Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission. 2nd ed. New Studies in Biblical Theology 53
The second edition of this monograph in the NSBT series edited by D. A. Carson is yet another example of a work that has achieved the goal of the series: “to help thinking Christians understand their Bibles better” (p. xi). In this volume Andreas J. Köstenberger and T. Desmond Alexander have worked to present a biblical account of the mission of God beginning with creation and ending with the new creation. This second edition includes significant updates since the first edition in 2001. First, Alexander has contributed a completely new chapter on the Old Testament. Second, Köstenberger has updated the layout of his material on the New Testament, with discussion of the epistles included with whichever gospel they have closest affinity: James and Hebrews are part of the chapter on Matthew; 1–2 Peter and Jude with Mark; and 1–3 John and Revelation with John). Luke-Acts is treated together, and Paul’s epistles are interspersed with the section on Acts, following their chronological rather than canonical order. Finally, the chapter on the second-temple period has been moved to an appendix in order to preserve a continuous biblical-theological presentation of the theology of mission (p. xv).
“Few biblical topics,” write Köstenberger and Alexander, “are as important as mission…[it] is the ingredient that both precedes Christian existence and constitutes a major motivation for Christian living: the saving mission of Jesus forms the foundation for Christian mission, and the gospel is the message of this mission, a mission that is not optional but mandatory” (p. 1). This is becoming more widely acknowledged, though it is a topic that these authors purport has historically been neglected in theology. Their purpose in this book is to help “fill [the] gap” by applying a biblical-theological method to the unfolding drama of redemption that is presented in Scripture (pp. 1–2).
Alexander begins with an examination of the Old Testament in which he traces the foundation for mission. He argues that “the [Old Testament] bears witness to an extended programme of divine activity that prepares for…Christ’s incarnation” (p. 11). He shows how God’s redemptive purposes, first expressed in the opening chapters of Genesis, receive further definition in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, with the Exodus account serving as “a paradigm of salvation” for God’s people (p. 31). Three important strands are prominent in this treatment. First, he notes the emphasis on God’s intent to bless the nations. God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:1–3 culminates with verse 3, which demonstrates that “the primary motive behind God’s summons of Abram is his intention to bless humanity” (p. 17). Alexander demonstrates how this receives further development throughout Genesis, particularly in subsequent developments on Genesis 12 (Gen 15, 17, 22, etc.). Second, he explains the significance of the Davidic king in God’s plan to bring about this blessing. The Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7 builds on the Abrahamic Covenant, revealing that “through submission to a unique Davidic king” the nations will experience God’s favour (p. 37). Alexander shows how Isaiah’s Servant figure fits this important category. Finally, he demonstrates how the Exodus is treated by the prophets and psalmists as a paradigm for a new exodus to come when the nations will join themselves to Israel, worshiping God as he rules the whole earth from Zion (p. 35).
Readers may be surprised at the brevity of Alexander’s treatment of the Missio Dei in the Old Testament, which comprises a mere thirty pages of the whole work. This is not because the authors consider the Old Testament unimportant to mission. On the contrary, they see it as providing the foundation of the Missio Dei and essential to understanding the person and work of Christ and the mission of the New Testament Church. The emphasis in their project is to “provide a robust historical and chronological backbone to the unfolding of the early Christian mission” (p. xiii). Yet Alexander is only able to highlight the peaks, so to speak, of the mountain range of mission in the Old Testament. Readers interested in a more thorough treatment of mission in the Old Testament may benefit from other resources that intend to accomplish this such as Christopher J. H. Wright’s The Mission of God.
Köstenberger’s treatment of the New Testament is thorough and penetrating, demonstrating that the New Testament witnesses to God’s ongoing “programme of divine activity that…follows on from Christ’s incarnation” (p. 11). He maintains a consistent pattern. First, he discusses the theology of mission in a gospel (beginning with Matthew). Next, he examines the same topic in epistles associated with that gospel. Finally, he explains the contemporary relevance of the various epistles to the topic of mission before summarizing all his findings. His approach is distinct. He connects New Testament books to key figures and shows how they contributed to the early Christian movement. Readers interested in a more topical approach may find this frustrating. However, they will certainly be served in a unique way by Köstenberger.
Köstenberger’s study on Matthew, James, and Hebrews reveals that though Jesus prioritized his own people in his mission, the Gentile mission is a necessary development of that mission (p. 76). In his study on Mark, 1–2 Peter, and Jude, Köstenberger shows that Mark “provides the church…with a solid foundation for understanding Jesus’s messianic authority…and his mission of giving his life as a ransom for many (10:45)” (99). Peter and Jude encourage the suffering Church to remain firm in trial and to hold on to this foundational message. Unsurprisingly, the chapter on Luke-Acts and the Pauline epistles is the longest in the book. Jesus’s “foundational mission” is his being sent by God to Israel (p. 196). The disciples, both the Twelve and the Seventy-Two, participate in this mission, but are then sent by the risen Christ to build on his foundational mission and expand it universally (p. 196). Acts is the primary history of this expansion, and Paul’s occasional letters accentuate specific issues that arose in the progress of the “grand enterprise” (p. 198). John’s corpus provides Christians with the most theologically focused reflections on Jesus’s mission (p. 238). He focuses in unique ways on believers’ relationship with the Lord and the final result of God’s mission in Revelation as people from every nation worship the triune God in restored relationship with him (p. 238).
Köstenberger and Alexander thoroughly demonstrate throughout this volume that “God’s saving plan for the whole world forms a grand frame around the entire story of Scripture” (p. 254). They show that a commitment to Scripture alone produces a vision for mission based on the work of Christ alone and culminating in the glory of God alone. Still, this could have been more thoroughly demonstrated by a more robust examination of the Old Testament’s vital contribution to this vision. Careful consideration of the Old Testament’s contribution is something that the Church in general would do well to pursue. Themes such as creation, temple, the Davidic kingship, exile and restoration, all of which are essential to understanding the Old Testament, should be given greater weight when unpacking the Missio Dei and constructing a theology of the Missio Ecclesiae.
This volume will be most profitable for pastors and academics who have done some previous study of the theology of missions. Köstenberger and Alexander are certainly not contributing to a monolithic field of study. Some knowledge of other views and authors who have written on this will help readers to appreciate better the focus and emphasis of this volume. The extensive bibliography will serve anyone interested in further studies on the Missio Dei.