Missional hermeneutics and solidarity with the poor

Emerging from the Dark Age Ahead - FenshamA missional reading of the Bible should be considered in relation to God’s commitment to issues of justice and righteousness. As Richard Bauckham so ably puts it, the biblical story has as a prominent theme God’s ‘downward movement of solidarity’ with the marginalised (see a post on Bauckham here).

In Charles Fensham’s Emerging from the Dark Age Ahead: The Future of the North America Church (2011, Clements Academic) the author spends a chapter dealing with ‘Reading the Bible for the Present Church’ in which he discusses missional hermeneutics, especially in relation to the work of David Bosch.

He highlights seven themes:

Towards a hermeneutic rooted in the mission of God;

Towards a missional hermeneutic in solidarity with the poor;

Towards a hermeneutic with a life-giving and liberating Christic missional norm;

Towards a hermeneutic in community of the Spirit;

Toward a hermeneutical community of discerned spirits;

Towards a hermeneutics of missional repentence (metanoia);

Towards a missional hermeneutic of doxology in poiesis for wholeness

Here’s a quote relating to the theme of solidarity I found interesting:

‘I concur with David Bosch and Harold Wells that there is a deeper poetry behind our solidarity with the poor. This is the poetry of the social Trinity who missions to us—the broken creation. God’s care for the poor and marginalized arises out of who God is as self-giving community in relation to the broken and suffering creation. We are the margin of God…

To speak of missional hermeneutics then, is to speak of a hermeneutics in which the self-giving love of the community of God is the norm. The impulse for the margins comes not from “above” but rather from the transcendent who is also immanent.’ (pp.42, 43)

What do you think?

The Bible, justice, advocacy and reconciliation

jusTice initiative at Redcliffe CollegeOne of the many exciting things going on at Redcliffe is the new jusTice initiative.

Part of the initiative is the development of a new MA in Justice, Advocacy and Reconciliation in Intercultural Contexts.

Some info about the course is available below. First, though, here is what Joel Edwards says about it:

Justice is still the ugly sister in theological education. This is an awful tragedy because it remains one of the most pervasive ideas and convictions in the Bible. Our reluctance to go beyond acts of kindness to explore and respond to systemic injustices has a great deal to do with a distinct lack of theological reflection. This new MA, and the jusTice Initiative is attempting to put that right and deserves our support. A more robust biblical reflection on this critical issue will produce a generation of men and women who are truly able to show the whole council of God, make a substantial difference to our biblical advocacy and in turn, make a material difference to the 1.4 billion people who still live in abject poverty. (Joel Edwards, International Director of Micah Challenge)

Justice, advocacy and reconciliation are key biblical themes which frame our Christian witness and contribute to creating a world where people and the environment can flourish and become all that God wants them to be.

In an increasingly complex and globalised world, there is a critical need for us to identify and understand how the structures of society can facilitate or obstruct the flow of justice and how the Church can act in ways which promote justice, advocacy and reconciliation.

Redcliffe’s exciting new MA in Justice, Advocacy and Reconciliation in Intercultural Contexts seeks to equip the rapidly-growing number of people involved in justice and mission-related activity. Students will explore Biblical frameworks, mission thinking and practice and explore a number of key issues in areas of socio-political, economic and environmental (in)justice.

The course is being developed in consultation with Christian Aid, International Justice Mission, Micah Challenge, CARE and Coventry Cathedral’s Reconciliation ministry, along with others who will be involved in the ongoing development and delivery of the course. It is subject to validation by the University of Gloucestershire and the planned start date is September 2012

Who is the course for?

  • Mission agencies who require their members to develop biblical, theological and missiological frameworks in preparation for justice, advocacy or reconciliation-related work
  • Partner agencies with members who wish to develop theological and missiological perspectives to undergird their justice-related expertise
  • Those already engaged in mission who want to reflect biblically and missiologically on their role and activity
  • Members of para-church agencies and non-governmental organisations working in related areas who wish to develop biblical and theological frameworks for reflective critique
  • Missionaries on home leave, looking to reflect and engage with such issues, relevant to their mission context
  • Church leaders and the wider Christian community engaged in justice-related ministry and who wish to add a theological/missiological framework

Course structure
Subject to validation, students complete three compulsory modules* and choose one further module from the options below.

  • Method and content in missiological study*
  • Just Mission – justice issues in intercultural contexts*
  • Advocacy, Reconciliation and Peace-building in intercultural contexts*
  • The mission of the Church in the context of post-colonialism and globalisation
  • Theology of religions
  • The Greening of mission
  • Crucial issues in Asian mission and theology
  • Crucial Issues in European mission and theology
  • An introduction to global leadership
  • Independent study module

The MA is available in full-time, part-time and flexible learning modes. 

Mission and the Image of God

In the latest issue of Encounters Mission Journal (December 2010 on the theme, Justice and Mission) I reviewed Andy Matheson’s recent book In His Image: Understanding and Embracing the Poor (Authentic Media).

I was reading it while Redcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission students were taking a class in missional hermeneutics called, ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’. We agreed with Matheson when he suggests that we often neglect the first two chapters of the Bible when formulating ideas about humanity in relation to the mission of God. His book makes a timely and important contribution to the discussion.

Here’s the review:

In His Image is a popular level book written by the International Director of Oasis. Drawing particularly, though not exclusively on his extensive experience in India, Andy Matheson challenges the reader with the importance, complexity and possibilities of standing alongside the poor as a way of participating in the mission of God.

His particular angle, as the title suggests, is to view the issue of poverty (in its many guises) through the lens of all people being made in the image of God. This gives the book a welcome coherence which sets his discussion helpfully within a robust framework.

Following two introductory chapters on the meaning of the image of God and an analysis of the various dimensions of poverty, Matheson then works through a series of relatively short chapters that unpack and illustrate his discussion:
Community; Wholeness; Change; Empowerment; Compassion; Justice; Prayer; Receiving; Celebration; Prevention; and Perspective.

I appreciated the use of the image of God as a starting point, not least because it puts Genesis 1-2 more on the agenda than has often been the case. While he does not compromise on the reality of humanity’s rebellion and sin, Matheson is keen for the reader not to rush past the opening chapters of the Bible, ‘after all, Genesis 1 came before Genesis 3. People are made in the image of God before sin comes into the world. In fact, the fall in Genesis 3 is so horrendous because our creation in God’s image in Genesis 1 is so wonderful.’ (p3)

I found the book’s anecdotal material profoundly challenging, not just because of the heartbreaking stories of broken lives and desperate poverty, but also because of the way Matheson combines honesty about his own failings with a resilient hope that God is at work in the midst of seemingly overwhelming need.

Although his focus is his own experience in India he also draws helpfully on stories from elsewhere, most notably from the work of Oasis in the London area.

A number of key, up-to-date issues are dealt with well, including the difference between development and transformation, the relationship between the local/personal and the global, the need for prevention rather than just dealing with the aftermath of abuse (e.g., with people trafficking), and the importance of genuine partnership.

The book is clearly not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject of poverty, but it certainly makes a significant contribution to the discussion. More than merely discussing these matters, In His Image spurs the reader towards more informed action. A very good and readable book, on an ever-pressing issue.

Encounters mission journal on Justice and Mission

Justice and Mission Issue of Redcliffe's Encounters Mission Journal

The December issue of Redcliffe’s online mission journal, Encounters, is on the theme of Justice and Mission. You can find a link to the issue here: Justice and Mission issue of Encounters mission journal

The edition is edited by my colleagues Andy and Carol Kingston Smith, who are doing some terrific work at the College in this whole area. Here’s a snippet from the editorial plus a list of articles (I also contribute a book review – more about this in a future post):

‘A warm welcome to this edition of Encounters. A number of topics are considered which highlight the central role of justice in contemporary mission. Living in an increasingly interconnected and complex world requires of us an acute awareness of issues at both local and global levels and how they are likely to play out in each new context. We trust that this edition will contribute to sharpening your thinking and vision for mission in our world today…’

Global Mission and Justice – Snapshots from History – Dr Dewi Hughes

Justice and Eschatology – A Response to Dr Dewi Hughes – Dr Jonathan Ingleby

Caring Wisely in a Globalised World – Carol Kingston-Smith

Bodies for Sale: Globalised Trafficking for the Sex Trade – An Interview with Helen Sworn founder of Chab Dai, Cambodia – Carol Kingston-Smith (ed.)

Speaking up for Justice Connecting Church and Government – Rachel Davies

Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly – An interview with Sheryl Haw: International Director, Micah Network – Andy Kingston-Smith (ed.)

Act now! Inspiring Churches to act on Climate Justice – Ben Niblett

Is Fairtrade the Same as Just Trade? A Direct Trade Perspective – Ian Meredith

A Case Study of Relational Justice and Patterns of Familial Violence – Muhabura District, Uganda Mission – The Rt. Rev. Cranmer Mugisha

Book Review:  In His Image: Understanding and Embracing the Poor (by Andy Matheson; Authentic Media)