On my previous post about week four of Redcliffe’s Biblical Basis of Mission course I spent all my time refecting on some missional aspects of the Psalms. However, we also look briefly at the Wisdom Literature in that session. Chris Wright’s The Mission of God (pp.441-453) was our major source on this. Although he only spends a few pages focused on the Wisdom Literature he has some excellent things to say. Here are some bullet points:
- 1. Wisdom as international bridge
Wisdom thinking and writing was a widespread occupation in the Ancient Near East. Israel’s sages were aware of wisdom from other cultures, and even borrowed from them, recognising that there was often truth in what they said. However, they were careful to exclude and modify different aspects in order to fit them in with Yahweh faith.
Missional implications: a. common human concerns; b. welcoming the wisdom of the nations; c. critiquing the wisdom of the nations; d. this wisdom bridge is not itself redemptive
- 2. Wisdom focuses on creation rather than ‘salvation-history’
Unlike the Torah and Prophets, the Wisdom Literature tends to appeal to creation (e.g., why should we act with justice? Compare: Exod. 23:9; Lev. 19:33-36; Deut. 15:12-15; Prov. 14:31; 17:5; Job 31:13-15).
Missiological implications: we share a common humanity and a common creator God (though this may not be recognised); lots of areas of commonality we can start with; hopefully this will lead to more specific engagement with the message of the gospel.
- 3. Wisdom often uses a ‘struggling voice’, which acknowledges uncertainty and promotes honesty
The Wisdom Literature acknowledges the tension between life as it should be and life as we experience it. Missiological implications – If the faith we are seeking to share is truly a faith for all peoples, surely it must then enable people to deal with all of their questions, including the uncomfortable ones.
Wright is also eminently quotable:
‘Israel had no monopoly on all things wise and good and true. Neither, of course, have Christians. Nothing is to be gained from denying, and much missional benefit accrues from affirming, those aspects of any human cultural tradition that are compatible with biblical truth and moral standards.’ (p.446)
‘A constant missiological task, which is not a modern one but goes back to the Bible itself, is identifying the criteria that determine the fine lines between cultural relevance and theological syncretism. If Israel sought to do this through the revelation contained in the Torah, how much more is it incumbent on us to make use of the whole Bible in this mission task of cultural discernment and critique.’ (p.447)
‘The biblical wisdom tradition shows us that there is a certain universality about biblical ethics simply because we live among people made in the image of God, we inhabit the earth of God’s creation, and however distorted these truths become in fallen human cultures, they will yet find an echo in human hearts.’ (p.450)
‘For the sake of the world, then, we must take this [struggling] tone of voice in the Wisdom literature seriously, with its awkward questions, its probing observations, its acceptance of the limitations of our finitude. It is part of our missional responsibility to do so.’ (p.452)
‘Such biblical wisdom calls loudly to us that our mission endeavour should be marked by
– critical openness to God’s world
– respect for God’s image in humanity
– humility before him and modesty in the claims and answers we offer to others’ (p.453)
‘some missiologists and cross-cultural practitioners suggest that the Wisdom literature provides one of the best bridges for biblical faith to establish meaningful contact and engagement with widely different human cultures around the world.’ (p.445)