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?

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

A new book on missiological hermeneutics

Missiological HermeneuticsA very welcome new book has been published recently entitled, Missiological Hermeneutics: Biblical Interpretation for the Global Church. It is written by Shawn Redford and is published by Wipf and Stock as part of the American Society of Missiology Monograph Series.

Here’s some blurb and contents:

How have those engaged in the mission of God been challenged to reinterpret Scripture through their experience? In what ways were the missionaries in the Bible challenged to reevaluate Scripture in their own time? Redford attempts to give shape to the nature of missional hermeneutics by examining Scripture, present-day cultural values, historical struggles, and the experience of those who are engaged in the mission of God. In order for missionaries to overcome the scientific polarization in Western hermeneutics, they must be able to perceive and learn from the overarching missional and spiritual hermeneutics found throughout Scripture so that they can balance missional, spiritual, historical-critical, and even unforeseen hermeneutical paths, providing increased confidence in biblical interpretation.


one – Introduction · 1
two – Biblically Informed Missional Hermeneutics · 8
three – A Missional Critique of Current Hermeneutical Theory · 85
four – A Missional Critique of the Hermeneutics Used in a Difficult Missional Issue: A Case Study · 133
five – The Role of Mission Praxis upon Missiological Hermeneutics: A Case Study · 232
six – Conclusion · 290

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).

Reading the Bible missionally – getting into the authors – part 2

I recently posted about the module, ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’ on Redcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission programme and how we are seeking to complement our reading of Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by engaging with six other key authors on missional hermeneutics. I then gave links for three of them: Michael Goheen, Richard Bauckham and Dan Beeby to give a flavour of their writing (you can read that blog post here: Reading the Bible missionally – getting into the authors – part 1).

The other three writers we have been dealing with are Michael Barram, James Brownson and Darrell Guder. Here are some samples of their work:

Barram, M. ‘‘Located’ Questions for a Missional Hermeneutic‘, unpublished paper on GOCN website.

Brownson, J.V. Speaking the Truth in Love: New Testament Resources for a Missional Hermeneutic (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998).

Guder, D. ‘Missional Hermeneutics: The Missional Authority of Scripture‘, Mission Focus, Annual Review, 15 (2007), 106-121.

You can find more links to writing on missional hermeneutics and more general studies on the Bible and mission in our Bible and Mission books and articles page.

Reading the Bible missionally – getting into the authors – part 1

The ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’ module on Redcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission is now in full swing. Having surveyed the development of the approach, we have discussed George Hunsberger’s article , ’Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation‘. We then spent last week getting to grips with Chris Wright’s methodology, as laid out in part one of his The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. In later sessions we will follow the structure of Wright’s book as we unpack what a missional reading of the Bible will look like. However, it will be important for us to be drawing our discussions from a wider context and so this week and next students are coming prepared to present on and chew over the work of six other writers in the field of missional hermeneutics.

This week will be the turn of Michael Goheen, Richard Bauckham and Dan Beeby. As a sampler of what we are reading here is a link for each of them of articles or previews freely available on the web:

Goheen, M.W. ‘Continuing Steps Towards a Missional Hermeneutic’Fideles, Volume 3 (2008), pp.49-99.

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

Beeby, H.D. Canon and Mission (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1999).

Missional hermeneutics – what are the actions?

Just a short post today inspired by my four-year-old daughter, who has just started school.

I jokingly asked her whether she wanted me to come to her school and teach them about missional hermeneutics. Her reply amused me at first and then caused me to reflect on the purpose of it all:

‘No, they won’t know the actions.’

Reading the Bible must lead to something: change, conversion, challenge, repentance, worship, etc. So where does a missional reading of the Bible lead us? Surely it should be to transformation, of the self, of communities, and of the world.

My daughter ‘spoke more than she knew’. She is quite right to expect that missional hermeneutics should involve action, as well as reflection. I also like the assumption that missional hermeneutics can be conceptualised as a song. But what are the actions?…

Ross Wagner on the Apostle Paul and the missio Dei

The concept of the missio Dei is foundational for understanding a missional reading of the Bible. We, the church, are involved in mission because we are sent by God to participate in his mission.

Ross Wagner is a New Testament scholar who teaches alongside Darrell Guder at Princeton Theological Seminary. A couple of publications to mention, which I have just added to the Bible and Mission books and articles section of this microsite:

Wagner, R. Heralds of Good News: Paul and Isaiah ‘In Concert’ in the letter to the Romans, Leiden: Brill (2002).

Wagner, ‘Missio Dei: Envisioning an Apostolic Reading of Scripture’, Missiology, 37:1 (January 2009), 19-32.

The first title links to a Google preview. The second was part of an issue of Missiology dedicated to the theme of missio Dei. Here is the abstract to Wagner’s article:

A theological account of the nature and function of Scripture in the church is properly situated within the larger context of the missio Dei, God’s merciful self-communication to the world in Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit. Exegetical soundings in 2 Corinthian, Philippians, 1 Peter, and 1 John illustrate the fruitfulness of an “apostolic hermeneutic” that attends to the waus in which these texts address and form the church as the community of the reconciled who are called into fellowship with the triune God as active participants in God’s won work of reconciliation. 

A couple of other related links:

Gorman, M. (2011) ‘Missional Musings on Paul‘, Catalyst On-line, 37:2.

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). This mentions Wagner’s work as part of Hunsberger’s round up of scholarship on missional hermeneutics up to that point (late 2008).

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.

Bible and mission blogs

Every Tongue blogLately, we’ve been developing the Bible and Mission resources section of the microsite. Last week Wycliffe Bible Translators’ Eddie Arthur suggested that this section would “keep anyone in reading material for the next decade or two.” We are working on it Eddie!!
Here are some blogs we’ve come across that have dealt in some way with the themes of the Bible and mission, and missional hermeneutics. Let us know if there are more:
Realmeal ministries – Brian Russell; nb. missional hermeneutics page and tags here and here
Kouya Chronicle – Eddie Arthur
Cross Talk – Michael Gorman; nb. missional hermeneutic tag
Everytongue – Mark Woodward; nb. missional hermeneutics tag
Billington’s blog – Antony Billington; nb. missional hermeneutics tag

As we continue to build up the resources section, please let us know how it can best serve you in your Bible and mission thinking and practice.