Five reasons why pastors need to study a missional interpretation of the Bible

I’ve been teaching students how to understand and read the Bible missionally for about a decade. This was my favourite piece of student feedback.

In the class was a student who had agreed to preach at his home church after term had finished. At the end of the module he said that the way he approached the sermon changed as a result of his studies. That’s how I knew the teaching had ‘landed’. Yes, there were good essays submitted. Yes, we had rich conversations. But here was someone whose learning had made the transition from classroom to pulpit. Some days you just have to punch the air and give thanks to God that you get to do this stuff for a living!

This July (23-27th) Rosalee Velloso Ewell and I will be teaching ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’ as part of Redcliffe College’s UK Summer School. It can be taken as part of our MA in Contemporary Missiology or as a standalone, non-validated week of teaching for personal and vocational development.

But why should you, a church leader, invest time immersed in a missional reading of the Bible? Here are five reasons why I think you’d love it and your ministry would be enriched by it.

Grasping more of the Bible
In my experience, a missional approach to reading the Bible grows our understanding and love for God’s Word. It deepens our appreciation of why we have the Bible, what God is saying through it, and how he uses it to shape us for his purposes in the world. I find my view of Scripture is enlarged and my sense of wonder deepened: ‘I can’t believe I’m in on this!’

Fresh ways to approach familiar texts
What biblical texts do you most associate with mission? Matt. 28? Luke 4? John 20? Gen. 12? Isa. 49? All vital passages for understanding God’s mission, of course. But have you ever found yourself wondering if there is more to say on these Scriptures? A missional reading of the Bible helps us to articulate questions we may not have considered before. In so doing it helps us to revisit familiar texts in fresh ways. To see this at work in the context of Bible study, see my previous post, Making Bible Studies Missional.

New approaches to neglected texts
One of the really exciting things about a missional reading of the Bible is the way this approach breaks open new possibilities for connecting ANY biblical text with God’s mission. This is not to downplay the complexity of reading certain texts missionally; indeed a good missional reading will probe those complexities. I’ve seen the benefit of a missional approach through students working fruitfully on Nahum, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Esther, as well as the Beatitudes, and women in Luke’s Gospel. And if you need further proof that a missional approach enables us to be attentive to an unlikely source of biblical reflection on mission, consider that my own PhD was on a missional reading of Job!

A more connected congregation
A missional reading makes us more attentive to mission in the Bible and the Bible in mission. It heightens our awareness of our identity as God’s people and our role together in God’s mission. At its best a missional reading of Scripture makes us all more attuned to the call to follow Jesus and make disciples. It challenges the whole congregation with a whole-Bible call to engage in God’s mission. It critiques the notion that there are those that ‘do mission’ and those that don’t. It confronts our simplistic divisions between ‘local’ and ‘global’. It comforts us in our pain and says that even in our brokenness (perhaps especially in our brokenness) we have a part to play in God’s purposes.
A missional approach to the Bible can be a way of encouraging a congregation to turn our disposition to God’s mission as a central part of who we are, rather than relegating it to the periphery. Because a missional reading breaks open multiple layers of possibility for thinking biblically about the Church’s participation in God’s mission, there will be no member of the congregation for whom it won’t apply.

Refreshment for your own life and ministry
Maybe you need to immerse yourself in a missional reading of Scripture just because it will do you good! Maybe you are tired, or feeling battered by the pressures of ministry. Maybe you feel like you’ve been running on empty or that you’re looking for a fresh approach to your preaching. Maybe you’re curious about what a missional reading might mean for your own Bible reading, prayer, preaching and leadership. Maybe you love studying but need the discipline of a structured programme.

Whatever the reason, maybe spending a week immersed in a missional reading will do you good! For more information on joining Rosalee and me this Summer, visit: UK Summer School, MA in Contemporary Missiology, or drop me line. For details of costs and how to apply to ‘audit’ the module click here. See you in July!

What Does it Mean to be Human? Blade Runner, Babylon, and the Bible

CSBM co-director Tim Davy on the Bible, mission and Blade Runner (reposted from Redcliffe’s Thinking Mission Practice blog)

Thinking Mission Practice

Thirty-five years ago the Sci-Fi Classic, Blade Runner, hit our screens and probed the question of what it means to be human. In Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve’s mesmerising sequel, we are confronted again with the ‘human’ question, albeit in new ways.

Impressive though Villeneuve’s vision may be, Hollywood’s exploration of human nature and identity is, of course, nothing new. For the Church, though, films like Blade Runner 2049 provide us with a ready opportunity to tell a different story about what it means to be human.

The other day, I was teaching on the Bible as a source for missiological reflection on Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology programme. We were talking about how the Bible presents a series of encounters between the biblical worldview and the worldviews of neighbouring peoples. And asking what it means to be human is one of those worldview-defining questions.

In the first pages of…

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Tim speaking at Forming a Christian Mind conference 2017

Next month I’ll be one of the speaker’s at the 2017 Forming a Christian Mind conference, which has as its theme, ‘Redeeming our Days: academia and a Christian view of time’. My session is focused on ‘Locating ourselves in redemptive history’. Here’s some information from the Jubilee Centre website if you’d like to find out more and book a place:

Forming a Christian Mind (FACM) explores how the Christian faith interacts with personal and academic development. It aims to help postgraduates and post-docs to develop their capacity to think biblically about their discipline and address the tensions between secular and Christian perspectives on their subject, both in the university and in wider society.

FACM is an annual conference in Cambridge, organised by Jubilee Centre together with Christian Heritage, Cambridge Papers, Christian Graduate Society, KLICE and The Faraday Institute.

The event is primarily for postgraduates, post-docs and junior academics; however anyone who is pursuing an academic career in other ways is welcome.

Dates: The 2017 conference takes place over two days: Friday evening 10th November, and Saturday 11th November

Venue: St Johns Old Divinity School, St John’s Lane, Cambridge

Theme: Redeeming our days: academia and a Christian view of time

Speakers: Os Guinness (on Friday only); John Coffey (University of Leicester), Rhoda Hawkins (Sheffield University); Tim Davy (Redcliffe College)

Making our Bible Studies Missional

A post I wrote for Redcliffe’s Thinking Mission Practice blog:


Thinking Mission Practice

Let me ask you a question: how important has reading and studying the Bible with others been in your discipleship journey? If you’re anything like me you have sat together in a small group to study the Bible on numerous occasions, grappling with the text’s meaning and its implications for your lives.

Let me ask you another question: how overtly ‘missional’ have those studies been? What I mean by this is: how explicitly do we relate our engagement with the biblical text to mission, throughout the study and not just as an addition as part of the application at the end? How can we make our Bible Studies more missional at a fundamental level?

I suppose I am asking “what difference do the developments in our understanding of the missional nature of the Bible make to a mid-week Bible Study group?” This question was addressed by George Hunsberger in an…

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Five scholarships up for grabs for CSBM’s Bible and Mission MA

Firstly, thank you! It’s been wonderful to receive such enthusiasm and encouragement following our announcement on Tuesday that Redcliffe and Trinity are now working together on the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission. We are truly excited about what is ahead and hope you will journey with us.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be posting content on this blog to show more of what this partnership will involve. Today I want to highlight an exciting opportunity for those considering Master’s level study in Bible and Mission.

Recently Redcliffe announced the availability of 25 scholarships over the coming year for new students on its blended MA programmes. Five of these scholarships have been set aside specifically for our Bible and Mission MA. This is a big deal, as in real-terms these scholarships could mean 25% off your tuition fees for the full course – definitely worth exploring, and once they’re gone – they’re gone!

You can find out more about the content of the MA programme here. It is studied part-time over two- to four years and is designed to fit alongside (and even integrate) work and other ministry commitments.

Typically a student will come to two Summer School intensives (held in July), or combine this with long weekend mode for two of the modules. These are the modules:

  • Research Methods and Approaches for Missiological Study;
  • Global Missiological Issues in Intercultural Contexts;
  • Reading the Bible Missionally;
  • Scripture Engagement: Approaches and Issues;
  • Dissertation

Naturally, I’m a big fan of this course! Sinking deep roots into a missional reading of Scripture can be a life-transforming experience, impacting how we read, study, preach and teach the Bible. I love seeing students’ excitement over the whole-Bible approach to mission, and love hearing how it is fuelling their passion and decision-making in mission. It’s been wonderful to see students engaging deeply with Scripture while also wrestling with issues very particular to their roles and contexts.

To give you a flavour, these are some of the dissertation topics that have been done over the last few years:

Power at Work: Assessing the opportunity for UK Christians to be missional disciples through the stewardship of their personal power in the workplace

An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the Simply The Story (STS) Workshops for Oral Learners in Ethiopia

The Impact of Vernacular Scriptures: Assessing the benefit of local language Scriptures among the bilingual Malila and Nyiha communities of Tanzania

A Missional Reading of 2 Corinthians 1-7

Umuhimu wa Biblia: An investigation into how Tanzanian Christians perceive and engage with God’s Word

Nahum and the Nations: A Missional Reading

The Missional Function of the Levitical Priesthood

A Better Way: Leading a Bible Study for Oral-Preferenced Learners

A Missional Reading of ‘The Beatitudes’

Y Alpha? An Evaluation of the Adaptation of the Alpha Course for a Generation Y Audience

What’s So Missional About Meaninglessness?: A Missional Reading of Ecclesiastes

What is your particular passion when it comes to Bible and Mission? Have these dissertation titles whetted your appetite for what you’d love to research, given the chance? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below, and hear about exactly where you’d love to explore mission in the Scriptures – or perhaps which Scriptures you’d love to use more effectively in mission!

Drop me a line if you’d like to explore more about the course, and to find out more about the scholarships.

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.