Four ‘Scripture Engagement’ questions every UK Church should be asking

Here’s a post I wrote recently on Redcliffe’s new ‘Thinking Mission Practice’ blog

Thinking Mission Practice

I love to find ways of local and global expressions of mission fuelling each other.

As we in the UK church seek to share Jesus with people in our increasingly complex, multi-cultural communities, what can we learn from sisters and brothers around the world who have been communicating the Bible cross-culturally for decades?

The thing I want to highlight in this blog post is that if we (that is, UK churches) are to orient ourselves and our church activities and cultures to a more missional, outward-focused perspective, we’d be crazy not to draw on the rich insights of cross-cultural mission thinking and practice!

One such area is ‘Scripture Engagement’. Over the last couple of decades, more and more people in the global mission community have been discussing, researching and practising Scripture Engagement (SE), which according to one definition,

‘involves accessing, understanding and interacting meaningfully with the life-changing message of the…

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All Together for Justice Lent resource


screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-16-49-25Are you reading anything in particular over the Lent period? I’ve chosen a couple of things to work through between now and Easter. The first is a new book by Lynn Japinga on Preaching the Women of the Old Testament. It has 40 chapters covering 40 women and, according to the blurb, the author ‘demonstrates how the character’s story has been read in Christian tradition and offers sermon ideas that connect contemporary issues to each story.’

The other thing I’ll be reading through is a resource produced by All We Can called All Together for Justice. I have contributed one reflection on ‘Made in God’s Image’ and it was put together by Claire Welch, a current student on the ‘Bible and Mission’ stream of Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology. I asked Claire to say something about it for this blog:

I work for a Christian international development charity called All We Can. As part of my role, I have the privilege of helping Christians engage their faith with issues of poverty and injustice. To do this I write resources that pull together biblical reflection with current world issues. The most recent resource I have launched is called, All Together for Justice, which benefits from the contributions of theologians and leading Christian figures. All Together for Justice is a book of reflections, activities and prayers that can be followed over Lent (or any other 40-day period). It is designed to be used daily by individuals or weekly by small groups. This resource is free for you to order and enjoy. Just visit

In a recent news item, All We Can talk about the enthusiastic uptake of the resource. Indeed, they have now developed an email version that you can access here:

Well done Claire, we’re all proud of you!

If you want to wrestle with issues of Bible, mission, justice, advocacy and reconciliation why not sign up for a Redcliffe MA programme in Contemporary Missiology? Join with others from around the world at this year’s 3-week MA intensive in July. Find out more

‘that’s not a Bible issue’ – Evoking the Bible in the public sphere


I spend a lot of my time thinking about what the Bible says and what the Church does with what the Bible says. How you and I involve the Bible in justifying our actions or those of others should be held up to rigorous scrutiny.

The importance of this simple observation is evident in the current debate over Franklin Graham’s support of President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees and immigrants from several countries. In an article on the HuffPost website, Graham used the phrase, ‘That’s not a Bible issue’ and it is this wording (and what it implies) that I’d like to explore. I’m not claiming this to be an analysis of the whole debate, or that I am able to offer an authoritative voice on all the issues. I do, however, want to attempt to bring some clarity to this one particular aspect of how the Bible has been used.

To begin with let’s quote the relevant passage in the HuffPost article (posted 25.1.2017):

The Huffington Post spoke with Graham on Wednesday, and asked whether it’s possible to reconcile Trump’s temporary ban on refugees with the Christian commandment to welcome, clothe and feed the stranger, and to be a Good Samaritan to those in need.

Graham said he doesn’t believe those two things need to be reconciled.

“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue,” Graham told HuffPost. “We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”

A former colleague of mine here at Redcliffe used to give students three questions to ask when reading something, to which I have added my own annotations. There are many other questions we could ask, of course, but let’s stick with these three.

‘What are you saying?’  This is a question of clarity. Have I taken the time to be clear on what the author/speaker is (and is not) actually claiming? This matters in terms of accuracy but is also a matter of principle and respect to the person writing/speaking.

‘How do you know?’  This is a question of methodology. How has the author arrived at their claim? What assumptions have they made to get there? What logical steps have led them to this conclusion?

‘So what?’  This is a question of significance. What are the implications of what the speaker has said? This could be significance in terms of what it reflects about the author’s context and role (especially when in a position of influence). It also has to do with the practical consequences of what they are saying, or the effect their words may have beyond their own immediate action. We might say, if people take this word seriously, how might this change their behaviour and what would be the consequences of this?

So let’s apply these questions to Graham’s statement, or at least the sound bite that people have focused on, ‘that’s not a Bible issue’.

What is he saying?  The ‘that’, which Graham considers ‘not a Bible issue’ is the idea of a government policy that would ‘let everyone in who wants to come’. There is no biblical command, says Graham, requiring a country to do this.

A response to Graham’s comment that simply lists the multitude of biblical injunctions to welcome the stranger and care for the alien doesn’t directly address what he is saying. It is not the biblical requirement for caring for the vulnerable he is questioning; it is how that requirement should, or should not be adopted as government policy. The problem is, of course, that Graham has set up a ‘straw man’ by arguing against an extreme idea of uncontrolled, completely free immigration.

How does he know?  How does Graham arrive at his view? What assumptions are at play? The logic seems to be this:

  1. Something counts as a ‘Bible issue’ if there is a specific commandment about it;
  2. The opposite of the policy is the uncontrolled letting ‘everyone in who wants to come’;
  3. The Bible does not command a country to do this;
  4. Therefore this policy is not a ‘Bible issue’ and is allowable

The logic doesn’t work on a couple of fronts. Defining a ‘Bible issue’ this way is a very narrow way of understanding biblical ethics. It is essentially requiring proof-texts for behaviour and policy rather than the construction of biblically informed frameworks with which we can think ethically.

The argument is also advocating against a form of immigration policy that isn’t (to my knowledge) being debated. He is not arguing against a representative view of critics of the policy, but a straw man. In this way the opposing view is dismissed by association with the extreme form.

So what?  What’s more important: the way an argument is made, or the effect that it has?

Graham’s statement has been used to give credence to the current government policy. It implies that the policy is not incompatible with biblical teaching and, therefore, provides a biblically satisfying way of supporting the policy.

In my view it is a way of deflecting the debate because it has the effect of undercutting the biblical teaching on caring for the vulnerable. It places biblical objections to the policy (i.e., the views of those within the Church opposed to the policy) to the sidelines. It basically says that because the Bible does not have an explicit commandment requiring an extreme form of a specific government policy, the Bible is therefore irrelevant to this matter. Hence, it is not a Bible issue.

I have written previously on the Bible’s call to care for refugees and asylum seekers. In my view Graham’s way of justifying his support for the policy is based on an argument that does not stand up to scrutiny. It seems to me that in this case the Bible has been used inappropriately and unjustifiably, but that it has the effect of giving the perception of biblical credence to the policy, and this needs to be challenged.

As I said at the start, this post does not attempt to tackle all the issues in the debate. I do not believe the Bible can be used legitimately to justify the policy under debate and I am deeply concerned with the way it has been used. The focus of this post has been about the latter.

My main point is this: if we are going to evoke the Bible when discussing controversial issues (whether ‘within the Church’ or in the ‘public sphere’) let’s do so rigorously. And that applies to me too.

If you want to develop rigorous thinking about the Bible, faith and society, why not sign up for a Redcliffe MA programme in Contemporary Missiology? Join with others from around the world at this year’s 3-week MA intensive in July. Find out more

Urban missiological readings

screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-17-25This year Urban Loft Publishers are launching an exciting Bible commentary series that will read texts through an urban missiology lens.

It seems like a significant series, not least because of the rich insights each volume will bring. Perhaps more significantly, an ambitious project like this would suggest that the missional hermeneutics conversation (and related conversations) has developed to such a degree that there is now confidence to launch a whole series of readings that cover the whole Bible.

Here is the website description of the series

The Polis Bible Commentary Series is a new Bible commentary series designed to be global in scope, urban in focus, and missional in perspective. This commentary is not just another commentary on the Bible. Each book of the Bible will be examined by a team consisting of a trained biblical scholar and an experienced urban specialist. These scholars will work in dialog to produce a reading of Scripture that addresses the concerns of our increasingly urbanized world. The format will include two sections: the text, with discussion and scholarship from a global missiological context (written by the biblical scholar) and an urban contextual application (written by the urban/missiological scholar).

The authors will be from many countries and different evangelical backgrounds. It is expected that his approach will produce a rich tapestry of fresh theological material designed to serve the 21st century church.

Polis” is the Greek word for “city.” The editors of this series are convinced that cities, which are now home to the majority of the earth’s residents, represent the mission field of the future. The Polis Bible Commentary is anticipated to be 30 volumes, with the first volumes being published in the 1st quarter of 2016. This will be an 8-10 year project, with a target of four volumes being published each year.

Missional hermeneutics and the question of diversity

Back in In June I gave a paper on ‘The Bible and Mission Beyond Bosch’ at the Global Connections Mission Educators Forum in the UK. The gathering was using the 25th anniversary of the publication of David Bosch’s landmark Transforming Mission to offer a critical appreciation of that book. My talk, which I’ll write up some time, had three headings: ‘What Bosch did’ (a review of his treatment of biblical texts); ‘What Bosch didn’t do’ (some of his omissions and neglected areas); and ‘What Bosch couldn’t do’ (i.e., engage with the missional hermeneutics conversation that has developed since his tragic and untimely death in 1992).

One of my key points was to raise and reflect upon the well-documented relative neglect of women and global south scholars in Bosch’s bibliography (see, for example, Nussbaum’s readers guide to TM, p. 143). I then revisited the growing literature on missional hermeneutics through the lens of this concern over diversity. This was something I felt in a good position to do as I had recently collaborated with Mike Goheen on an extensive missional hermeneutics bibliography. We aimed to document all publications that have consciously adopted the missional hermeneutics approach, and this can now be found in the new Eerdmans volume, Reading the Bible Missionally. The publisher also kindly agreed that we could host an online version on this site so that we can keep it up to date. See the Missional Hermeneutics Bibliography tab in the main menu.

If you look through the bibliography you will soon be struck by something: the majority of scholars who have published on missional hermeneutics are Western men, including almost all the book-length treatments. Compiling such a resource isn’t an exact science, of course, but it is worth noting that this bibliography emerged from a process of actively seeking out any references to missional hermeneutics or missional readings, rather than just going for familiar scholars. Because of this we’ve been able to highlight a number of articles that perhaps have not been widely known about, and in so doing can point towards a greater diversity of scholars working in the area, including:

Barton, Mukti. “A Missional Reading of Susanna and the Woman Accused of Adultery.” Rethinking Mission (July 2012). Available at pdfs/barton_july_12.pdf.

Bekele, Girma. “The Biblical Narrative of the Missio Dei: Analysis of the Interpretive Framework of David Bosch’s Missional Hermeneutic.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 35.3 (2011): 153–58.

Choi, Hunn. “Multicultural Hermeneutics and Mission.” Asbury Journal 70.1 (2015): 111–39.

Jabini, Frank S. “Witness to the End of the World: A Missional Reading of Acts 8:26–40.” Conspectus 13.1 (2012).

Lee, Kyuboem. “An Urban Missional Reading of Genesis 1.” New Urban World Journal 3.1 (2014): 59–66.

Magda, Ksenija. “A Missional Reading of Rom 15:1–12.” Evangelical Journal of Theology 2.1 (2008): 39–52.

Okure, Teresa. “‘In Him All Things Hold Together’: A Missiological Reading of Colossians 1:15–20.” International Review of Mission 91 (2002): 62–72.

My main point can be summed up like this:

although it is true that the mainstream, ‘published’ missional hermeneutics conversation has been a very Western and male one so far, I believe things will look very different in the future. Assuming the momentum of interest in the approach continues (and there is every reason for thinking it will), over the next decade we will see a much greater diversity of voices coming into and shaping the conversation.

A key factor will be the emergence of a new generation of students from around the world graduating from MA, MTh and PhD programmes with missional hermeneutics as a core component. They will bring new contexts, new questions, and new ideas to the table, and I for one can’t wait.

I hope to be able to bring some exciting news in the near future about one of the ways this will be encouraged, so watch this space!

There is so much more that could, and should, be said on this subject so expect further posts in the future. In the meantime, if you are aware of gaps in the bibliography please do drop me a line.

Please help – The Bible and Digital Millennials survey

codec-blue-250Can you help shape an understanding of a crucial Bible and Mission issue?

The team at the CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology are asking ‘Christian digital millennials’ to fill in a survey as part of an important piece of research called, ‘The Bible and Digital Millennials’. They define this group as ’18-35 year olds who feel at home in the digital world e.g. use social media, shop online)’.

Please do take part or pass it on to others who can. Here is a link to the survey along with the main information taken from the first page:

The Bible and Digital Millennials – survey

Thank you for your interest in this research project.

What follows is a brief description of this survey and contact details in case you have any questions about the project. Through this research we hope to take a snapshot of how the Bible is used, viewed and thought about by Christian digital millennials (that is 18-35 year olds who feel at home in the digital world e.g. use social media, shop online).

The questionnaire is an opportunity to share your experiences and opinions, because we want to be thorough, it is substantial and will take just over 20 minutes to complete. Importantly, you would be free to withdraw at any point in time (and your data would be destroyed). We assure you that all your responses (i.e. data) will be kept confidential and anonymous, and will be stored securely for a period of five years before being destroyed. The data produced by the survey will help us understand what, if any, place and function the Bible has amongst British Christian millennials.

The project is sponsored by Bible Society and is being carried out by CODEC, a research centre of Durham University.

Foolishness, weakness, slavery, and love – Michael Barram on a missional reading of Corinthians

Fools for the sake of Christ - Michael Barram articleMichael Barram is an important figure in the field of missional hermeneutics. While his work relies on a missio Dei lens he often takes his readings in new directions. In particular I appreciate the ways in which he roots his missional reflections in the ‘locatedness’ of contemporary contexts. It’s not always comfortable reading, but always valuable.

A recent article by Barram focuses on Paul’s letters to the Corinthian Church. You will need access to the journal, or an ATLA subscription, to read it but it is another important contribution to the developing missional conversation. Here is the abstract:

Paul’s rhetoric in the Corinthian correspondence suggests that at least some of the Corinthians understood wisdom, power, freedom, and knowledge as being at the heart of Christian identity and practice in the world. Paul counters each of those terms hermeneutically, missionally—underscoring the import of foolishness, weakness, slavery, and love—with respect to his mission in the world and their own. Love, as explicated by Paul, helps to clarify why foolishness, weakness, and slavery trump wisdom, power, freedom, and knowledge. Apart from love, focusing on wisdom, power, freedom, or knowledge can become self-referential. Only in love can those characteristics move beyond themselves for the good—the building up—of others. Paul’s corrective metaphors for missional hermeneutics and praxis—foolishness, weakness, slavery, and love—represent concrete and counter-intuitive ways in which the missio Dei has been and must be manifested. In the process of exploring these issues, the article offers extended reflections on the implications of Paul’s hermeneutical reasoning for contemporary mission today.

Barram, Michael. “‘Fools for the Sake of Christ’: Missional Hermeneutics and Praxis in the Corinthian Correspondence.” Missiology 43.2 (2015): 195–207

If you want to find more of Barram’s writing on missional hermeneutics have a look at the missional hermeneutics bibliography.

Want to take this further? Come and study more about the Bible and Mission with me on Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology, including the modules ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’ and ‘Scripture Engagement: Approaches and Issues’.

Crossing Cultures in Scripture

Crossing Cultures in ScriptureMarvin Newell has just brought out an interesting looking Bible and Mission, Crossing Cultures in Scripture: Biblical Principals for Mission Practice (IVP, 2016). Here is a link to a video on the publisher’s we site: Marvin J. Newell, Author of ‘Crossing Cultures in Scripture’

Here is the blurb and contents:

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a crosscultural book. Scripture is full of narratives of God’s people crossing cultures in pursuit of God’s mission. Biblical texts shed light on mission dynamics: Sarah and Hagar functioning in an honor-shame culture, Moses as a multicultural leader, Ruth as a crosscultural conversion, David and Uriah illustrating power distance, the queen of Sheba as an international truth-seeker, Daniel as a transnational student, Paul in Athens as a model of contextualization, and much more.

Missionary and missions professor Marvin Newell provides a biblical theology of culture and mission, mining the depths of Scripture to tease out missiological insights and crosscultural perspectives. Unlike other such books that are organized topically, this text is organized canonically, revealing how the whole of Scripture speaks to contemporary mission realities.

Comprehensive in scope, filled with biblical insight and missional expertise, this book is an essential resource for students and practitioners of crosscultural ministry and mission.


Part I: Foundational Cultural Considerations

  1. Introduction to Culture
  2. Eden: The Beginning of Human Culture
  3. The Tower of Babel: Beginning of Cultural Diversity
  4. Abraham: The Father of Blessing for All Cultures

Part II: Crossing Cultures in the Old Testament

  1. Sarah and Hagar: Honor and Shame
  2. Abraham and The Hittites: Needing a Favor in a Foreign Land
  3. The Marriage of Jacob: Consequence of Crosscultural Ignorance
  4. Joseph: A Victim of Crosscultural Human Trafficking
  5. Moses: A Multicultural leader
  6. The Israelite Community: Tribes, Clans and Families
  7. Rahab: The Informed Pagan Prostitute
  8. Ruth: A Crosscultural Conversion
  9. David and Uriah: The Interplay of Power-Distance
  10. Solomon and Queen of Sheba: Crosscultural Truth Seeker
  11. Naaman: Dilemma of Conflicting Religious Obligation
  12. Jonah: Ethnocentrism to a Fault
  13. Jeremiah: Instructions for Living in a Foreign Land
  14. Daniel: Staying True to God As a Transnational Student
  15. Esther: Saving Her People from Genocide
  16. Nehemiah: Leading a “Despised” Cultural Minority

Part III: Crossing Cultures in the New Testament

  1. Jesus: His Crosscultural Encounters
  2. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman: Contrasting Worldviews
  3. The Lord’s Prayer for Missionaries
  4. Jesus’ Seven Marks of Crosscultural Success
  5. Pontius Pilate: The Clueless Crosscultural Interrogator
  6. Acts 1:8: The Crosscultural Mission of the Church
  7. The Jerusalem Church: Crosscultural Conflict Management
  8. Philip: Reaching the “The Second-Class”
  9. Peter’s Encounter with Cornelius: Crossing the Great Divide
  10. Paul in Athens: Contextualizing the Message
  11. Crosscultural Advance: Luke’s One Last Word
  12. The Self-Contextualizing of the Messenger
  13. 1 Corinthians 13: A Guide to Crosscultural Awareness
  14. The Incarnational Missionary
  15. Crosscultural Pilgrimage: Sojourning Like Abraham
  16. Eternity: Doxological Diversity


Want to take this further? Come and study more about the Bible and Mission with me on Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology, including the modules ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’ and ‘Scripture Engagement: Approaches and Issues’.

NT Wright on Paul and missional hermeneutics

The Apostle Paul and the Christian LifeTucked away at the end of a recent edited volume on ‘The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life’ is an essay by NT Wright entitled, ‘Paul and Missional Hermeneutics’ (pp. 179-192).

It is a relatively short treatment but an interesting and useful reflection that will complement the missional hermeneutics discussion well. In particular it resonates with the work of James Brownson and his focus on the way the NT writers interpreted previous texts and traditions through the lens of the gospel. (see the Missional Hermeneutics Bibliography to follow up on this).

Reflecting on the role of Paul’s missional thinking within Wright’s immense ‘Christian Origins and the Question of God’ series, he notes his hope that he ‘would like the final volume to be about mission, with theology as its reinforcing scaffolding, rather than about theology, with mission as its possible outflowing.’ (p. 182) A tantalising prospect!

Here is the opening paragraph to give you a sense of his way into the essay:

‘Paul’s theology is widely agreed to be missional theology; that is, it is theology in service of his vocation as a missionary, specifically, as “the apostle to the gentiles.” That was not a hobby, as though he were a missionary some of the time and the writer of theologically dense letters the rest of the time. His missionary mandate shaped the rest of his life, his writing included. At the same time, most Pauline scholars would agree that in some sense his theology is hermeneutical; that is, he thinks and writes (and, we should add, prays) in constant dialogue with Israel’s Scriptures, drawing on them, engaging with them, selecting and arranging quotations and allusions from them to further his theological, and hence also his missionary, purposes. Thus-since for Paul these two aspects of his work belonged rightly together-we may say that Paul’s mission was hermeneutical and his hermeneutics were missional.’ (p. 179, his italics)

Here’s the full bibliographic reference:

Wright, N.T., ‘Paul and Missional Hermeneutics’, in McKnight, S. and Modica, J.B. The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life: Ethical and Missional Implications of the New Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 179-192

Want to take this further? Come and study more about the Bible and Mission with me on Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology, including the module ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’.

The Bible According to Gen Z

(thanks to the Scripture Engagement website for making me aware of this one)

book_biblegenzBible Society Australia have brought out a collection of essays on the ways in which Generation Z are engaging with the Bible. Here’s some blurb and the contents list:

Did you know:

Only 4 per cent of young people read the Bible daily and 7 out of 10 have never read it.

Young people are ten times more likely to read the Bible if they are involved in a group which encourages them to do so.

Only 1 in 100 youth will pick up the Bible out of curiosity or interest.

Find out how you can engage young people with the Bible; what’s working and what isn’t, and to get that other 99 to pick up a Bible. Bible Society’s Adrian Blenkinsop has pulled together a collection of essays for youth engagement with the Bible to help them, and their youth leaders, keep the faith.

Ch1. Bible engagement amongst Australian young people – Philip Hughes

Ch2. From the coal face – Adrian Blenkinsop

Ch3. Six leaders respond to the findings: Graham Stanton, Kylie Butler, Cameron Bennett, Fr Chris Ryan, Mark Mitchell, Brenton Killeen

Ch4. Case study 1: City Bible Walks – Christop Booth

Ch5. Case study 2: Immerse – Travis Johnson

Ch6. Case study 3: Vetamorph – Paul ‘Digger’ Randle

For more details go to Bible Society Australia’s website