The two questions which appear to be inescapable from modern discussions of the church are, Who are we? and Why are we here? Everyone seems to have a horse in this race, and there is no shortage of answers to this self-imposed query. The fact that many people are asking, however, does not necessarily mean that they are poor questions. In fact, they are vital to the foundation and direction of the church.
And it is this set of questions which drives Christopher Wright's latest book forward. Who are we, the church? Why are we, the church, here? His answer comes in the focused discussion of missions . . . or missiology, missional, missions-minded, etc . . . that many have spoken of before. What makes this reading unique and worthwhile? My opinion would suggest that this is one of the best and most accessible biblical discussions on the nature of the church that you can pick up today. Although I am by no means an expert on missiology, I do know that the church culture is refocusing on the missional movement of the gospel and that the themes of Scripture are being reread with great vigor to that end. So, this is a relevant book . . . it is timely, thoughtful, and challenging.
One of the primary strengths of this book is Wright's constant focus on the hands-on work of the church, never allowing the theory and theology cast a shadow on the importance of the daily life of the believer. Such writing will make this a strong text for classroom and small group, and should now occupy the pastor's shelf. (Although some of the many inset-texts become distracting and bothersome, they hold good content, summary and example for the discussion.)
The overall tenor of the book is this: the church has a specific identity, which lends to its mission, which defines its ethic.
Wright demonstrates his thesis by providing a strong overview of the biblical data, grounding the work of God upon both Creation and Covenant and then seeing its fulfillment in the work of Christ. The mission of God's people begins with the charge to be stewards of creation (God's representatives), as well as people who bless the earth as descendants of Abraham (God's representatives). The twin themes of Creation and Covenant show that Wright's is a view which encompasses the story of Scripture (see chs 2-4).
From understanding the identity and mission of God's people, the work of the church moves to its ethical dimension. "Experience of redemption must generate redemptive living" (108). This 'redemptive living' is demonstrated by the many 'just-as' statements in which God charges his people to mirror his character into their world. Thus, the church is a people who represent God to the world, and live out his redemption into the broken and corrupt culture. We are to 'put on' God and invite the comparison of our lives to that of others (131 . . . that last bit is quite frightening for many of us).
The book itself is a good discussion and meditation on the identity and work of the church. It never loses sight of the real-life effect God's people must have on the world. Wright does well to keep this in the discussion throughout the text, but does include a concluding chapter which brings an additional practical application to the whole of the discussion. In the end, it is the worship of God that drives our mission . . . but it is the mission which draws us to worship him.