Exod 19. Of course, I can also provide some standalone verses, though inevitably they would be perceived as prooftexting: John 4:22 – “Salvation is from the Jews”; or Romans 9, and especially 9:6 – “It is not as though God’s word had failed.” The church is grafted onto Israel, and there would be no logic to that whatsoever if there were no continuity, or if such continuity didn’t matter for understanding Jesus. Certainly, the Old Testament must be read in light of the new, but the New is unintelligible without the Old.

    These are hints at a much broader thrust of continuity between the testaments. This means there’s a context involved, a context which defines the Son-as-incarnated. But it is a context which God initiated out of free, loving choice, and entered into from the same. Dismissing that is, in my mind, an injustice to God’s own initiative.

    Again, forgive me if I seemed to have caused all this trouble over nothing, and I do really agree with the larger point of this post. I’m sure we generally agree for the most part. But it reminded me of things I find problematic here from time to time, so I thought I’d mention them. We need not belabor the point any longer. A blessed Advent to you, Halden.

    Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  40. Halden wrote:

    Brad, let me just say I am grateful for the discussion in many, many ways. I do disagree with how you’re approaching the Scriptures here (after all if the old covenant was “perfect” we have to throw out at least the book of Hebrews if not much more of the NT — cf. Heb 8:6-8 where it is clear that it is first covenant that is flawed, not merely the unfaithfulness of Israel), but all of this has been very helpful in pointing me to more work that needs to be done engaging the NT texts about these questions of mission, church, Jesus, and Israel, and in the near future I hope to continue probing them and look forward to more discussion along these lines.

    Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  41. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, I too have appreciated the discussion. On this point in Hebrews, I think it’s interesting for both of us to look closely at it. V. 6 says that the covenant for which Jesus is mediator is superior to the old, and that it is founded on better promises. V. 7 then indicates there was something wrong with the old covenant. V. 8 then says specifically that God found fault with the people, not the covenant content, and v. 9 indicates that how the old covenant differs is that the people did not remain faithful to it.

    The first thing I see then is that the New Covenant is superior, founded on promises that transcend the Old. Clearly, Jesus goes beyond the old in a number of ways. However, this does not necessarily make the old “imperfect,” which would seem to me to require at least one of three things to be true: (1) God was in error in the old; (2) God deliberately set up Israel to fail; or (3) the Old Testament is simply wrong about God. None of those is acceptable to me, which is why I’m such a stickler on this point.

    Torah is not the whole substance of the Sinaitic Covenant (though it is the core); covenant also includes the people’s ratification, their commitment to follow. Therefore, the old covenant is flawed if and when the people don’t follow it. That’s why much attention is spent in the rest of Hebrews 8 saying how the new covenant will be bound in such a way that the people will follow it.

    I, too, have appreciated and benefited from our discussion. Thanks.

    Monday, December 7, 2009 at 5:57 am | Permalink
  42. Halden wrote:

    Cool, thanks again. I won’t belabor the point any further except to say that I still think we quite clearly can’t locate the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old in the notion that under the Old Israel disobeyed whereas under the New, the church obeys. The history of the church, from its earliest days (Corinthians, Galatians!) makes clear that the church is quite disobedient. Whatever the difference between the Old Covenant and the New it cannot be that the Old was violated by unfaithful Israel and the New is obediently kept by the faithful church. Because the church is no less disobedient than Israel, if not more so.

    Monday, December 7, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  43. Brad A. wrote:

    Well, I’ve never suggested in the new covenant the church always obeys, so I think we’re in agreement. My own dissertation has to do with the problem posed to ecclesial identity by nationalism largely emanating from within the church. In fact, I use an extended discussion of Israel’s own covenant experience – including its violations of covenant and prophetic critiques – to help point out where the church has gone wrong and (with the help of the prophets) it should be corrected. I don’t think you’d find much to quibble with in my assessment.

    The difference is, as I think we’d both agree, that in the New Covenant, Jesus definitively fulfills the divine mandate. By grace, then, Israel, and then the Gentiles, are allowed to partake of his righteousness. Thanks be to God.

    Monday, December 7, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  44. Great discussion here. My comment above was originally the product of conversation with Paul Minear’s Images of the Church in the New Testament, which I’m currently working through in a Sunday School class. See my posts here.

    The second post relates Minear’s thought in understanding the particular imagery associating the church with the People of God (Israel) to the universal imagery of the New Creation, describing a relation of unity-in-distinction that you’re both trying to talk out here.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  45. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I’ve pulled Minear off the shelf (Image of the Church and The Kingdom and the Power) this week to tackle. I think there’s some important stuff there.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  46. When Leander Keck, in the foreward to “Images,” calls “The Kingdom and the Power” the most original work in North American new testament theology, I realized I had to take him off the shelf again. Unfortunately, trying through everything that “Images” throws at us in four weeks was just a bit too ambitious. ;-)

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink

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