What Was the Mission of Christ? David Lipscomb Answers

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.)


14 Responses to “What Was the Mission of Christ? David Lipscomb Answers”

  1.   Jr Says:

    Observation: I’ve listened to hundreds of Piper (and other “new-reformer”) sermons and I have never (ever) heard him say or even imply that “the mission of Christ [was] primarily to save us from pain or hell.” This seems to be a caricature of the position. Instead, his controlling hermeneutic is drenched in theocentricity; namely, the glory of God and the God-centeredness of God in all things (including the creation, fall, crucifixion, New Heavens and New Earth, and everything in between). I don’t understand him as reductionistic as many make him out to be.

    Nonetheless, there is much to admire with Lipscomb’s position here except for one line: “to bring [creation] back to its original and normal relations with God and the universe.” Considering how the Scriptures describe creation and the entire story including what is happening and what will happen, I find Lipscomb’s eschatology lacking. The reason is that what I think we find in the Scriptures is that we are not simply returning to some “original” state, but we are to be resurrected to a state infinitely greater than the “original”. For one, in the “original” there was a deceiving serpent that God created, put in place, and called “good”; and he was created for a purpose that will no longer be needed. In that regard, Satan is more of a mighty tool than an equal force. And Amen, he will be defeated and thrown into the lake of fire.
    At a more simplistic level, we have the picture of that Day when the Lamb will be the Lamp – and we won’t need a sun or a moon anymore (Rev 21:23); as those things were a part of the “original”. In other words, the “original” was lacking perfection; and it was created that way for a purpose that has been revealed and that will be revealed at the resurrection. I think the picture given to us about what is to come in the New Heavens and New Earth (which reality no new-Calvinist I have heard would ever deny) is something much greater than the “original”. All to the glory of God.

    Admittedly, perhaps I’m nitpicking the word “original” and I would welcome correction if that was not his intent; as you and some of your other readers are much(!) more educated on the big names in the RM than I am. BTW, I am loving the historical mirror you are giving us!

    Grace be with you –

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I don’t think I denied Piper was a new creationist–historically, most Reformed are. I only made the claim that given priorities (both Lipscomb’s and Piper’s), Lipscomb sounds more like McKnight than Piper.

      “Restoration” is the language of Scripture in Acts 3. But Lipscomb also understands that the future reality is greater than the original one. He understands it is a glorified, immortal body that we inherit. So, his language here is accommodative to the context in which he is writing as he attempts to stress its materiality. I don’t think he would mind the language in your second paragraph,

    •   rich constant Says:

      have you read Douglas Campbell’s book
      the deliverance of god? and as a primer i would suggest the faith of Jesus Christ(second edition) Richard Hays.

      and i don’t mean a review…
      and” yes” after being on this blog and reading your comments over the years i presuppose you would likely not pick these two books to read.
      although to challenge ones conceptual ideas lead us all on to self fulling understanding of truth.

  2.   Randall Says:

    Great post! As a student of church history and Stone Campbell movement history I appreciate your thoughts regarding Lipscomb and others.

    This may be rather nit picky (and I’ll confess to riding Jr’s coat tails a little here,) it is my understanding that Calvinists believe Adam was created good, but able to sin. In the eternal abode the saved will be good and unable to sin. This is different than Adam’s nature before the fall.

    I would welcome your thoughts here as when I examine my own life I long for the day when I will always choose to do righteouness, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Frequently(!) it seems I am so very far away.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Yes, most would argue–whether Calvinist or Arminian (Greg Boyd, for example)–that glorified humans are in a different state than Adam’s original creation, including the inability to sin.

  3.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    until we as the people of god learn (to me)to be-able to differentiate between the promise given to a non circumcised Jew and the curse of god because of “the law”rom 7 and
    gal 3:7- 4:6
    the effect of the cross will always be a mess of definitions of that effect we call atonement and we as gentiles will find a legal regulatory principle to the participation with grace through faithfulness.
    was Jesus righteous under law?
    until in my opinion we answer this question absolutely not!
    we will miss the point of grace through faithfulness being the
    the trinity’s work.
    and miss a Christocintric story.
    that Paul tells of redemption for the cosmos.


  4.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    If Lipscomb was to be reincarnated among the Churches of Christ today, I wonder just how much he would find himself getting “written up” for not teaching “sound-doctrine.”

    We have so much to learn from Lipscomb as well as Harding and some other Restoration leaders of their day. Thanks for posting this.

    Grace and Peace,


  5.   Clark Coleman Says:

    Much needless arguing tends to follow from this style of rhetoric. God’s purposes in sending Christ to die on the cross were broad and deep, and there are multiple ways of phrasing them. To say that the purposes were NOT goals A, B, and C, but rather the chief purpose was goal A, and goals B and C were merely supporting goal A, and anyone who disagrees is making a grievous error, is not convincing to me.

    Specifically, A = restoring the ruined creation and fulfilling God’s will on earth, while B = saving men from sin and its eternal consequences. Lipscomb says that A is supreme, B is only concomitant to achieving A. But John 3:16 gives us one way of phrasing God’s purpose: “For God so loved the world … should have eternal life.” God loved us and wanted us to have eternal life. B was every bit as supreme as A among God’s goals. Goal A is broad and does not speak to the personal love God has for each of us, while goal B does speak to that personal love. Hence, John 3:16 is so widely quoted.

  6.   rich constant Says:

    to me Clark,
    the act of A = restoring the ruined creation and fulfilling God’s will on earth,
    exhibiting “through the story” all of GOD’S intrinsic characteristics,and manifesting A grace that is out of trust in the story to the fellowship of the sons faith.

    makes b= to a moot point or altogether redundant.
    blessings rich

    •   rich constant Says:

      i do have a question.
      john mark

      I have heard all my life being in the church of christ, that Roman’s purpose revolves around walking through the pillar of obedience in 1:5, and walking out of the pillar of obedience in 16:26.
      Which set’s up, to me, men looking for regulatory principals of obedience to faith.

      Rom 1:5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

      Rom 16:26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:

      Although, looking from a perspective of being established in the work of God, Romans 1:11, and walking out of Roman’s at 16:25 in the doxology that God may establish us according to Paul’s story of the mystery revealed.
      Would that not take on the aspect to helping one another? Rather than a principal that regulates participation in the work of God that was established by Jesus Christ and we the faithful are commanded to accomplish. Matthew 28:19

      So seeing this perspective, would this set up an attitude of the two predicative commandments of loving God and loving our brother?

      Rom 1:11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
      Rom 1:12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

      Rom 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept
      secret since the world began.

      I was just wondering if anyone has written from the perspective of being “established” instead of “obedience of faith”?

  7.   Clark Coleman Says:

    Along the same lines as my earlier comment, another avenue of fruitless rhetoric is to take different statements on a subject from scripture, each phrased somewhat differently, and instead of seeing that the subject is being revealed to us in its depth and breadth by showing us complementary perspectives, to make them out to be mutually exclusive. I see a lot of this in the recently revived arguments over atonement theories. Did Jesus die to inspire us and redeem us morally? Yes. Did Jesus die to defeat Satan and evil? Yes. Did Jesus die to redeem God’s creation from captivity to sin and evil? Yes. Did Jesus die to take our punishment for us, to satisfy the demands for justice? Yes. Did Jesus die to serve the function of the scapegoat in the human psyche, so that we could overcome our guilt without placing it on ourselves and others? Yes. Did Jesus die so that we could become sanctified and be more like God? Yes. But there are adherents of each theory who insist that their theory is the one true theory, and every adherent of every other theory is mistaken or heretical.

    There is a fundamentally flawed hermeneutic at work here: If I find a statement in scripture that Jesus accomplished X on the cross, then I become resistant to later statements I encounter in scripture that say Jesus accomplished Y and Z. After all, I have already found The Explanation.

  8.   Jeff Young Says:

    It seems to me the point of Lipscomb is to get the right weight on things. When we get the proverbial cart before the horse – it can & does lead to a distorted view of things. It also seems to me that the response above about “fruitless rhetoric” could have been levied against Jesus himself by the Pharisees in Mt. 23:23-24 about mint, anise and cumin.

    The real question is whether Lipscomb was correct in where the emphasis or weight of Scripture rests; from my study, I believe he is. The “evacuation theology” or, as N.T. Wright puts it, gnostic dualism (just get us saved to get out of the bad world), seems to miss a deeper point. It is interesting that Wright is ostensibly presenting the same ideas as a result of his recent scholarship on the gospels. As he puts it, Jesus’ desire is to “put the world to rights.”

    At the same time I think it is also important to recognize that Lipscomb came out of a postmillennial tradition. And, it is easy to slip into a “realized eschatology” framework. I don’t know enough about Lipscomb on that count – John Mark would be more enlightening. Wright has sometimes incorrectly been accused of that. Reading his big research books – it is clear he is not that.


    •   Clark Coleman Says:

      “It also seems to me that the response above about ‘fruitless rhetoric’ could have been levied against Jesus himself by the Pharisees in Mt. 23:23-24 about mint, anise and cumin.”

      Please explain. I fail to see the analogy.


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