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.

Joachim Jeremias on Jesus’ Promise to the Nations

Jeremias was a German scholar writing in the mid-twentieth century whose best-known work is probably his volume on Jesus and the Parables. He write extensively on New Testament matters including a short 1958 work entitled, Jesus’ Promise to the Nations, which aims to investigate the missional dimensions of Jesus’ eschatological sayings. I’ll reproduce here the contents plus Jeremias’ forward and conclusion to give you the idea:

Contents

I. Three important negative conclusions
   a. Jesus pronounce a stern judgement upon the Jewish mission
   b. Jesus forbade his disciples during his lifetime to preach to non-Jews
   c. Jesus limited his own activity to Israel

II. Three important positive conclusions
   a. Jesus removes the idea of vengeance from the eschatological expectation
   b. Jesus promises the Gentiles a share in salvation
   c. The redemptive activity and lordship of Jesus includes the Gentiles

III. The solution to the problem

IV. Conclusion: What about the Mission?


Forward

The present work has a twofold aim. It is in the first place a New Testament study, and secondly an examination of the basis of missionary activity. Following the suggestions of Sundkler, it seeks, first of all, to draw attention to a neglected element in the message of Jesus, and attempts ot show how large a place in the eschatological sayings of Jesus is given to the Old Testament conception of the pilgrimage of the nations to the Mountain of God.
At the same time the author also hopes that this work may have some significance for the inner logic of missionary activity, and for its Biblical basis. There can be no doubt that the exposition of the ‘negative’ element in the first part of this work, enables us to get a clear view of the immense extent of the promise which Jesus held out to the nations. The events of Easter ushered in the dawn of that final day in which the fulfilment of this promise to the nations and to Israel began to take effect. The special glory of the missionary endevour lies in the fact that it is a very palpable part of the final consummation inaugurated at Eater.

Conclusion

What about the Mission?
What conclusions for the modern missionary task may be drawn from the strictly eschatalogical outlook of Jesus? Has it been rendered superfluous by acceptance of the fact that according to the preaching of Jesus it will be by God’s act of power that the Gentiles will be brought in to the Kingdom of God in the final consummation? Far from it. WHat is significant for the missionary task is the realization to which we have been brought, that it is firmly rooted in God’s redemptive activity. In Jesus’ sayings about the Gentiles we find: 1. an unparalleled insistence on humility. Man can do nothing. It is not our preaching that brings about the ingathering of the Gentiles. Even Jesus himself did not make the world Christian, but he died on the Cross. God alone does it all. The fundamental note and inmost core of the message of Jesus, resounding in all his sayings about the Gentiles, is confidence in the reality of God and the vastness of his mercy.
But at the same time the sayings of Jesus about the Gentiles are: 2. a revelation of the overriding importance and value of the missionary task. Easter saw the dawn of the Last Day. The Gentile mission is the beginning of God’s final act in the gathering of the Gentiles. The Gentile mission is God’s own activity. As God’s eschatological activity it is an anticipation of the visible enthronement of the Son of Man, and as such it is ‘the actual sign’ of the period between Easter and the Parousia. The firstfruits of the Gentiles are signs, an earnest of the fulfilment, foretastes of the final consummation. Just as justification, the gist of the Spirit, sonship, the communion of the Lord’s Table, are God’s gracious gifts for the period of waiting for the consummation, so too are the Gentiles whom God brings into the Church of Jesus Christ. The missionary task is part of the final fulfilment, a divine factual demonstration of the exaltation of the Son of Man, an eschatology in process of realization. It offers the possibility of co-operating with God in his gracious anticipation of the decisive hour of redemption described in Isa. 25: the Gentiles accepted as guests at God’s Table (v. 6), the veil torn from their eyes (v. 7), and death abolished for ever (v. 8).

I came across this book thanks to my good friend Richard Johnson, who runs Qoheleth Resources, the second hand theological booksellers. He sends out a weekly sheet with loads of bargains so I’d recommend getting on the mailing list.

Reckoning with our already sentness

What would happen if you and I grasped – really grasped – our ‘already sentness’? How would our lives and churches be different if we all saw ourselves as joining in with God’s mission?

This is something we discussed at length in yesterday’s first Biblical Basis of Mission class. We used this quote from Chris Wright as a stimulus:

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: Reading Scripture Missiologically, p14)

For a start I would like to think that a wholesale reckoning with our already sentness would break down the unhelpful and unbiblical perceptions of ‘missionaries’ being on another plane of spirituality (nb. this is just as unhelpful for them as it is for those at home. Question: how do we honour those working cross-culturally without these unhelpful connotations?)

Would reckoning with our already sentness affect how mission was done in the local church? Would it give us more energy, more outward focus, more confidence that God is at work and we are joining with him in what he is doing?

What difference would it make to you to reckon with your already sentness? Let us know by leaving a comment.

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 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…