As He Who Called You Is Holy: Missional Holiness and the People of God in 1 Peter

Over the past three decades, a great deal of scholarly attention has been given to identity-formation strategies in 1 Peter. These lines of investigation (and their resulting social reconstructions) have reached an impasse with regard to whether Peter seeks a sectarian identity for his hearers or, alternatively, whether Peter encourages an identity open to social assimilation. Both of these interpretations understand identity formation primarily to be in service of group preservation. I will argue that a missional reading of 1 Peter reveals that Peter’s identity-forming strategy is concerned with group preservation/formation as well as cultural transformation. Stated as a thesis, identity-distinction within 1 Peter functions to form the social identity of the in-group in such a way as to leverage in-group identity-distinction simultaneously for the sake of those inside and outside the Jesus-group. To support this argument, this paper will examine Peter’s deployment of several clusters of identity-rich language drawn from images of Israel’s experience of exile and wilderness wanderings. Peter uses these images in order name and cultivate the sense of “otherness” and social displacement experienced by the community. This distinct identity is given meaning and direction primarily through Peter’s admonition to “be holy as God is holy” (1:16), which is informed by Peter’s claim that God’s holiness is an essential aspect of God’s own missional engagement with the world. Hence, for Peter, the theoform holiness of the community is ultimately “missional holiness.” In contrast to readings of the text that see in-group solidarity and cultural engagement as mutually exclusive, a missional reading of 1 Peter will show that Peter understands the theoform identity of the church, even (and perhaps especially) when it leads to suffering, as allowing no distinction between the community’s experience of salvation and the community’s participation in God’s mission.