In the early 1980s, I was a young tutor at All Nations Christian College in Hertfordshire, England. In a faculty meeting, one of my colleagues said, “These students need to understand that mission is not something we add to the [biblical] text, an afterthought at the end of our exegesis. Mission is in the origin of the text.”
All of our students were preparing for cross-cultural mission. They had to study key passages about Christ, such as Hebrews 1, Colossians 1, and Philippians 2. My colleague was pointing out that such texts arose not as isolated doctrine, but amid missionary church-planting and the controversies surrounding it. The New Testament documents, he urged, are intrinsically missional in how they came to be.
His words struck me. Of course! Why did I not see that before? I wondered if this applied to the Old Testament. I had completed my doctorate five years prior in Old Testament ethics—the aspect of theology that attempts to determine right from wrong conduct. I wanted to understand and communicate the ethical message of the Hebrew Scriptures, and to help Christians know how to apply it.
Now I was forced to think about ethics from a different angle: What if the missional dimension so clear in the New Testament also lay at the heart of the Old? Didn’t the Hebrew Scriptures also come into being as God engaged his people in a world rebelling against him? If Israel had been chosen to bless all nations, wouldn’t their scriptures connect in some way to that mission? Those texts were also filled with questions and issues arising from what it meant to love, worship, trust, and serve the one true living God. So how could I connect my study of Old Testament ethics to Christian mission? ...1