Biblical Basis of Mission course – week six

Would you read the Bible differently if you were being persecuted for your faith?
If so, how? What questions and concerns would you bring to the text?

These were the questions that opened the final lecture of our Biblical Basis of Mission course, which was on the theme of, ‘Mission, the Epistles and Revelation’. I had asked the students to prepare for the lecture by reading up on the persecuted Church. Much of the Bible was written and put together within the context of pressure and even persecution, so there must be ways in which we fall short in our reading of Scripture if we do not take account of this.

We spent a fair amount of time in the early part of the session reading a selection of texts (Romans 1:8-17; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; 2 Cor. 4:1-12; Phil. 1:3-5, 12-18; 1Thess. 1:2-10) and asking, What do these passages tell us about mission, then and now? How do these passages seek to shape God’s people for his mission in the world?

We then moved on the the book of Revelation, looking particularly at the significance of ‘…from every tribe and language and people and nation…’. I’ve posted on J. Brownson’s work on cultural diversity and the nature of God before. Here’s a quote I shared with the class in the context of Rev. 7:9-12:

All of humanity is called to glorify God, not by suppressing diversity and particularity, but by sanctifying it. The universal bond of humanity appears not so much in its set of common responses to its creator and sustainer, but rather by humanity’s diverse responses to the singular vision of God disclosed in the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (p.485; from J. Brownson, ‘Speaking the Truth in Love’, International Review of Mission, Vol 83, No. 330 (1994), pp.479-504)

Finally, we looked at Rev. 21:1-22:5 and discussed…

In what ways does this passage conclude the grand story of God’s mission?
How might it encourage those facing persecution for their faith, then and now?
How does it encourage you in your walk with God and role in his mission?

So, the course has finished (except for the students’ assignments that will be hitting my desk shortly!) but I’ll do at least one more post in the near future on my thoughts about the course as a whole.

Biblical Basis of Mission course – week five

In session five of our Biblical Basis of Mission course we looked at mission, the Gospels and the book of Acts. Throughout the course I’ve had to make choices about what to focus on – such a vast subject! – and this week was no exception. As so often, I took my cues for this lecture from Chris Wright’s excellent book, The Mission of God (Nottingham: IVP, 2006). At one point he outlines the train of thought he imagines an early Christian might have considered:

1.  if the God of Israel is the God of the whole earth
2.  if all the nations (including Israel) stood under his wrath and judgment
3.  if it is nevertheless God’s will that all nations on earth should come to know and worship him
4.  if he had chosen Israel to be the means of bringing such blessing to all nations
5.  if the Messiah is to be the one who would embody and fulfill that mission of Israel
6.  if Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, is that Messiah
7.  then it is time for the nations to hear the good news

‘It was time for the repeated summons of Psalms that the news of YHWH’s salvation should be proclaimed and sung among the nations, and for the vision of the prophets that YHWH’s salvation should reach the ends of the earth, to move from the imagination of faith into the arena of historical fulfillment.’ (p.501)

Given than Jesus’ ministry was focused on his fellow Jews, I was particularly keen for students to reflect upon the encounters Jesus had with Gentiles – pre-echoes if you like of the Early Church’s Gentile mission. For example, The Roman centurion’s servant (Matt. 8:5-13; cf. Ps. 107:3; Isa. 49:12); The Gadarene demoniac and the deaf-mute in Decapolis (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 7:31-35); The Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-31).

We also considered the missional way in which the Gospel writers themselves constructed their books. Take Luke, for example, who starts his 2-volume work in universal scope which narrows down as his Gospel progresses until we are in Jerusalem. Acts then opens in Jerusalem and then explodes back out into the international realm with wider and wider reach. Craig Blomberg’s illustration of the structure of Luke-Acts as an hour glass is helpful (see his excellent book, Jesus and the Gospels). You can see what I mean in this blog post by North West Church of Christ.

So, one more week to go. The final session is on mission, the Epistles and the book of Revelation.

Biblical Basis of Mission course – week four

The book of Psalms is an immensely significant part of the Scriptures. There are many reasons for this but one struck me in particular this week as we looked at the subject of mission in the Psalms and Wisdom Literature.

My daughter is learning to talk at the moment. I could write a whole stream of posts on what I am learning about language from her (in fact – I think I will; watch this space!). One of the things that shapes her language development is what she hears and sees repeated again and again. She is immersed in certain words and phrases (‘daddy’, ‘mummy’, ‘bye-bye’, ‘dog’, etc.) and it is this repetition that informs her view of the world.

It’s the same with the songs we sing on a Sunday morning, isn’t it? We may not realise it but worship songs are remarkably influential in shaping our theology and experience as disciples of Jesus.

And so it is with the Psalms. These prayers and songs that the Israelites would have prayed and sung over and over and over again were fundamental to how they conceptualised and experienced God in the world. So when we consider the missional significance of the Psalms we must ask, ‘How is this text that was repeated again and again shaping the person or community that prays or sings it?’ The basic point of this is not new to me but I’d never really considered the power of repetition in this context.

As a class we went for a wander around Redcliffe’s grounds and read aloud to each other from the Psalter. These are some snippets from what we read together:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. (Psalm 8:1, ESV)

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1)

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you! (Psalm 67:1-5)

Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples! (Psalm 96:1-3)

Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 117)

These are some of the ways in which the nations feature in the Psalms. How would they (or should they) have shaped Israel’s attitudes and theology? And what about C21 believers? How do the songs we sing and the prayers we pray develop the missional shape of our lives?

I’ll leave it there for now and do a separate post on the Wisdom Literature before my post of week five. If you are around at 11am to 1pm come and join the conversation at www.twitter.com/redcliffeuk . My thanks to Brian Russell for doing so on Monday. Check out his excellent blog, which this week featured a post on a missional reading of Psalm 2.

Biblical Basis of Mission course – week two

Following on from last week’s introduction to a missional reading of the whole of Scripture, session two of this Biblical Basis of Mission module looked at mission and the Torah.

After a brief overview of Gen. 1-11 we focused on a few key passages:

  • Gen. 12:1-3 – The call/creation of God’s missional people
  • Exod. 19:4-6 – The role of God’s missional people
  • Deut. 10:12-22 – The shape of God’s missional people

I like to mix up-front teaching with small group work so we used some quotations from J. Okoye’s Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006) to stimulate discussion. Here are a couple of examples:

“Mission must be experienced by the peoples as blessing” (p.54)

“Exodus 19:5-6 helps us perceive that the life of a people is a vehicle for mission. The effort to be true to the character of God as the Holy One of Israel also manifests God to the world.” (p.66)

We also watched this MTV/Radiohead video on child labour to remind us why these ancient texts still breathe life into the integral missionary task we are called to as the people of God (see my previous post Human trafficking and mission for more on this).

For next week students have two tasks. The first is to read the Encounters journal article, A Kiss of Heaven: Abraham, Global Blessing, and Civil Society, which considers Abraham’s life as a model for mission. The second is to reflect on the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-19a and think about any mission connections.

If you want to join in the conversation, I’ll be tweeting as redcliffeuk at certain points during the lecture using the tag #biblicalbasis.  It will be from 11.10 to 13.00 GMT on Monday. Maybe see you then!

Biblical Basis of Mission course – week one

Truth with a MissionToday was the first day of lectures at Redcliffe and I began a six-week course with the first years called, The Biblical Basis of Mission, which is coupled with a six-week course next term on Issues and Trends in Contemporary Mission.

This morning we looked at some foundational stuff using Chris Wright’s introductory material on missional hermeneutics. It’s found in a few different places – Fanning the Flame: Bible, Cross and Mission (edited by P. Gardner et al, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003); Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation (edited by C. Bartholomew et al, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004); Text and Task: Scripture and Mission (edited by M. Parsons, Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2006); and expanded in Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006) – but the most accessible format is his 2005 Grove booklet, Truth with a Mission: Reading Scripture Missiologically (Cambridge: Grove Books).

The issues we discussed included: the Bible as the story of God’s mission; the Bible’s call to mission; the Bible as the product of mission; the Bible as a tool of mission; mission as the theme of the Bible; the messianic and missional nature of the Bible; the difference between evangelism and mission; mission as first-and-foremost God’s activity; and more!

I love this quote in particular:

It is not so much, as someone has said, that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission is not just something we do (though it certainly includes that). Mission, from the point of view of our human endeavour, means the committed participation of God’s people in the purposes of God for the redemption of the whole creation. (in Truth with a Mission, p. 14)

Next week, Mission and the Torah…