Mission, creation and incarnation

Nov 20, 2019 by

by Ian Paul, Psephizo:

I was grateful to Philip North for offering a response to my critique of his views on mission in relation to the incarnation, published in the Church Times. There is nothing quite like hearing someone’s point of view in their own words, and it has been immensely valuable to have this exchange. I offer here some final reflections, since I am not sure that Philip’s response actually addressed the questions I raised, and it highlighted some further issues.

Although Philip centres his discussion on the incarnation, it is striking that the eschatological parable of the sheep and the goats takes centre stage for him:

The heart of the difference is the way we read Matthew 25.31–46 (the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats) and more specifically who we consider the recipients of compassion to be in that parable.

I can see why Philip connects this parable with the incarnation, in the sense that the king in the story judges people on their response to their (unwitting) encounter with him in the person of those in need. But eschatology is much more central; as with the other material in this part of Matthew, the key reality is the certainty of eschatological judgement. And it turns out that eschatology is central to almost everything that the New Testament says about mission. When Jesus strides into Galilee, he proclaims that the longed-for kingdom of God is at hand, an event which, in first-century Jewish minds, was associated with the vindication of the righteous and the judgement of the wicked. It is therefore not surprising that the first response that Jesus invites of his hearers is that they should ‘repent’. And the practice of the early church follows this example: all the proclamations of the good news of Jesus involve mention of the coming judgement, and the need to be ready for it. Even the much vaunted example of Paul in Athens, held up as a model of ‘contextualisation’ of the gospel message in another culture, ends with this appeal:

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