IBMR July 2011 issue on mission and the care of the environment

IBMR July 2011 cover

The latest issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research is now out. The theme is ‘Mission and the Care of the Environment’ and features a number of articles on the subject (see contents below).

As well as those, the issue also has two articles on missional hermeneutics and orality. Here are some details:

‘The Biblical Narrative of the Missio Dei: Analysis of the Interpretive Framework of David Bosch’s Missional Hermeneutic’ by Girma Bekele


This article examines David Bosch’s missional hermeneutic, using it as an entry point into his understanding of the biblical foundation of mission. Until his tragic death in 1992 in a car accident, Bosch was chair of the Department of Missiology at the University of South Africa. He studied New Testament under Oscar Cullman at the University of Basel. The development of his theological thought was also shaped by his experience as an Afrikaner, as an ordained minister of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), and as a missionary in the Transkei. The sociopolitical and theological setting of South Africa during apartheid was, as it were, the anvil against which he hammered out his ideas of the vocation of the church within the world. His vision of missionary self-understanding and of the church as the “alternative community” is rooted in a strong conviction that the New Testament must be read as a missionary document.

Bosch follows the same general outline in both Witness to the World (1980) and Transforming Mission (1991): first, a discussion of mission crisis (this section is brief in the latter work), followed by a scriptural foundation of mission, an overview of historical perspectives on mission, a presentation of the emerging missionary paradigm, and development of a relevant theology of mission. A certain understanding, interpretation, and application of the Scriptures characterize each paradigm of Christian missionary history as it engages with its own particular context. Bosch is convinced that the task of each generation is to unlock, as if with its own time-conditioned key, the biblical foundation of mission and the biblical narrative of the missio Dei. He insists that, since the New Testament is “essentially a missionary document . . . it is incumbent upon us to reclaim it as such.”

‘Orality: The Not-So-Silent Issue in Mission Theology’ by Randall Prior


I recently had a student from Indonesia in my class. He had completed theological studies and was an ordained minister before migrating to Melbourne with his family. He had settled into a newly formed ethnic Indonesian congregation and accepted the role as their leader. His task was to build up the congregation and to help immigrant relatives of the members to find their feet on Australian soil. Limited financial resources in the congregation meant that he was paid only a small amount of money for this ministry, and so he supplemented his income by driving a school bus in the mornings and afternoons. His love for the Gospel, his dedication to his community over a period of time, and the quality of his leadership all led to his church congregation growing impressively. As a result, he sought to become formally recognized as an ordained minister within the Australian church context, which meant that he needed to complete further studies.

From the very first day of class he impressed me as a man devoted to the Christian faith, with a strong sense of vocation to a ministry of leadership. It soon became clear, however, that if I were to impose upon him the same requirements as for the remainder of the class—namely, written pieces of critical and analytic discourse—then he would fail the course. While he was perfectly capable of handling the work, had a zeal for the class material, and impressed his class colleagues, his cultural background was oral. After some consultation with a faculty colleague, an arrangement was made for him to do his assignments orally. As a consequence, he gained a “credit” grade for the course. Soon afterward he was formally inducted as the minister of the Indonesian congregation and continues to give inspiring leadership to his people.

This anecdote raises issues and questions beyond the field of the delivery of formal theological education. With the relative decline of the church within the Western world and the rapid increase in the membership of the church in areas of the world where oral cultures dominate, a question is raised about the very shape of theology itself. Let me illustrate what I mean by way of experience and observation over a generation of involvement in the South Pacific.

IBMR are to be commended for making their journal available for free (though a log-in is required). It is a tremendous resource.

David Bosch on the international hermeneutical community

Biblical interpretation is a community business. In a previous post I drew on our need for each other (i.e., the whole people of God in all its multicultural wonder) to worship God wholly. I drew on the words of James Brownson who said, “no single culture has a monopoly on understanding or describing God. We, the multiethnic Church must try to understand and worship God together, embracing our cultural diversity rather than constantly seeking our common denominators” (p.485 of ‘Speaking the Truth in Love’, International Review of Mission, Vol 83, No. 330 (1994), pp.479-504).

A similar point is made by David Bosch in the context of theological interpretation, which I think could also be applied to biblical interpretation:

Instead of viewing my interpretation as absolutely correct and all others by definition as wrong, I recognize that different theological interpretations, including my own, reflect different contexts, perspectives, and biases. This is not to say, however, that I regard all theological positions as equally valid or that it does not matter what people believe; rather, I shall do my utmost to share my understanding of the faith with others while granting them the right to do the same. I realise that my theological approach is a “map”, and that a map is never actual “territory” (cf Hiebert 1985b:15; Martin 1987:373). Although I believe that my map is the best, I accept that there are other types of maps and also that, at least in theory, one of those may be better than mine since I can only know in part (cf 1 Cor 13:12).

For the Christian this means that any paradigm shift [this subject matter of Bosch’s current chapter] can only be carried out on the basis of the gospel and because of the gospel, never, however, against the gospel (cf. Küng 1987:194). Contrary to the natural sciences, theology relates not only to the present and the future, but also to the past, to tradition, to God’s primary witness to humans (:19f). Theology must undoubtedly always be relevant and contextual (:200-203), but this may never be pursued at the expense of God’s revelation in and through the history of Israel and, supremely, the event of Jesus Christ (:203-206). Christians take seriously the epistemological priority of their classical text, the Scriptures.

I realize that, in stating the above, I have hardly solved any problems. Scripture comes to us in the shape of human words, which are already “contextual” (in the sense of being written for very specific historical contexts) and are, moreover, open to different interpretations. In making the affirmation above I am, however, suggesting a “point of orientation” all Christians (should) share on the basis of which dialogue between them becomes possible. No individual or group has a monopoly here. So, the Christian church should function as an “international hermeneutical community” (Hiebert 1985b:16) in which Christians (and theologians) from different contexts challenge one another’s cultural, social and ideological biases. This presupposes, however, that we see fellow-Christians not as rivals or opponents but as partners (Küng 1987:198), even if we may be passionately convinced that their views are in need of major corrections.” (D. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991, p.187) 

I think this is very helpful because it avoids relativism and maintains a commitment to the Scriptures, yet acknowledges that our interpretations are just that, interpretations. We, the church, need each other to understand God and his Word together. And we, the church, are a multilingual, multicultural interpretive community.

So we need to do our theology together, as well as worship together. Which reminds me of J.I. Packer oft-quoted phrase, which I tweak here in the light of the above “The purpose of theology is doxology. We study [together] in order to praise [together].”