The Call of Abraham and Its Implications for Mission Today
I’ve been reading Rod Dreher’s book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for a Post-Christian Nation. There is much to be commended in this book, which David Brooks suggests will be one of the more influential books of the decade. Dreher rightly emphasizes the importance of Christian community and spiritual disciplines, especially as the North American context becomes increasingly secular. He likens our current context to the Dark Ages, and suggests that we look closely at St. Benedict and his monastic communities as a strategy for our contemporary context. As I’ve reflected on his analysis of our context and his proposed solution, I’ve been grappling with God’s call of Abraham, and how God’s “strategy” for a pre-Christian nation seems to be at odds with what Dreher is proposing.
A few months ago I wrote an article on the call of Abraham entitled: “The Mesopotamian (‘Pre-Christendom’) Context of the Call of Abram in Genesis, and its Implications for the Church Today.” I want to suggest that God’s call of Abram provides an alternative “strategy” for our post-Christendom context today. The article will be available in a book published later this year, but here’s a summary of it in a nutshell.
It is important to realize that the call of Abram in Gen. 12:1-3 does not begin with God bringing Abram out of Ur—on the contrary—it begins with God entering Ur. Why is the context of Ur important?
First of all, scholars estimate that by the second millennium, there were over 3,000 Mesopotamian deities. The city of Ur was dedicated to the moon-god Sin, the god worshipped at the ziggurat located in the center of the city. Interestingly, Joshua notes that Terah and his family, which includes Abram, served “other gods” (Josh. 24:2). This is where God’s redemptive story begins—in a pagan and pluralistic city, not in the Promised Land.
Second, too often we assume that Abraham was a righteous man when God called him, but this is not the case. To the contrary, it is Abraham’s faith that is accounted to him as righteousness later in Gen. 15:6 (as an act of God’s grace). The Apostle Paul notes further that Abraham was “ungodly” at that time (Rom. 4:5), and notably, this word “ungodly” is the same Greek word used for the “wicked” at Sodom and Gomorrah in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). This means that Abram was an idol worshiper and “ungodly” when God called him.
Third, Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7:2 recalls that the God of glory revealed himself to Abram in Ur, even before Abram had moved to Haran. This underscores that God’s strategy for a pre-Christendom nation was incarnational—God himself entered Ur and proclaimed the gospel to Abram. He appeared in the dark city of Ur where idols were worshipped because he is the true and living God, and he is the God who shines light in dark places.
The redemptive plan of God begins with God entering the pagan city of Ur, and with God turning up in an idol worshipping family. God’s incarnational “strategy” speaks profoundly to us today, since God does not retreat from the dark places of this world, but he enters them, bringing the light of the gospel. When we are tempted to retreat, feeling overwhelmed with the darkness we see around us, we need to remember that Jesus is the Light of the World, and his light shines in the dark places.
As the church grapples with how to engage in the North American secular context, and in a pluralistic global world, a closer examination of Abram’s family context provides hope—for the God who enters Ur is none other the Creator God, who gives life to the dead and shines his light into the dark places. This is God’s strategy for our post-Christendom context.
Dr. Carol M. Kaminski