God’s Mission: Righting or Writing the World?

A few months back I gave a major public lecture on Paul called “Justification and Justice: Paul, the Mission of the Church, and the Salvation of the World.” In the lecture I picked up on NT Wright’s theme of God’s “putting the world to rights.” Deciding to avoid the British idiom, I said (perhaps several times) that according to Paul God is “righting” the world, as in righting a capsized ship or setting right that which is out of alignment.

A journalist heard my talk of God’s “righting the world” as God’s “writing the world”—and was apparently quite taken by the idea. (OK, I confess: Yes, I am a closet process theologian. Just kidding. :-) ) In fact, it turned her on to Paul once again, and she wrote about that at length.

This little episode raises all kinds of interesting questions about hermeneutics, etc., but most importantly it raises the question, “Did the journalist have an unintentional brilliant insight into Paul and into God?” Is that what the missio Dei is in some sense? Writing the world? What might that mean?

4 Responses to “God’s Mission: Righting or Writing the World?”

  1. T says:

    Ah, happy accidents! Well, it certainly fits nicely with “narrative” concepts like the one you use to understand justification, and with Wright’s “acts” as well as the idea of doing our work now with the end in mind, as pictured in Revelation and other books.

    I think it is a good metaphor, too, for the shape of our participation in the Story (actors in the play), in how we “work the works of God” through him (and him through us).

    It reminds me of a memorable section of “the Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, in the chapter about turning one’s life over to the care of God (for God to “write” going forward):

    “The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. . . . [the metaphor continues for some time]. Selfishness–se lf-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.”

    The book goes on to call this doomed and frustrating kind of writing/directing, “playing God.”

  2. MJG says:


    Yeah, it does work well with narrative, doesn’t it? And the AA quote is spot on. Thanks.

  3. Zwingli 2.0 says:

    It conveys well too the fact that God in Christ has brought all nations into a universal history constituted by God’s promising and fulfilling, a history that points forward and receives its truth, as it were, from an ultimate horizon, which has been revealed in Christ.

    In other words, God in Christ has surprisingly brought myriad human stories into one big story, which of course radically alters our little stories, opening up undreamt of possibilities.

  4. Zwingli 2.0 says:

    Another way to think about it…

    Before Christ, the nations were like the proverbial monkeys in a room full of typewriters exhausting the possibilities of language in the writing of their histories which all read pretty much alike.

    With Christ, however, God introduces, as it were, a new word into the language, opening up new horizons, and enabling the monkeys to think what had been unthinkable and to say what had been unsayable.

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