The Bible as cross-cultural experience

Why is teaching the Bible in a mission training centre such a privilege? There are numerous ways of answering this but one of them was highlighted to me again today as I taught a couple of sessions on the background to the Gospels.

Our primary focus at Redcliffe is to equip students to live and work in cross-cultural contexts, whether in their home country or elsewhere. As we looked at the history, political and cultural background of the Gospels it struck me once again that reading the Bible is itself a cross-cultural experience.

The Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by people very much unlike myself: different languages, different cultures, different ways of seeing the world. So just as we need to be aware of cultural similarities and differences when engaging with another culture, so too should we be mindful of the cultural (and other) baggage we bring to the text.

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.

Mission, migration and the book of Ruth

In an article entitled, ‘Bible heroine crosses cultures’ Bible Society’s recent supporters newsletter has a wonderful story of the Bible and mission in action. They recently co-funded a production of the story of Ruth that was used to engage with asylum communities in the UK:

It started when Bible Society’s Arts Development Officer Luke Walton suggested to a theatre company the possibility of exploring the Old Testament story.

‘We didn’t know the story of Ruth,’ said No Nonsense Theatre’s Artistic co-Director Lisa O’Hanlon. ‘The first time we read the biblical account we weren’t enthusiastic at all. Yet when we explored the Jewish history and looked at the Christian perspective, it became clear many women share her story today.

‘But it wasn’t until we involved the asylum community that this story really came to life. As the women who’d been forced to flee their own countries walked past our picture board portraying famine, grief, displacement and alienation, they each remarked, “That’s my story”.

It’s a beautiful account of  some of the ways in which the Bible can build bridges, express human experience, and connect. Here is a link to the whole article: Bible Heroine Crosses Cultures article

Babylon, Bible, Mission and Museums

I went to the British Museum today to check out the special exhibition on Babylon: Myth and Reality. It was a strangely moving experience.

Babylon exhibition at the British Museum

There are some great pieces on display reflecting the development of the city in history and the imagination. What struck me most of all was a relief of one of the many lions that adorned the walkway leading up to the Ishtar gate.

Standing there in front of this vibrant and ferocious animal, I realised that Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian ruler behind the destruction of Jerusalem, would have seen the very same image. More poignant for me, especially in light of teaching Isaiah last term, numerous exiled Israelites must have cast their weep-weary eyes on it as well.

One of the reasons I love teaching the Bible at a mission training Bible College is that I am constantly reminded of the need to cross cultural boundaries. Experiences like today’s are important because reading the Bible is itself a cross-cultural task and experience. Anything that can connect us to the ancient and sometimes alien world of the Scriptures is to be cherished.

Do take a trip to the Museum if you can. The exhibition is still running for a couple more months. Even without the Babylon displays it is well worth a visit.

Welcome! So what’s it all about?

Hi and welcome to the bible and mission blog! A few brief comments about myself and the reasons for this blog.

I’m a UK-based lecturer in Biblical Studies at Redcliffe College, a centre for mission training in Gloucester, England, and a PhD candidate in Old Testament at the University of Gloucestershire.

I want to use this blog as a forum for exploring two of my passions, the Bible and mission. How does mission feature in the whole Bible? How does the Bible shape our mission thinking and practice? These are my two main questions, but I’m sure others will crop up along the way.

In April 07 I edited an edition of Encounters, an online mission journal. It was on the theme of Mission and the Old Testament and illustrates the kinds of things I want to develop here on this blog and elsewhere.

I hope you will join me on this journey, Tim