Saturday, May 09, 2009

Great Commission and New Creation Reloaded/Deconstucted

Andrew Perriman asks appropriate--and for some conservagelicals, forbidden--questions.
But just as reconsidering the dispenLaHayetionalist eschatology (see"Of course, Christians will be left behind") doesn't negate the fact that Jesus is coming and we should all be ready, recasting the Great Commission (who gave it that name, anyway) into its context and culture won't make us less missional, but more.

Consider Andrew:

I have argued a couple of times recently that Jesus’ post-resurrection instruction to his followers to make disciples of all nations, which we call the Great Commission, is actually more restricted in its scope than we have traditionally understood it to be. There was some discussion of this point under "What is a missional church? And why I think Mark Driscoll is wrong"; but you could also have a look at "Matt. 28:16-20 - The not so Great Commission."

My basic argument is that the instruction is given within a pressing and historically relevant eschatological horizon and with a limited purpose in mind. So first, the reference to the ‘end of the age’ has in view the war against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem; and in light of that, secondly, we should suppose that Jesus’ purpose was to ensure that this new community of restored Israel, centred around his disciples, would be securely established as an international movement, in fulfilment of eschatological hopes outlined chiefly in Isaiah, before national Israel was consumed by the foreseen political catastrophe. To be baptized in the name of the Father who restores Israel, of the Son who suffers in expectation of being vindicated, and of the prophetic and renewing Spirit was to be initiated into acommunity of eschatological transition, through whose faithfulness and endurance the people of God would be saved from destruction - and indeed, fromhistorical irrelevance.
If this is correct - if as a matter of strict biblical interpretation we should read this is as a contextually limited instruction analogous to Moses sending spies into Canaan to spy out the land - are we then to assume that this Great-ish Commission has no relevance for the ‘post-eschatological’ church, the church after
AD 70 or after the collapse of Roman paganism - or however we wish to characterize the ‘end of the age’?

..I would insist, in the first place, that the fact that Jesus’ commission to his disciples relates to a particular moment or period in the history of the people of God does not mean that it has no relevance to the church today. But the relevance it has must be construed, in the first place, historically or narratively. We find this difficult because our modern minds are so accustomed to dealing with religious ideas on an ahistorical or existential or metaphysical basis. We make the Platonic assumption that historical reality is somehow inferior to abstract, absolute, and universal truth. So we can’t help but think that if we shrink the Great Commission to these restricted historical proportions, we have diminished its religious value in some way. I don’t think that’s the case....
...The New Testament community located itself primarily in the story of the one who suffered and was vindicated, the story of the Son of man, the ‘firstborn from the dead’, who was eventually given victory over the pagan oppressor; and it undertook the task of discipleship on that basis. The post-eschatological community - that is, the church as we know it - locates itself primarily in the bigger story about the renewal of creation, in the story of the cosmic Christ, the ‘firstborn of all creation’; and we do ‘discipleship’, if we want to retain the term, on that basis. But then discipleship becomes learning how to do life well, learning how to exploit and experience the fulness of life that is found in this cosmic Christ, as a prophetic sign that God is creator and that he will not ultimately be rendered ineffectual or redundant by the corruption of creation. That is a possibility for us because the early church pursued a much narrower and much more constrained form of discipleship, taking up its cross in imitation of the one who suffered and was raised from the dead.

...Having said that, it is important to recognize that we are always ‘new creation’ under difficult conditions: there are always contextual challenges. In particular, the church in the West is having to learn how to be authentically and prophetically ‘new creation’ after Christendom, and there is perhaps some point to seeing that situation as analogous to the situation of the early church: we are in structural transition, and this imposes constraints on the life of the community to which our ‘discipleship’, if we choose to retain the term, must adapt (see also "We have to go back, but not to square one"). So I think that we have to ask ourselves serious questions about how we shape and develop communities that will successfully make the journey from Christendom - or from the modern church, if that is easier to get a handle on - to whatever lies ahead.

Perhaps in that thought of shaping communities lies a key to what it means to do discipleship as ‘new creation’ under present conditions. Modern ecclesiology has put the emphasis on making individual disciples - though ironically any individuality was usually ironed out in the process. In our post-modern, post-Christendom context I suggest that we need to think much more in terms of fashioning a certain type of community life, a certain type of culture, adapted to local conditions, but cognizant of the community’s place in the narrative.

-Andrew Perriman, link

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!