Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World
by Richard Bauckham
Reviewed by Clint Walker
This is the first of many book reviews related to my D.Min. class. It is also one of the books I have read cover to cover. My stated professional goal is to read 25 books this year.
This is a rather short book (112 pages) by one of the world's leading scholars on theology and New Testament studies. This book is based on a series of lectures first delivered in England, and then again in Ethiopia about what the Bible says about Biblical truth, mission, and Christian witness in a postmodern age.
The thesis of this book is that, "the Bible itself embodies a kind of movement from the particular to the universal, which we as readers need to find ourselves inside" (11). Richard Bauckham goes on to say, "This is a universal direction that takes the particular with utmost seriousness. Christian communities or individuals are always setting of from the particular as both the Bible and our own situation defines it and following the biblical direction towards the universal that is to be found not apart from but within other particulars. This is mission" (11).
That is a mouthful. What he is trying to say is that God works with and calls individual persons or groups of people, which he refers to as the "particular". He chooses them. He chooses them not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of all (the universal). God chooses Abraham and gives him a blessing. He is a particular person. He chooses Abraham in order to bless the whole world through Abraham. A universal blessing through God's calling of a particular person to facilitate that blessing.
The same is true, Bauckham demonstrates, through David, and through the nation of Israel as "God's Son.". All of these blessings and choosings of God come to fulfillment through Jesus, who then creates a way for the whole world to have the opportunity to experience salvation.
The whole narrative arc of Scripture, Bauckham would teach, functions in this way. Thus, although the Bible deals with particular historical people and places, it calls us to see ourselves in that narrative, making the truths of the story as well as the cadence of the story our own. The church has been called as God's people. We have been called not to simply experience God's blessing and new life, rather, we have been blessed to bless others, called to call others into the community, and to be a transforming presence in the entire earth. This metanarrative of particular folks being called by God to live a holy life that will be a blessing to others and invite them into a transformative community. That community, Bauckham clearly states, must experience "a downward movement of solidarity with the on the bottom of the social scale of importance and wealth" (54)."
This "downward movement" is important because it shares a metanarrative that unlike the totalitarian, oppressive narratives of modernity, is empowering to the oppressed and open to diversity of persons, experiences, and cultures. Christianity "exhibits more cultural diversity than any other religion," Bauckham posits (9). It is not a narrative of "human mastery" over self or others (91). "It views history in terms of the freedom and purpose of God and of human freedom to obey or resist God," the text says.
Thus, we must understand that Godhead is at work throughout human history in real persons and real places. He uses those people in those places as folks that are chosen by him to demonstrate his will among the nations, so that all the nations can see his goodness, place their faith in him, and live healthy meaningful holy lives in the way God created them to be. He moves from those particular people, since they were blessed to be a blessing, out into the whole world. Holy ground moves from Israel to wherever God's people are gathered. God's holy people move from Abraham to Israel to all those who place faith in God through faith in his Son Jesus. And the kingdom keeps going out, as God seeks to continue to bless the whole world through imperfect people being transformed by his grace.
Ok that last sentence got a little preachy, but oh well.
"The Bible...tells a story that in some sense encompasses all other human stories." (5)
"the metanarrative of progress was significantly a narrative of domination, for all that it made freedom one of its values." (5)