In living by God we live for humanity

A Light to the Nations - Martin-AchardOne of the options available to final year students on Redcliffe’s applied theology degree is a module called ‘Missional Texts: Isaiah’. As well as getting into contemporary scholarship on the book I encourage them to consider how ‘Bible and Mission’ scholars have engaged with Isaiah over the years.

Here’s an interesting quote from Robert Martin-Achard’s 1962 book, A Light to the Nations (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd):

‘In preaching consolation to his brethren, Deutero-Isaiah is also declaring that their triumphant return testifies to the incomparable greatness of Yahweh. The miracle by which Israel lives extols its God’s greatness before the whole universe. The ultimate destiny of the world depends on the existence of Israel in the midst of the nations; in living by Yahweh the Chosen People lives for mankind. Such is the missionary outlook that emerges from the oracles of Deutero-Isaiah.‘ (his italics)

What struck me about this quote was the phrase, ‘in living by Yahweh the Chosen People lives for mankind‘. The issue of continuity and discontinuity between OT, NT and now is complex. But I think here we get a glimpse of the connection between the identity of God’s people in relation to the purpose of God’s people. We find our life in God so that we might serve the world by inviting them (implicitly or explicitly) to share in that life.

What do you think?

Making a Biblical Studies programme missional, part 3

This is the third in a series of posts exploring the Biblical Studies side of the new curriculum at Redcliffe College. Specifically, I’m aiming to inform and excite you about the way we are trying to make our teaching of Biblical Studies a thoroughly missional activity. Check out part 1 and part 2 of the series for an overview and introduction.

Having established a missional approach to the Bible and a foundational survey of the books of the Old and New Testaments in the first year, we then focus on some key texts in year two. By this stage we want students to be deepening their understanding of the content, interpretation and application of biblical texts.

As well as a biblical language, students have the option to take the following modules:

Missional texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11

The module aims to enable students to analyse important aspects of these two key Old Testament texts and consider how they relate to the thinking and practice of the church’s involvement in the mission of God.

This module covers:

  1. The function of the book of Psalms and Genesis 1-11 as part of a missional reading of the Bible;
  2. Key issues in understanding and interpreting Psalms and Genesis 1-11, including historical and cultural contexts, genre, structure, literary features and theological themes;
  3. Case-studies in exegeting Psalms and passages from Genesis 1-11;
  4. The contemporary application of Psalms and Genesis 1-11, especially in relation to the thinking and practice of mission.
For me, it is so important that students leave Redcliffe equipped with the Psalms. More than any other part of Scripture, the Psalms articulate life and give us a liturgy for all the experiences we may go through. We encourage the students to pray through the Psalms – a habit I hope they will adopt, enjoy and be shaped by. There are also some important and intriguing missiological questions in the Psalms, not least the role of the nations and the great eschatological visions of nations gladly worshipping the LORD.
Genesis 1-11 has often been treated as the background to God’s mission. In this module we explore the content of the text in depth and try to see how it can function missionally.

Missional Texts: Luke and Acts

The module aims to enable students to analyse important aspects of Luke’s contribution to the New Testament and consider how it relates to the thinking and practice of the church’s involvement in the mission of God.

This module covers:

1. The function of Luke-Acts as part of a missional reading of the Bible;

2. Key issues in understanding and interpreting Luke-Acts, including historical and cultural contexts, genre, structure, literary features and theological themes;

3. Case-studies in exegeting passages from Luke-Acts;

4. The contemporary application of Luke-Acts, especially in relation to the thinking and practice of mission.
The language of the descriptor is clearly very similar to the Psalms and Genesis 1-11 module. Luke and Acts was an obvious choice in that it spans at least two different genre, and is often referred to in the literature on mission.
Finally, in addition to these book-specific modules, we offer a hermeneutics module:
Interpreting the Bible in Intercultural Contexts

The module aims to enable students to analyse important aspects of historical and contemporary interpretation of the Bible, and consider biblical hermeneutics in relation to a variety of Western and non-Western cultural contexts.

This module covers:

1. Key periods and events in the history of Biblical interpretation (e.g. Jewish, early Christian, and Medieval exegesis; the hermeneutical impact of the Reformation and of the Enlightenment;

2. Major topics in contemporary hermeneutics (e.g. literary approaches and  the role of the reader;

3. Biblical interpretation in different cultural contexts (e.g. Latin American, Asian and African);

This is an opportunity for students to look at the bigger picture of biblical interpretation, but also explore issues of intercultural reading and contextualisation.

So, by the end of the second of their three-year bachelor’s degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts, students are delving deeply into some crucial biblical texts and becoming more sensitive and globally aware interpreters. Stay tuned for the final year…

Mission and the Psalms – liturgy is not play acting

Israel and the Nations by James Chukwuma OkoyeI’ve been thinking ahead to a module on Redcliffe’s Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts degree programme called, ‘Missional Texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11’. Here is a nice quote from Okoye found in his wonderful book, Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament. It is part of a chapter on Psalm 96:

The psalmist calls on Israel and the nations to be united in the worship of the one God, Yahweh. The gentiles may be restricted only to the “courts,” that is, the courtyards of the temple, which are open to non-Jews, yet the “wall of separation” has begun to crumble, if not in fact, surely in the religious imagination.

The praise and worship of the nations, which the prophets predicted of the eschatological future, are transferred to the present in our psalm (Gunkel and Begrich 1998, 25).

The coming of Yahweh is, first of all, liturgical: the royal glory and power of Yahweh are made manifest to the worshipers, who accordingly prostrate in obedient submission to their King. The very assembly of praise enacts the reign of God, for the assembly thereby recognizes itself as servants coming into the presence of their lord to acknowledge Yahweh’s rule and to declare the dealty to Yahweh (Mays 1994a, 64). As Walter Brueggemann affirms, “liturgy is not play acting, but is the evocation of an alternative reality that comes into play in the very moment of the liturgy” (1984, 144). The alternative reality is that of a society that has been made right under God – true worship leads to true society. Liturgy is the beginning of the dismantling of the old order of injustice and faithlessness (ibid., 146). Insofar as Israel and the families of nations participate in the worship of Yahweh they are sharing in the dismantling of the old order and the emergence of the new order under Yawheh.

But the coming of Yahweh is at the same time eschatological. Cultic gatherings at the temple anticipate the gathering of the nations and peoples of the earth to the shrine of Israel’s God, who is over the nations (Willis 1997, 302). The eschatological promise is that all the earth will also enjoy the just effects of the rule of Yahweh.

In a subtle manner, Psalm 96 merges the praise of “all the earth” and that of Israel. The Israelite who makes such an “oratorical outreach” (Marlowe 1998, 451) is being invited to pull down the wall of separation that continued to keep apart fellow worshipers of Yahweh. (pp.106-107)

If you’d like to look into the Psalms and mission in more depth, have a look at issue 33 of Redcliffe’s Encounters Mission Journal, which was on the theme of The Psalms and Mission.

Bible Engagement and Oral Culture

International Orality NetworkIn a previous post I highlighted the Cape Town Commitment’s inclusion of the key issue of communicating the Bible in oral cultures.

The Bible and orality is a theme I will be returning to with more frequency, not least because over the Summer we will be preparing a new final year module as part of Redcliffe’s BA Degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts on ‘Story, Song and Social Networks: Bible Engagement and Oral Culture’.

As a helpful orientation here are a couple of excerpts from the website of the International Orality Network. The first gives a definition of their understanding of ‘oral learners’ or ‘oral communicators’. The second gives some statistics and facts.

Those of us who have tended to learn through literate means simply must get to grips with what this stuff means. Not only will it make our efforts to communicate the Bible more effective. I would argue it would also enrich our appreciation and understanding of the Bible immeasurably.

Definitions 

An oral learner or oral communicator is:

1. Someone who cannot read or write.

2. Someone whose most effective communication and learning format, style, or method is in accordance with oral formats, as contrasted to literate formats.

3. Someone who prefers to learn or process information by oral rather than written means. (These are literate people whose preferred communication style is oral rather than literate, even though they can read.)

 

Statistics and Facts

1. Over 4 Billion people in the world do not read as their primary method of learning – either they cannot read; they do not read; or they will not read.

2. The vast majority of missions work has been done for a literate audience. Unfortunately the vast majority of the true audience is therefore not able to connect with the Gospel.

3. Oral cultures are very relational – they share their lives with one another.

4. Most oral cultures will communicate with one another in narratives, dialogues and dramas, proverbs, songs, chants, and poetry. When asked what he thought about a new village school headmaster, a Central African replied “Let’s watch how he dances”

This leaves us with some serious questions to answer: how different would our missionary efforts look if we truly took the phenomenon of orality seriously? What could we learn that would apply to a (if I can use this term) ‘post-literate’ society? How much to I base my efforts to communicate on how I would understand something, as if my preferred learning style is objective?

Lots to chew over in the coming months. In the meantime, check out ION’s website

Making a Biblical Studies programme missional, part 2

Redcliffe's web page for the BA(Hons) Degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural ContextsThis is the second in a series of posts exploring the Biblical Studies side of the new curriculum at Redcliffe College. Specifically, I’m aiming to inform and excite you about the way we are trying to make our teaching of Biblical Studies a thoroughly missional activity. Check out part 1 of the series for an overview and introduction.

The first thing to say is that we no longer have a module entitled, A Biblical Basis of Mission.

Yes, you heard me right! Traditionally, Bible Colleges have run courses in the Biblical Studies department called something like, Introduction to the Old Testament / Introduction to the New Testament, and then the Missiology/Theology department might have a module on a Biblical Basis of Mission.

But should these really be separated?

If, as I have contended on numerous occasions in this blog, the Bible is thoroughly missional, should not an overview course of the Bible take account of its missional character in a fully integrated way?

More than this, I would suggest that running separate modules is communicating something rather unhelpful to students; that you can have an introduction to the Bible separate to an introduction to Biblical mission.

So we now have modules in the first year called ‘A missional introduction to the Old Testament’ and ‘A missional approach to the New Testament’. These courses orient students both to the the context, content and contemporary significance of the books of the Bible, but also look at how the Bible is a product, record and tool of mission. This approach is an attempt to bridge the disciplines of Biblical Studies and Missiology. It also means that a students gain a solid foundation in the content, interpretation and missional nature of the Bible, and a thorough basis for understanding the church’s missionary identity and task.

To flesh this out in more detail, here is some course info.

In the first year students take two compulsory Bible-focused modules (though they can do a biblical language as well):

  • A missional introduction to the Old Testament
The module aims to introduce students to the background, content, interpretation and contemporary relevance of the books of the Old Testament. Questions relating to the thinking and practice of mission will be asked throughout.
This module covers:
1. An introduction to the missional nature of the Bible, particularly in relation to the texts of the Old Testament;
2. An overview of the books of the Old Testament accounting for issues such as historical context, genre, structure, contents, main themes, interpretation and application;
3. An exploration of the significance of Old Testament texts for the thinking and practice of mission.
  • A missional introduction to the New Testament
The module aims to introduce students to the background, content, interpretation and contemporary relevance of the books of the New Testament. Questions relating to the thinking and practice of mission will be asked throughout.
This module covers:
1. An introduction to the missional nature of the Bible, particularly in relation to the texts of the New Testament;
2. An overview of the books of the New Testament accounting for issues such as historical context, genre, structure, contents, main themes, interpretation and application;
3. An exploration of the significance of New Testament texts for the thinking and practice of mission.
Having build a solid foundation for Bible and Mission, the challenge for the second year is to see how that works when looking at particular texts in more depth. Next up, Missional texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11; Missional texts: Luke and Acts; and Interpreting the Bible in intercultural contexts.

Making a Biblical Studies programme missional, part 1

Redcliffe's web page for the BA(Hons) Degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts

This post is the first in a series that I hope will inform and excite you about the way in which we have sought at Redcliffe to make our teaching of Biblical Studies a thoroughly missional activity.

Today I will give a broad introduction while subsequent posts will unpack what we are doing at each stage of the degree programme.

The world is changing fast so we need to constantly develop our training to meet the increasing complexities and new challenges and opportunities of mission. To that end, over the last few months at Redcliffe we have been working hard on a revamp of our entire undergraduate Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts programmes.

One of my challenges as the main lecturer in Biblical Studies has been to see how the Bible-focused modules can reflect recent developments in the area of Bible and mission. Specifically, we have been more intentional about integrating (1) the missional interpretation of the Bible, and (2) the growth in Scripture Engagement across the curriculum. This reflects the values of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission where we look at both mission in the Bible/the missional nature of the Bible, and the Bible in mission.

In addition to Greek and Hebrew, these are the Bible-focused modules students can now do (It is worth noting that these modules are just one part of the overall training, so there are plenty of other modules students can do as well. And, of course, there is biblical input into other modules too).

First year
A missional introduction to the Old Testament
A missional introduction to the New Testament

Second year
Missional texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11
Missional texts: Luke and Acts
Interpreting the Bible in intercultural contexts

Third year
Missional texts: Isaiah
Story, song and social network: Bible engagement and oral culture

One of the most interesting discussions and decisions is to drop the module we have traditionally taught called ‘A Biblical Basis for Mission’. I’ll explain more about that in my next post! If you can’t wait until then, drop a comment in the box below to suggest why we might have done that…

1 Corinthians commentaries on Google books

This semester Redcliffe’s third years on the BA(hons) in Applied Theology can choose a module on 1 Corinthians. We’ll be getting really stuck in to the biblical text over the coming weeks and thinking hard about how the letter relates to our participation in God’s mission today.

Google books has a surprising number of good commentaries available to read. You can’t usually read the whole thing but with the size of some of the volumes, even a limited preview is well worthwhile!

Here are some links:

1-2 Corinthians by Craig Keener (NCBC series)

The First Epistle to the Corinthians by Gordon Fee (NICNT series)

The First Epistle to the Corinthians: a commentary on the Greek text by Anthony Thiselton (NIGNT series)

1 Corinthians: a shorter exegetical and pastoral commentary by Anthony Thiselton

First Corinthians by Richard Hays (Interpretation series)

1 Corinthians by James Dunn (T. & T. CLark Guides series)

1 Corinthians: interpreted by early Christian commentaries by Judith Kovacs

Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians by Tom Wright

Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and Christian Mission

This is the name of a brand new module Dr Kang-San Tan and I began teaching this morning at Redcliffe. A good crowd of our final year Applied Theology degree students came along and they are going to be treated to a course full of Bible and Mission!

I’ll be taking them for three double sessions relating to mission and the Kingdom of God in the Old Testament. We’ll be working with books by Graeme Goldsworthy, Walter Brueggemann, Chris Wright, and Arthur Glasser. Next week we’re looking at the ‘Yahweh is king’ metaphor in the Old Testament, and then discussing Goldsworthy’s use of ‘kingdom’ as a way of framing the whole biblical story.

It is a Brueggemann filled week as I am also using his Theology of the Old Testament as the jumping off point for an MA group on our Global Issues in Contemporary Mission programme. One of the modules is a critique of Prosperity Theology teaching (a huge issue globally), and I spend a double session with them looking at what the Bible has to say about suffering.

I don’t agree with everything Brueggemann says, but I love reading his stuff, which can be thought-provoking to say the least.