A Missional Reading of Scripture conference

A Missional Reading of Scripture conferenceCalvin Theological Seminary in the US is holding an excellent looking conference this November on the theme of ‘A Missional Reading of Scripture’.

As well as including some key missional hermeneutics scholars, I like the way it aims to address the application of the approach to matters of preaching and theological education as well.

Here are some details plus a link to CTS’s website.

A Missional Reading of Scripture

Wed-Thurs, November 20-21, 2013

3233 Burton Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546  


Over the past century a number of scholars have recognized that mission is not simply a peripheral theme in the biblical story. Rather, it is a central thread in the biblical writings and central to the identity of the church. Thus, a missional hermeneutic is a way of reading Scripture in which mission is a central interpretive key that unlocks the whole narrative of Scripture. It 

does not simply study the theme of mission but reads the whole of the biblical canon with mission as one of its central themes. This conference will explore what it might mean to read both the Old Testament and the New Testament with a missional hermeneutic, and what that might mean for missional praxis of the church, specifically preaching, theological education, and the life of the local congregation.  


Speakers & Plenary Topics 

Christopher J.H. Wright – A Missional Reading of the Old Testament

Michael W. Goheen – A Missional Reading of Scripture and Preaching

N.T. Wright – A Missional Reading of the New Testament

Darrell L. Guder – A Missional Reading of Scripture and Theological Education

For more information visit the Calvin Theological Seminary website

Chris Wright on Noah and the mission of God

In our journey through Genesis 1-11 on Redcliffe’s Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts degree programme we have reached the account of Noah.

Here is what Chris Wright in The Mission of God says about the covenant God makes with Noah in Gen. 9

The narrative of the covenant that God made with Noah in Genesis 8:15-9:17 is the first explicit reference to covenant-making in the biblical text… The Noachic covenant establishes at least two foundational points that are relevant to the rest of the biblical concept of mission.

God’s commitment to all life on earth. In the context of God’s radical judgment on the comprehensive nature of human sin (repeatedly portrayed as “violence and corruptions”), God still commits himself to the created order itself and the preservation of life on the planet. Although we live on a cursed earth, we also live on a covenanted earth. There is an unambiguous universality about God’s covenantal self-commitment here: His promise is not only with humanity but also with “every living creature on earth” (Gen 9:10). This Noachic covenant provides the platform for the ongoing mission of God throughout the rest of human and natural history, and thereby also, of course, the platform for our own mission in participation with his. Whatever God does, or whatever God calls us to do, there is a basic stability to the cotnext of all our history.

This does not of course mean that God would never again use his natural creation as the agent of his judgment as well as his blessing (as the rest of the Old Testament amply testifies). But it does set limits to such actions within history. Apart from the final judgment of God that will bring an end to fallen human history as we presently know and experience it on this sinful planet, the curse will never again be expressed in an act of comprehensive destruction as the flood. This is God’s earth, and God is also covenantally committed to its survival, just as later revelation will show us that God is also covenantally committed to its ultimate redemption. Even the final judgment will not mean the end of the earth as God’s creation but the end of the sinful condition that has subjected the whole of creation to its present frustration. Our mission then takes place within the framework of God’s universal promise to the created order. This is a framework that gives security and scope to all our mission: security because we operate within the parameters of God’s commitment to our planet, and scope because there is nothing and no place on earth that lies outside the writ of God’s covenant with Noah. The rainbow promise spans whatever horizon we can ever see.

The ecological dimension of mission. The language with which God addresses Noah at the end of the flood clearly echoes Genesis 1. In a sense this is a fresh start for all creation. So Noah and his family are blessed and instructed to fill the earth and (although not with the same phrase) to have dominion over it. The creation mandate is renewed. The human task remains the same-to exercise authority over the rest of the creation, but to do so with care and respect for life, symbolized in the prohibition on eating animal blood (Gen. 9:4). So there is a human mission built into our origins in God’s creation and God’s purpose for creation. To care for creation is in fact the first purposive statement that is made about the human species; it is our primary mission on the planet. The covenant with Noah effectively renews this mission, within the context of God’s own commitment to creation. (pp326-327, his italics)

Here are a few questions to get you thinking.

  • Is our reading of the Bible so focused on humanity that we miss what it says about God’s purposes for the wider creation?
  • What do you make of God making a covenant with all of creation, and not just humans?
  • What do you think of Wright’s point that, ‘there is nothing and no place on earth that lies outside the writ of God’s covenant with Noah’? How does it rebuke or encourage you as you engage in God’s mission?
  • How does Wright’s section on ecology inform discussions on creation care? To what extent do we treat creation care as peripheral to mission?

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below…

Chris Wright on dancing the gospel

In his 2003 essay, ‘Future Trends in Mission’ Chris Wright opens with a nice, illustrative story. (the essay can be found in Bartholomew et al, The Futures of Evangelicalism)

‘The people who prefer to dance’ – a very short story

There is a tribe in northern Nigeria known as the Gwandara-wara. During the early part of the twentieth century, two attempts were made by Christian missionaries to reach and evangelize this tribe. Both attempts failed. The gospel was not communicated. Nobody came to faith in Christ. No church was planted. In the mid 1980s, a third group of missionaries tried again. This time they were more successful. They were allowed to live among the tribe and cultivate some land. They discovered that the tribe’s name means, ‘The people who prefer to dance’. From the tribal elders and story-tellers – the guardians of the tribe’s identity and history – the missionaries established that the name went right back to the tribe’s rejection of Islam in the nineteenth century when, in response to the attempt to covert them to Islam, the tribe had insisted, ‘we prefer to dance’ – that is, we will not give up our culture of music and dance for a religion which wants to prohibit them.

Reflecting on this new information, the third group of missionaries came up with a new strategy of evangelism: they would dance the gospel to the ‘people who prefer to dance’. So they devised a means of telling the Bible story, including the story of Jesus and the cross, through the medium of African music and dance. The communication gap was bridged. There was a breakthrough of understanding; some believed the gospel and there is now a church of Jesus Christ among the Gwandara-wara.

Who were this third group of missionaries who succeeded where others had failed. They were not white nor Western, neither American nor European. They were in fact Africans, members of the Evangelical Missionary Society of ECWA – the Evangelical Church of West Africa, one of the largest churches in Nigeria and throughout West Africa. The EMS is a fully indigenous Nigerian mission agency, with some 1,000 missionaries serving cross-culturally throughout western Africa.

This is a story which could be repeated myriad times in many other parts of the world. It illustrates at least three things about mission today and in the future. First, God is still keeping his promise to Abraham. Second, mission, like the church itself, is multinational and multidirectional. Third, God is calling for adaptation, creativity, flexibility and hard thinking in mission.

Reflecting on this story in relation to how we communicate the Bible, it seems to me that Wright’s final points are particularly helpful. We look back and see in Scripture the assured promises of God – we are encouraged. We look around and see the many and varied ways that the global church can join together to understand and communicate the Bible more fully – we are rebuked of the narrowness of how we have done this in the past, but inspired by what might be possible in the future. As we partner together we look ahead to see the ways we as a global church can develop the creativity and appropriateness with which we will strive to communicate God’s Word together.

And I like his final statement. These changing dynamics lead to innovation in practice, but also some hard thinking. The realities of mission should be reckoned with in biblical, theological and missiological thinking, as well as in our practice.

And a brief piece of self-critique to round things off: is it significant that I reflected on Wright’s summary/explanation rather than the story itself? Read up on the differences between oral and non-oral communicators to see why this might have been the case: Bible and orality resources.

Missional hermeneutics reading part 1

Today we had the first two sessions of the Reading the Bible Missionally module on Redcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission. The course itself takes its structure from Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. By the end of the course we have read the whole thing. But fantastic though Wright’s book is, it is also important for students to have a good grasp of other writers in the field.

So today we had an introduction to the development and legitimacy of a missional hermeneutic, alongside discussions of the methodologies of Chris Wright and Richard Bauckham.

To get a flavour of some of the literature have a look at this microsite’s Bible and Mission books and articles page. In the meantime, here is a selection of the things we’ve been looking at today:

Bauckham, R. ‘Mission as Hermeneutic for Scriptural Interpretation‘, Currents in World Christianity Position Paper, Number 106 (1999).

Bauckham, R. The Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2004).

Goheen, M.W.  ‘A Critical Examination of David Bosch’s Missional Reading of Luke’ in C.G. Bartholomew, J.B. Green and A.C. Thiselton (eds.), Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), pp.229-264.

Hunsberger, G. ‘Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation‘, Gospel and Our Culture Newsletter eSeries, 2 (January 2009). Subsequently published as G. ‘Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation’, Missiology, 39:3 (July 2011).

Wright, C.J.H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006).

Wright, C.J.H. Truth with a Mission: Reading All Scripture MissiologicallySouthern Baptist Journal of Theology, 15.2 (2011), pp.4-15.

Tomorrow we turn our attention to Dan Beeby, James Brownson, Michael Goheen and Darrell Guder.

Free access to Chris Wright Truth with a Mission

When students arrive for Redcliffe’s BA(Hons) in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts I get them all to read Chris Wright’s 2005 Grove booklet, Truth with a Mission: Reading the Scriptures Missiologically. It is a really good, concise introduction to the idea of the Bible as a missional book, and sets out the basic approach we take at Redcliffe to Biblical Studies.

The ever-eagle-eyed Antony Billington recently noted that Wright’s essay has now been published in the Summer 2011 volume of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, and is freely available on their website under the slightly changed title: Truth with a Mission: Reading All Scripture Missiologically. It is in an essay format rather than a study booklet and doesn’t have the questions for reflection that are in the Grove booklet, but otherwise it is exactly the same.

If you are looking for a short introduction to the idea of a missional reading of the Bible Truth with a Mission: Reading All Scripture Missiologically is an excellent place to start. SBJT are to be commended for making it available.

P.S. And do check out Antony’s blog if you’ve not done so before. He writes most days and is particularly good at spotting when journals are published, often noting when there are freely accessible articles.

Free access to reviews of Chris Wright’s The Mission of God

Chris Wright's The Mission of GodI’ve noticed in the last few days that we have had a lot of hits on a post a I wrote back in February giving links for reviews of Chris Wright’s 2006 work, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Grand Narrative of Scripture.

All the links given there are for freely available, online reviews of the book.

I am inferring from this recent trend that a lot of classes in Bible Colleges, seminaries and other training programmes are starting around now and they have Wright’s important book on the curriculum. This is great news!

While there is a growing body of literature on the missional interpretation (see our Bible and Mission resources section for details), Wright’s The Mission of God is still, I think, the most significant work on the subject and, as such, is essential reading. It is on the reading lists for undergrads and postgrads at Redcliffe and is a core text in the ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’ module on our MA in Bible and Mission programme (indeed we read it cover to cover, alongside other important works).

So, if you are reading The Mission of God in a class this year, whether here at Redcliffe or anywhere else in the world, may you be informed, inspired and changed as a result. May you be more encouraged and engaged in your participation in the mission of God.

P.S. I’d love to know what type of courses are using Wright’s book in different places. Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Mission accomplished – the book of Revelation

We’ve reached the astonishing vision of Rev. 7 in Redcliffe’s module on Revelation. I’ve posted before on this chapter when considering what James Brownson describes as the multicultural presence of God. This time Chris Wright provides the insights in a chapter on Particularity and Universality in the Bible, in his The Mission of God (pp249-251, his italics):

Revelation 4-7 is a comprehensive single vision-a neck-searching, mind-boggling vision-in which John “sees” the whole universe from the vantage point of God’s throne at its center. The meaning of the history of the world is symbolized in a scroll in God’s right hand, which was slain. In other words, the cross of Christ is the key to the unfolding purposes of history; or, in terms of our argument here, the unfolding mission of God. Why is Christ worthy to govern history? Because he was slain. And what difference has that made? The song of the living creatures and twenty-four elders explain it for John, and for us.

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth. (Rev 5:9-10)

The song gives three reasons why the cross is the key to history.

• First, it is redemptive. People who were lost, defeated, or enslaved in sin have been “purchased” for God. Humanity will not go down the drainpipe of history into the abyss.

• Second, it is universal. Those who have been so redeemed will come from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”

• Third, it is victorious. The Lamb wins! He and his redeemed people will reign on the earth.

The echoes of Old Testament Scripture are clear. The universality of the Abrahamic promise is captured in the list of tribe, language, people and nation. And the specific calling on Israel in Exodus 19:5-6, to be God’s kingdom of priests in the midst of all the nations of the whole earth, has now itself been internationalized and projected into an eternal future of serving God (as priests) and reigning on earth (as kings). The rightful place of redeemed humanity is that they are restored to their original status and role within creation: under God and over creation, serving and ruling. This is the wonderful combination of priesthood and kingship that redeemed humanity will exercise in the redeemed creation.

The climax of this vision, with the sixth seal, brings together the 144,000 crowd, representative of the historic twelve tribes of Israel, with the immediately following panorama of that innumerable multinational host of the redeemed, the final fulfillment of what God promised Abraham:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Rev 7:7-9)

If, when God first called Abraham and designated him and his barren wide in their old age to be the fountainhead of his whole mission to rescue creation and humanity from the woes of Genesis 3-11, we imagined the sharp intake of breath among the astonished heavenly hosts, then in John’s vision we are not left merely to our own imagination. For he goes on to tell us:

All the angels were standing round the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Rev 7:11-12)

And God, in the midst of the resounding praises, will turn to Abraham and say, “There you are. I kept my promise. Mission accomplished.”

Reviews of Chris Wright’s The Mission of God

Chris Wright's The Mission of GodAs this blog has noted on numerous occasions, Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative is a seminal work in the field of Bible and Mission. It is essential reading for students (both undergraduate and postgraduate) here at Redcliffe and forms the basis of the Reading the Bible Missionally module on our MA in Bible and Mission. While there are an increasing number of other important works around on the subject, anyone wanting to read, write, research or speak on the Bible and Mission will need to continually engage with Wright’s book.

In April 2008 I edited issue 17 of Redcliffe’s Encounters Mission Journal on the theme of Mission and the Old Testament. This focused on The Mission of God which had been published a few months earlier and includes an interview with Wright about his book, as well as two reviews. As the book straddles the two disciplines of Biblical Studies and Missiology, we asked Prof Gordon McConville and Dr Kang-San Tan to evaluate the volume in the light of the two fields.

Mission: What the Bible is All About – An interview with Chris Wright
(Tim Davy)

Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: An Old Testament Scholar’s Perspective (Prof J. Gordon McConville)

Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: A Missiologist’s Perspective
(Dr Kang San Tan)

But there are plenty of other reviews of The Mission of God out there. To that end this post highlights a number of online reviews and we’ll keep it up to date as we come across more. If you know of any not mentioned here, or want to contribute a review, drop me a line in the comment box below.

evepheso blog

SBL review by Christopher N. Chandler

Global Missiology review by Mark R. Kreitzer

fbcnewlondon blog review by Mike Leake

vialogue blog

beginningwithmoses website review by Michael J. Glodo

9marks website review by Mike Gilbart-Smith

Wealth, poverty and power in the Old Testament

Chris Wright's Old Testament Ethics for the People of GodAs well as teaching on specific biblical modules at Redcliffe, occasionally I join other classes for one-off sessions looking how an aspect of the biblical material relates to their subject. The most recent class like this was on Friday when I joined the Diploma and Professional in Mission class on ‘Wealth, Poverty and the Environment’ to look at how the Old Testament addresses the themes of wealth, poverty and power.

I found Chris Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God particularly helpful in preparing this session. He outlines the Old Testament’s understanding of poverty in three ways: what causes poverty? how are God’s people to respond to poverty; and a future vision of a new creation without poverty.

We then looked at three passages, Deut. 15 and Job 29, 31. The Deuteronomy passage is well-known for its discussion of how Israel is to approach the issue of poverty. Indeed, in his excellent NIBC commentary on Deuteronomy, Wright (again!) suggests that the passage ‘offers limitless opportunity for ethical and missiological reflection and action’. OK, there is hyperbole in this statement but it is undoubtedly true that the passage (and other parts of Deuteronomy) contains much food for missiological and ethical thought. My own Master’s dissertation was on the orphan, widow and alien in Deuteronomy. A couple of years ago I also had a student here at Redcliffe who wrote her dissertation on the book’s approach to poverty and how that might inform how the church addressed the issue in the contemporary UK context.

The Job passages are more obscure to most, but in an attempt to defend his righteousness Job provides us indirectly with a window into an ideal ethical life where those with power protect the weak and address injustice. At one point Job claims that ‘The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.’ (29:13, ESV)

Wouldn’t that verse make a great epitaph?

There can be no biblical mission without biblical ethics

… so says Chris Wright in his The Mission of God (p.358). In a recent Bible and Mission MA class we were discussing the relationship between the ethics of the people of God and their participation in God’s mission. Wright is particularly helpful here, not least because his writing on the issue combines his expertise in both biblical ethics (his PhD was on OT ethics) and mission.

In one section he very helpfully depicts the flow of logic from election to ethics to mission (p.369):

Who is Abraham?
The one whom God has chosen and come to know in personal friendship (election)

Why did God choose Abraham?
To initiate a people who would be commited to the way of the Lord and his righteousness and justice, in a world going the way of Sodom (ethics)

For what purpose should the people of Abraham live according to that high ethical standard?
So that God can fulfill his mission of bringing blessing to the nations (mission).

How often to do talk about ethics or Christian behaviour from this missional perspective? What reasons to be holy do we focus on normally? ‘Be holy because God is holy’: absolutely – this is foundational (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16)! But I rarely consider my holiness in relation to my participation in God’s mission.

How might grasping the missional nature of holiness transform us as individuals and as communities?