Three weeks ago, I began taking the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at my church. Founded in 1974 and organized by the US Center for World Mission, Perspectives explores “the biblical, historical, cultural, and strategic dimensions of world evangelization.” It’s a required course for many people joining the missions field, and it seemed like a good follow-up to Urbana 12, as well as a good way to get to know some new people at my church and in my community.
We’re currently in the biblical foundations section of the course. One of the central concepts in Perspectives is that God’s people are blessed to be a blessing. That is, we are not merely chosen, saved, or blessed merely for our own sake (as important as that might be), but God’s work in our lives is intended to flow outward to other people, ultimately filling the whole earth. This has been part of God’s mission from the very beginning. His covenant with Abraham explicitly includes the whole earth in his plan:
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Gen. 12:2-3)
This promise continues throughout the Hebrew Scriptures[1. For example, read through the list of “David’s Mighty Men” at the end of 2 Samuel and count the number of Gentiles included among them.], and, of course, the blessing to the nations is central to the Great Commission, to the last half of Acts, and most of Paul’s letters. The blessing to “all peoples on earth” is ultimately fulfilled in the vision given to John in Revelation 7:9, when he sees “a great multitude…from every nation, tribe, people and language” worshipping Christ. Further, this “blessing” isn’t merely about being saved or have the “right” religion — it affects the whole of life. Andy Crouch and others have noted this intriguing part of the description of New Jerusalem at the end of Revelation:
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. (Rev. 21:24-26)
It’s hard to know exactly what this passage is describing, yet it’s clear that, in some way, commerce and culture will continue as part of the life of New Jerusalem. Some interpret the “glory and honor of the nations” to be the best parts of culture from every people group.
Naturally, my thoughts turned to faculty and graduate students during this section of the course. One of my favorite aspects of working with the Emerging Scholars Network has always been hearing about the tremendous variety of disciplines, specialties, and research topics pursued by ESN members. As a hopelessly curious generalist, I live vicariously through the many scholars and teachers that I meet through ESN, even though I can’t always follow the finer details of their research. This idea — blessed to be a blessing — seemed like a perfect fit for ESN members. Yes, we definitely have struggles, and I don’t want to downplay those, but we also enjoy tremendous blessings, in terms of ability, opportunity, education, and privilege that 99% of the world will never get to experience.
Rather than offer my own examples, I want to hear your ideas. How can faculty and students be a blessing to others? How is your research, teaching, and service part of God’s mission? How does your work make the world a better place and bring “glory and honor” to God?