Book ReviewPosted: November 2, 2009
Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission by, Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter Thomas O’Brien, InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, 2001, 351 pages, $26.00.
First and foremost, the most positive side to Köstenberger and O’Brien’s book is the section which focuses on the biblical books of Luke and Acts. Oftentimes theologians look at the man of missions – the Apostle Paul – as their number one example. They look at his work, who he was, what he did, how he related to the cultures, and of course what his mission to the Gentiles was, in order to come up with their definitions of mission. In Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent looking at the writer of both Christ’s and Paul’s missions – the Apostle Luke. This section on the Lukan writings does a great job describing God’s mission through the coming of Jesus Christ, and how that was applied to the church’s mission (namely through the historical records of the New Testament Church found throughout the book of Acts). Köstenberger and O’Brien also key in on the important passages that played a role in the transition of the mission of God in the Old Testament to that of the New. Looking at Lukan books this way lays out a historical time-line for the reader to see what took place during Christ’s incarnational ministry here on earth, and how it brought about the mission that would then be done by the church.
Another point of great importance is found in the authors’ dealing with the book of Acts, specifically, looking at how the mission of the gospel was spread among Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. In this, Köstenberger and O’Brien concentrate on how Luke focused on the promises that were given to Abraham, and how this then ran throughout Luke’s writings (p. 137-8). This is then broken down further in the sermons of Peter, Stephen, and Paul, throughout the key passages which they highlight.
What is most important overall in this section is the understanding that the Gospel of Luke cannot be read without Acts, and likewise, that Acts cannot be read without the Gospel of Luke; they go hand-in-hand if you are looking for a proper biblical theology of mission (p. 111-2). For example: the writers do a great job of explaining that you cannot properly understand Jesus Christ’s command in Acts 1:8 without first reading Luke’s account of Christ’s mission (p. 111). Furthermore, understanding that the early church’s mission is found in what Christ did Himself during His earthly mission (that is, what He did in order to give the Spirit), Luke’s books – both his Gospel and the book of Acts – must be seen as a historical record of the mission of Christ, and the giving of the mission to the New Testament church. In all, Köstenberger and O’Brien seem to see that the book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke are the most helpful and clearest perspectives of the mission of God during Christ’s time, and also for that of the New Testament church today.
Another positive side of this title is the section on John. It seems that over the past 10 years both the Gospel of John, and John himself, have gotten much flack for “not being missional.” Köstenberger and O’Brien hit right at that point – that John is missional in his Gospel. They seem to understand that this mistake of viewing John as non-missional is mostly because of Matthew’s Great Commission, and Luke’s Gospel, which is then followed by the historical value that Acts brings to the theology of mission. Köstenberger and O’Brien see the importance in what John is writing, and also see John’s focus on Jesus’ mission here on earth. In this section, instead of dealing with certain passages the way they did in their previous chapters, the authors lay out the events and topics of Christ’s earthly work, and how they relate with mission. In doing so, they focus on Christ’s humanity while on earth, and how He played out the mission of His Father in the bringing about what was to come. They do this by focusing on the truth that the gospel’s primary interest lies in Christ’s relationship with His Father, and not the ontological nature (p.204).
After dealing with this, the focus is then turned from Christ’s mission to the community of His disciples, to the disciples then going out and living what Christ gave them for their communities (p. 204-22). A key point in this section is found as the authors point out that the Gospel of John never once focuses on the disciples’ work, signs, etc., in the way the other Gospels do. Instead, John focuses on Christ’s mission – both His own earthly mission (John 1-13) and the giving of His mission (John 14-21).
Like most biblical theologies I come across, this book seems to have purposely (or unknowingly) neglected the Old Testament. Time and time again biblical scholars spend countless words in their writings dealing with the New Testament, and do not spend enough time dealing with the Old Testament. Here, Köstenberger and O’Brien have spent barely 50 pages looking at the Old Testament’s theology of what mission is, and well over 200 on the New Testament’s theology of mission. Why is this happening so commonly? Is there a lack of mission in the Old Testament? Or is it the lack of dealing with the whole canon equally? It most certainly is not the lack of God’s mission in the Old Testament. For example: if one is looking for a proper understanding of a biblical theology of Mission in the Old Testament, Christopher Wright spends more than 75% of his massive 581-page book The Mission of God looking at the Old Testament.
Another negative aspect of Köstenberger and O’Brien’s title is that they say that Jonah is not a missionary (p.44-5) – something I personally do not agree with. They believe that saying Jonah was a missionary is “going too far.” To me, I feel as though the prophets were, in some way, missionaries to Israel and even to other nations from time to time. Regardless, the authors spent barely one page defending their argument that Jonah is not a missionary, and were therefore quite lacking to convince me of their view.
Lastly, Köstenberger and O’Brien seem to be in disagreement with many Missiologists as they do not believe that the second-temple period of Judaism was missional (p.55-71), nor had a mission at all. I completely disagree with this. I personally felt that their statement, “while the Christian canon itself provides little (if any) information regarding mission in the second-temple period” (p.55) is absurd. Were there not still thousands of synagogues carrying out the same purpose, and countless priests carrying out the same mission they were called to? Furthermore, why in Acts 2 did Peter have to defend the new mission of Pentecost against that of the Old mission, which the Jews were still trying to carry out? I could be wrong, but it seems that this distinction they make is largely due to their separation in eschatology – that is, the Old Testament and New Testament having separate eschatology (p.232-250). I say this based on how they conclude their ending sections on “The Second-temple Period” and how they conclude Revelation as well. It seems that they see the second-temple period as the ending times for Israel; and also see that both the nation of Israel and the New Testament church have separate ends in their missions. In this, they then separate eschatology. How this affects their Old Testament interpretation is that it then creates first-temple mission and second-temple eschatology, which I personally do not see as clear as they try to make it.
Another flaw in thinking that second-temple Judaism was not missional is that it hints that the mission that was given by God was not carried out. God’s mission that started in Genesis 3:9 and Genesis 3:15 was still existing, and yet saying second-temple Judaism was not missional argues whether or not God’s covenant people were still in His mission (Genesis 10). Were not the Lord’s people still waiting for their Kingdom (Psalm 72)? Was not Israel looking for their expansion and shalom (Isaiah 45:22)? Just because they did not keep their covenant with the Lord did not mean that the Lord (and some of the Lord’s chosen nation) did not continue to keep covenant. On this subject, I’d personally rather spend the time reading Walter Kasier’s Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations.