Either way, to have a truly biblical understanding of the church’s call to missions, we must have a robust comprehension of missions as it appears throughout the Scriptures. And we can’t have a robust understanding of missions in the Scriptures if we don’t begin where the Scriptures begin when talking about missions.
For this reason, in Fill the Earth I spend a good portion of chapter 1 discussing where in the Bible we ought to begin when seeking to understand the church’s call to missions.
Don’t Walk into the Middle of the Movie
On a popular level, many people view the so-called “Great Commission” of Matt 28:18–20 as the starting point for the church’s call to missions. After rising from the dead, Jesus commissions his follows to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Although this is indeed clear evidence that the church is called to take the gospel throughout the world, if we were to conclude that this passage is the beginning of the church’s call to missions we would be sorely mistaken.
Beginning with this passage is like walking into a movie 3/4 of the way through and trying to understand what’s going on. We might be able to piece together certain things and have a superficial sense of what’s happening, but since we lack fundamental knowledge of the overall plot, our understanding is limited at best and incorrect at worst.
For this reason, many people have recognized that to understand the New Testament (including the “Great Commission”) rightly, we need to go back to the Old Testament. As it pertains to the church’s call to missions, many trace this Old Testament background plot to God’s call of Abram in Gen 12:1–3. In this passage God calls Abram and promises that through him “all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
While this is also a significant event for understanding the church’s call to missions, it is still mid-movie; we are still walking into the theater after the first two acts of creation and fall have come and gone. If we begin here, we are presuming that what precedes God’s call of Abram is not important for our understanding of God’s call of Abram. This, of course, is not the case, and so we need to go back even further.
Beginning at the Beginning
What I argue in Fill the Earth is that we can’t understand the church’s call to missions without understanding God’s mission for Israel. We can’t understand God’s mission for Israel, in turn, without understanding God’s call of Abram in Gen 12:1–3. And we can’t understanding God’s call of Abram without understanding God’s original mission for humanity as revealed in Genesis 1.
Confirming this, when we explore God’s call of Abram and the subsequent patriarchal narratives, we see various allusions to the creation mandate of Gen 1:28. This indicates that God’s call of Abram is a “redemptive version” of his original call of Adam in the creation account. Since God’s call of Abram lays the groundwork for the subsequent missions of Israel and the church, beginning at the beginning with the creation mandate of Gen 1:28 is absolutely critical for us to have a full, robust, biblical understanding of the church’s call to missions.
For more info about Fill the Earth, including links where you can buy it, go to www.filltheearthbook.com.