Michael Kelly on Biblical Theology and Missional Hermeneutics

Eyes to See, Ears to Hear

Michael Kelly has written a thought-provoking essay entitled, ‘Biblical Theology and Missional Hermeneutics: A Match Made for Heaven… on Earth?’

He first gives a brief survey some themes in biblical theology and missional hermeneutics and then uses speech-act theory to bridge the two disciplines. I’ve not come across much, if anything, that has sought to relate speech-act theory to the Bible and mission conversation so this is a welcome exploration.

In case my description makes it sound like a rather dry prospect, here are a few quotes:

a good biblical-theological… reading of the OT text will be generative of mission in God’s world, sweeping up the readers and their communities in the great story of redemption being “told” by the ongoing application of the gospel of Jesus Christ to every corner of creation. A good reading will shape readers to align themselves with God’s mission. (p.62)

a missional hermeneutic will involve approaching Scripture-the whole story, including God’s intention for creation and humanity-with eyes to see how we might be drawn into this very real and visisble, bodily hope in our world. (p.71)

A missional hermeneutic engages self-consciously in this time of tension, and allows the interpreter full appreciation of the pain so often experienced in this world. A missional hermeneutic is not idealistic or triumphalistic, but brings real healing to places of real pain. (p.71)

Understanding Scripture as a divine speech act embedded in real historical human context, intended to change both the thinking of its readers and the actions of its readers, may indeed provide a helpful way to think about how Scripture functions as generative of mission… the overarching, divinely intended effect of the story to which biblical theology attends is that its readers align themselves with God’s mission in the world (p.73)

Christian missional obedience, then, goes beyond obedience to individual passages here or there (as vital as that obedience is when a passage is properly interpreted). The Bible, while offering real words of hope to a pilgrim community, also sends that pilgrim community into God’s world to be agents of blessing to every corner of the world. Christian missional obedience extends to actively aligning our story with the true story of the world as narrated by God through Scripture, as the Scripture comes to us and encourages, motivates, admonishes, comforts, warns, and promises. In other words, can we say that Scripture functions to shape its obedient readers toward God’s comprehensive mission in the world, to act in accord with this mission, a mission seen climactically embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? (p.74)

To put it simply: the mission of God seen through Jesus Christ was a mission of suffering and grief, in the hope and promise of restoration. Our Christotelic approach guards us from triumphalism, giving both a grief and a confidence to our being swept up into the mission of God. We understand the mission of God not simply in creational (or new creational) categories, but also in the categories of incarnation, humility, and sacrifice. The story of Jesus Christ, in both his death and resurrection, in pain and joy, shapes our living into God’s mission. (p.74)

So, well worth a read! The bibliographic details are: Kelly, M.B. ‘Biblical Theology and Missional Hermeneutics: A Match Made for Heaven… on Earth?‘ in P. Enns, D.J. Green and M.B. Kelly (eds) Eyes to See, Ears to Hear: Essays in Memory of J. Alan Groves (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 61-76. (the link here goes to Amazon, which includes a preview of the book, though not of Kelly’s article).