In a recent article (‘Continuing Steps Towards a Missional Hermeneutic’, Fideles (2008), pp.49-99), Michael Goheen makes the point that different texts in the Bible will form God’s missional people for his missional purposes in different ways. Here’s what he says about this in relation to the Old Testament:

The Old Testament Scriptures were written to ‘equip’ God’s people for their missional calling to be a distinctive people. Specifically the Scriptures are an instrument of God’s loving and powerful presence among his people to shape them for their missional calling. N. T. Wright suggests that “a full account of the role of scripture within the life of Israel would appear as a function of Israel’s election by God for the sake of the world. Through scripture, God was equipping his people to serve his purposes.” Equipping, Wright continues, is “inadequate shorthand for the multiple tasks scripture accomplished.”

It is precisely in order that Israel might fulfill her missional calling and be a light to the nations, that the law ordered its national, liturgical, and moral life; that wisdom helped to shape daily conduct in conformity to God’s creational order; that the prophets threatened and warned Israel in their disobedience and promised blessing in obedience; that the psalms brought all of Israel’s life into God’s presence in worship and prayer; that the historical books continued to tell the story of Israel at different points reminding Israel of and calling them to their missional place in the story.

In a similar vein Chris Wright points out that the Old Testament is a missional phenomenon that reflects the struggles of a people called to be a light to the world in their missionary encounter and engagement with competing cultural and religious claims of the surrounding world. Specifically, the story of the exodus in the Torah narrates how the LORD confronts the rival religious claims of the Pharaoh and Egypt; the story of creation is presented as a polemic against the creation myths of the Ancient Near East; the historical narratives and pre-exilic
prophets depict Israel’s struggle with the religious culture of Canaan; the exilic and post-exilic books emerge as Israel’s struggles with their identity in the midst of large empires with competing religious commitments; wisdom texts engage pagan wisdom traditions “with a staunch monotheistic disinfectant”; the psalms and prophets nourish the calling of Israel to be a priestly kingdom in the midst of the nations.

In short, the Old Testament canon was shaped by a people called to be a community of mission, a light to the nations. The various books arose to nurture that calling in various ways. (pp.91-92)

The article as a whole is well worth reading. The books he cites are N.T. Wright’s The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (New York: Harper Collins, 2005) and C.J.H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006).

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