I am often amazed at how some contemporary writers–missional and emergent–seem to believe that they have embraced a new vision for the mission of God. It also amazes me that some more traditional writers–some Evangelicals and some New Calvinists–regard the missional emphasis as a new understanding of the gospel. David Lipscomb (1831-1917) reminds us that such emphases are not new.
Below is an extended section from Lipscomb’s chapter “The Ruin and Redemption of the World” in his 1913 Salvation from Sin (pp. 114-116) which J. W. Shepherd edited from previous writings. As you read, note the emphasis on the physical (material) as well as the spiritual and moral. Particularly important is his focus on the mission of Christ. The mission of Christ is not fundamentally to save the world from suffering in this life or the next. In other words, the mission of Christ is not primarily to save us from pain or hell. That is quite an astounding statement given contemporary versions of the Evangelical and New Calvinist theologies. Lipscomb’s statement is much more in line with Scott McKnight’s King Jesus than John Piper’s Neo-Puritanic, crucicentristic substitutionary atonement theology.
Notice how theocentric his missional vision is. Whatever benefits humanity is secondary to the goal of God’s intent to restore the reign of God upon the earth.
I will let him speak for himself at this point. Enjoy, ponder and take up the mission of Christ.
The object of God’s dealing with man, and especially the mission of Christ to earth, was to rescue the world from the rule and dominion of the evil one, from the ruin into which it had fallen through sin, and to rehabilitate it with the dignity and the glory it had when it came from the hand of God: to restore man–spiritually, mentally, and physically–to the likeness of his Maker, and to reinstate him as a prince and a ruler in this rescued and restored kingdom of God; to displace the barrenness and desolation of the earth with the verdue and beauty of Eden and ‘make the desert blossom as the rose;’ to root out every plant not planted by the Father, and to make this earth again a garden of God’s own planting, every plant planted by a Father’s hand and nurtured by a Father’s love. The mission of Christ is to root up all the briers, thistles, and thorns that grow in the material, moral, and spiritual world, and so restore this home of man to its primitive and pristine relations to God, its Maker and rightful Ruler. With God as its Ruler, in it God’s Spirit must dwell and God’s blessing and protection abound.
The leading aim and end of Christ’s mission on this earth was not to make man religious. He was religious before Jesus came. Where Christ’s name is not known, man is still religious. The specific object of Christ was not to make man moral or honest; this was a secondary and subsidiary concomitant and a means to the great end. His leading and specific object was not to save man from suffering in this world or in that which is to come. The world, the religious world, errs here; and this error-the failure to appreciate the leading idea of Christ’s mission–leads to grevious mistakes. Under this idea, much labor is done to induce men to be willing to go to heaven in order to be saved from sufferings, and willingness on their part is taken as an indication that they are saved and will be forever happy. The one great purpose of Christ’s mission to earth and the end of the establishment of his kingdom on earth, and of all the provisions he has made and the forces he has put in operation to affect man’s course of life, were and are to rescue this world from the rule and dominion of the evil one, to deliver it from the ruin into which it had fallen through man’s sin, and to bring it back to its original and normal relations with God and the universe, that the will of God shall be done on earth as it is heaven. The will of God, as manifested in his laws, guides and harmonizes the universe and holds it in subject to and in union with the throne of God. Every intelligence that conforms to the will of God is held in harmony with him and with the universe by the workings of his laws, and is guided forward as a factor and helper with god in the accomplishment of the divine purpose. In becoming a helper and coworker with God, he becomes a joint heir of the life, the home, the glory, and the honor of God himself; an heir of the inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, that fades not away, reserved in the heavens for those who are kept by the power of God, through faith, unto the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (See I Pet. 1:4,5.)