Why Intercultural Studies? The Character of God
In 1910 Robert E. Spear made the statement, “It is in the very being and character of God that the deepest ground of the missionary enterprise is to be found.” What is the character of God? What attributes come to mind when you first think of Him? Perhaps more well-known than Robert Spear is A.W. Tozer, who most famously said, “What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” So, what comes to your mind when you think about the character of God?
In Introduction to Missions, we cover three aspects of God’s character that demonstrate His heart for all mankind. There may very well be many more, but this is a short blog, so we will focus on a select few: His attitude, attributes, and actions.
In thinking about God’s attitude regarding missions, I want to zero in on one aspect of His character—that He is a God of relationships. We see this demonstrated first of all in His very nature. He exists eternally in relationship with the members of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We find them at the very beginning of creation in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image…” All three are involved in the creation of mankind, and later, all three are involved in the redemption of mankind. We find them at Christ’s baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), the transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), and in our daily experience (John 14:15-17). God is so involved in His relationships that He identifies Himself by them. In Exodus 3:6 Moses meets God for this first time, and he knows God to be God because of how He identifies Himself. “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This is not some random tribal deity, Moses; this is your God! Though He does not need us, (Acts 17:25) He longs for us (John 3:16). God desires a relationship with each one of us (2 Peter 3:9), and this relational attitude demonstrates the importance of proclaiming the Gospel to all.
God’s attributes as revealed to us in Scripture demonstrate a heart that longs for His creation. For the sake of space, we will examine only three here. “God is love.” 1 John 4:8 is such a powerful verse. For, while the pages of Scripture demonstrate God’s love very clearly, here we have proclaimed that love is one of His defining characteristics. God’s love defines every action He makes, even His discipline. God demonstrates His love to Adam and Eve in the garden following their disobedience when He casts them out (Gen. 3:22-24). The text itself tells why this is an act of love; had Adam and Eve then eaten from the Tree of Life in their fallen state, they would have remained forever unredeemable. God demonstrates His love for us again at the cross. That well known verse, John 3:16, makes it plain that God gave Christ over to redeem fallen humanity. It was love that drove Christ to the cross, love that held Him there, and love that compels us to share the message. As Paul spoke so clearly in 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we have concluded this that one died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” I can find no more powerful verse that speaks right to the heart of Western Christian culture today and the need to give all for the sake of proclaiming the gospel. “God is Light.” 1 John 1:5 gives another one of God’s defining attributes, that He contains no darkness but is light in His very essence. We see this aspect of light several times in Scripture when various individuals encounter God on His throne. He is clothed in light. Among other things that are significant about this attribute is the reality of light’s revealing power. Darkness, hides, it is dangerous, you can’t see, you don’t know what is coming, and this inherently brings fear. Last night, I stubbed my foot because I was walking around in the dark. Darkness hides reality. Light reveals the truth and helps you to walk straight; you can see obstacles, and you can see reality. This revelatory power can be seen in God making Himself known to us. He doesn’t have to; God could leave us stumbling around in the dark for eternity and it wouldn’t hurt Him one bit. But that is not who He is. He reveals to us who He is, He tells us how we can seek Him, and He makes a way for us to find Him. He is, as Francis Thompson describes, “The Hound of Heaven.” John 4:23-24 gives us the final attribute to examine, “But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” John Piper has famously said, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” While it is far from being the only reason why missions exists, as demonstrated by Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well, it is certainly a large portion of it. God is the only one deserving of such worship, and while people of all tribes and tongues worship anything other than Him, missions will continue to be of importance.
Far from being a high in the sky non-involved deity, God acts on behalf of His people. The pages of Scripture are filled with Him taking the initiative to pursue His creation. He called Abraham, He called Moses, He initiated salvation, and He did it all of His own initiative. Throughout Scripture nothing shows His initiative in saving mankind more than when He sends others on His behalf. At the very beginning, when mankind was lost in decadence and depravity, He sent Noah. For 120 years (Genesis 6:3) Noah was a testament to mankind while building the Ark. When the time came to call Israel out of Egypt, he sent Moses (Exodus 3:10). Throughout the book of Judges, God would send different individuals to call the people back to Himself. Throughout Kings God sent prophets time and time again to bring Israel back to Himself (Isaiah 6:8). In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, Jesus (John 5:36, 37). Following the resurrection, God sent the Holy Spirit to help us walk in obedience (John 14:26, 16:7). In Acts 13:1-4, we have the Holy Spirit clearly involved in the sending of Paul and Barnabus. The pages of Scripture are filled with the sending work of our Father. He sends us out to proclaim His truth, His name, and His gospel. He sends us out to be His ambassadors, He sends us out to raise up worshipers; He sends us out to turn a fallen people back to their God, their creator, the one who loves them even though they turn away.
Why Missions? Because the very character of God demands it. Why Intercultural Studies? Because we must be properly equipped to do the work He calls us to do, and that involves understanding the people He calls us to reach.