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.

From cover to cover the Bible is a missionary book

The Bible Basis of Mission - Robert Hall GloverThe title of the blog post is a quote from by Robert Hall Glover in his 1946 book, The Bible Basis of Missions.

He was not content to rely on proof-texts to justify or encourage an involvement in mission. Rather, he saw the whole Bible as a missionary book.

I include a long quote here but have highlighted particular interesting statements. Having noted Michael Goheen’s new Bible and mission book this week it is good to look back and draw on what previous generations have said about the subject.

The language is obviously of its time (as is ours), but there’s plenty to chew over here.

It is not sufficient to be able to say that we are “interested in missions,” nor even that we are taking some part in the promotion of missions. A good deal of missionary interest and effort falls short of being satisfactory, because it rests upon an altogether inadequate conception of what the missionary enterprise really is. Mere pity for the people of mission lands, called forth by some heart-moving tale of dire need or some instance of cruel suffering, is not enough, commendable though this may be. Something deeper and broader is needed to constitute a solid foundation for worthy and enduring missionary effort.

The missionary enterprise is no human conception or undertaking, no modern scheme or invention, no mere philanthropy even of the finest kind. It did not originate in the brain or heart of any man, not even William Carey, or the apostle Paul. Its source was in the heart of God Himself. And Jesus Christ, God’s great Missionary to a lost world, was the supreme revelation of His heart and expression of His love.

The one great fact in which all true thoughts of God must find their root is the fact of John 3:16, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This verse is commonly regarded as the central text of the New Testament, the very heart of the Gospel. For this reason it is also the central missionary text. Along with it several other texts naturally associate themselves: [John 3:17; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 John 2:2; John 1:29].

The texts just quoted, and many others like them, make clear the fact that the redemption of the whole world was God’s great purpose from the beginning. [Acts 17:26]. Nay, more, He came Himself, in the person of His Son, “to seek and save that which was lost.” The Gospel was intended for, and is adapted to, every race and clime and condition of mankind. The enterprise known as world-wide missions, then, is simply the carrying into effect of the divine purpose and project from the foundation of the world. Its accomplishment is the one sublime event toward which the whole creation moves forward, and which will constitute the consummation and crown of all God’s dealings with the human race.

If all this be true, we should expect to find much about it in the Holy Scriptures, and this is precisely the case. Throughout the Bible God’s thought and plan for the world’s evangelization are everywhere in evidence. From cover to cover the Bible is a missionary book, so much so that, as someone has expressed it, one cannot cut out its missionary significance without completely destroying the book. For, let it be understood, Scriptural authority for world-wide missions rests not merely upon a group of proof texts, but upon the entire design and spirit of the Bible as it reveals God in His relation to men and nations, and as it traces the unfolding of His purposes down through the ages.

One writer aptly sets forth the essential missionary character of the Bible by describing it as the story of God’s search for man, in contrast with all other sacred books, which are the story of man’s search for God. Then follow these words: “This divine search of the Creator for His child begins with the first chapter of Genesis, and does not end until the closing words of Revelation. God Himself is thus seen as the first and greatest Missionary, and the whole Bible as the revelation of His successive outreaches into the soul of man.”

Michael Goheen on Bible and Mission – lots of resources and a new book

A Light to the Nations by Michael GoheenMichael Goheen, a key writer in the field of Bible and mission, has just brought out a new book, which I’m looking forward to reading very much. In this post I want to do two things: highlight A Light to the Nations, and make you aware of other useful resources by Goheen that will aid those engaged in the thinking and practice of Bible and mission.

1. A Light to the Nations

There aren’t many book-length treatments of a missional hermeneutic of the Scriptures (exceptions would be Chris Wright’s The Mission of God, Bauckham’s The Bible and Mission,  Beeby’s Canon and Mission, and Brownson’s Speaking the Truth With Love), so Goheen’s book is a very welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the subject.

One of the interesting (albeit overly-simplistic) questions to ask of anyone writing on Bible and mission is, ‘Is this a biblical scholar with an interest in mission, or a missiologist writing about biblical studies?’. Goheen is Geneva Professor of Worldview and Religious Studies at Trinity Western University and his doctorate was on Lesslie Newbigin’s missionary ecclesiology. Check out two volumes he has co-authored with Craig Bartholomew on the Biblical story and worldview, The Drama of Scripture and Living at the Crossroads.

Here’s the blurb and contents for A light to the Nations from Baker Academic’s website:

There is a growing body of literature about the missional church, but the word missional is often defined in competing ways with little attempt to ground it deeply in Scripture. In A Light to the Nations, Michael Goheen unpacks the missional identity of the church by tracing the role God’s people are called to play in the biblical story. Goheen examines the historical, theological, and biblical foundations of missional ecclesiology, showing that the church’s identity can be understood only when its role is articulated in the context of the whole biblical story–not just the New Testament. He shows that the Old Testament is essential to understanding the church’s missional identity. Goheen also explores practical outworkings and implications and offers field-tested suggestions, putting Lesslie Newbigin’s missionary ecclesiology to work in shaping the contemporary church. The book is written at a level easily accessible to students in missions, pastoral, worldview, and theology courses as well as pastors, church leaders, and all readers interested in the missional church.

1. The Church’s Identity and Role: Whose Story? Which Images?
2. God Forms Israel as a Missional People
3. Israel Embodies Its Missional Role and Identity amid the Nations
4. Jesus Gathers an Eschatological People to Take Up Their Missional Calling
5. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus and the Church’s Missional Identity
6. The Missional Church in the New Testament Story
7. New Testament Images of the Missional Church
8. The Missional Church in the Biblical Story–A Summary
9. What Might This Look Like Today?

A Light to the Nations is sure to be an important text in this whole area. I’ll blog about it in more detail as I read it over the summer.

2. Other Michael Goheen resources on Bible and Mission

Goheen has a fantastic array of resources freely accessible online. The best thing to do is go to the allofliferedeemed website, which has all the links. Here are a few highlights:

‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’: J.E. Lesslie Newbigin’s missionary ecclesiology‘ [a full script of his doctoral thesis]

Notes Toward a Framework for a Missional Hermeneutic

Continuing Steps Towards a Missional Hermeneutic

The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story

Reading the Bible . . . and articulating a worldview

A Critical Examination of David Bosch’s Missional Reading of Luke


How may this text be overheard?

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of questions that might be asked of a text when considering a mission hermeneutic. The question, How may this text be overheard? is deliberately ambiguous in order to suggest two themes, both of which are focused on a person or community who do not (yet) believe in Jesus Christ and, so, would not hold that the text in from of them is inspired, authoritative or authentic. The two themes are these:

1. How might this text be overheard? asks the believing community to consider how the unbelieving community can gain an opportunity to encounter this particular text of the Bible. There may well be different approaches for different texts. This question is being answered in a variety of ways this year in the UK because of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. The best place to look for more on this is the Biblefresh website

And perhaps our main question is not just one of exposure to ‘unbelieving communities’. Maybe it should be broadened to ask, How could this text be engaged with in fresh ways by believers?

2. How might this text be overheard? asks the believing community to consider the ways in which a text may be understood or misunderstood if ‘overheard’ by an unbelieving individual or community. This will certainly evoke different responses for different texts but, of course, the answer will be different even for a single text because different people will respond in different ways according to their own contexts and life experiences.
This is in part a prelude to apologetics but I think it is deeper that that. It asks us to consider what obstacles there might be (humanly speaking) to a clear understanding of a text. What technical words or jargon would need to be explained (e.g., with a text like Romans 4)? What background would they need to know to make sense of it in context (e.g., if it were part-way through a narrative)? What if their worldview radically misinterpreted a key term (e.g., a Muslim reading that Jesus is the Son of God)?
In conclusion, at the very least asking the question, How might this text be overheard? forces us to consider ‘the other’. While we are before God, reading and listening to the text, we are reminded that we do so as God’s missional people, tasked with participating in God’s mission to bring to him those for whom the Bible is not yet seen as the words of life.

And, of course, this brings us back (once again!) to the question of Bible Translation. For 340 million people, the first step to answering the question, How may this text be overheard? is, ‘Begin translating the Bible into their heart language’.

MA in Bible and Mission begins

Today was the first session in the Reading the Bible Missionally module of Redcliffe’s new postgraduate MA in Bible and Mission.

Students had come prepared by reading the introduction and first two chapters of Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. As well as discussing the reading we also looked at the developmet of the methodology of missional hermeneutics.

In particular it is noticeable from the literature how ‘missional hermeneutic’ can mean so many different things. This is, perhaps, inevitable with such a newly developing approach, which can of course be frustrating at times. On the other hand, it’s one of the things that makes it all so exciting!

Here are a couple of resources I’ve come across that try to explain the different approaches people have taken (thanks to Brian Russell for making me aware of the first):

Reading the Bible Missionally by Tony Stiff on his blog Sets ‘n’ Service

The Gospel and Our Culture Issue on Missional Hermeneutics on the Gospel and Our Culture website

Biblical Interpretation for Church and World course

Brian Russell is teaching this course 26-30 July this year as part of the Doctor of Ministry programme of Asbury Theological Seminary (it will be taught at the Orlando campus).

This is how he describes the module, which also explains why I want to highlight and recommend it:

This course is part of the required core for the D.Min. degree, but more importantly it is my signature course for teaching biblical interpretation through the perspective of a missional hermeneutic of Scripture. The class focuses on reflecting critically on our reading practices and helping to shape interpreters into persons who read the Scriptures not merely for the Church but for our pre and post Christian culture.

For more details visit Brian’s blog

A missional reading of Genesis ch1 v1

Noone I have come across writes as consistently as Brian Russell on the application of a missional hermeneutic to biblical texts. He recently posted some really interesting thoughts on the missional significance of the opening verse of the Bible. Here are some snippets:

Genesis 1:1 is crucial for a couple of reasons. First, it affirms that there is an active personal deity behind all that is. The creation is not the result of an impersonal force or forces. It is not an accident or the result of some cosmic battle between gods. God (Heb elohim) will later be identified specifically as Israel’s covenant God known as the LORD (Heb Yhwh). Second, though Genesis 1:1-2:3 explicitly challenges the theology of the creation stories of Israel’s neighbors, it remains staunchly international in focus and in scope. It is vital to make the simple observation that Israel’s Scripture opens with its more generic name for God (Heb elohim)… It is not until Genesis 2:4 that the reader of the Bible encounters God’s personal and relational name—Yahweh (typically rendered LORD in our English translations). There the form is Yahweh Elohim (the LORD God). In other words, Genesis 2:4 links explicitly elohim of Genesis 1:1 with the personal name of Israel’s God that was revealed to Moses at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 3 and 6). Why is this important? I think that it points to the missional intent of the Scriptures…

Read the full post.

Missional Bible Study

One of the questions I have with missional hermeneutics is this: ‘What difference will it make in a mid-week Bible Study group? How should this way of reading the Bible affect how we study the Scriptures on a day to day basis?’

One answer to this is provided by George Hunsberger in a Gospel and Our Culture newsletter from September 1999:

The authors of Missional Church declare that “the way to the formation of missional communities begins and ends in our confrontation with and by the Scriptures” (p. 246). If that is true, we will need to learn a new way of placing ourselves in front of the text. Bible study guides and methods that focus on each individual’s relationship to God will not be enough. We will need to learn to read the Bible together as a community that is called and sent by God.

This was part of a pilot initiative to encourage local congregations to engage in Bible study that sought to shape the ‘community of witness’.

The five questions Hunsberger suggests we ask of texts are:

Mission – How does this text send us and equip our witness?
Context – How does this text read us and our world?
Gospel – How does this text evangelize us with good news?
Change – How does this text convert us in personal and corporate life?
Future – How does this text orient us to the coming reign of God?

There is much more to be said on this. Consider this post an opening move…

Michael Goheen on the Old Testament as a tool of God’s missional purposes

In a recent article (‘Continuing Steps Towards a Missional Hermeneutic’, Fideles (2008), pp.49-99), Michael Goheen makes the point that different texts in the Bible will form God’s missional people for his missional purposes in different ways. Here’s what he says about this in relation to the Old Testament:

The Old Testament Scriptures were written to ‘equip’ God’s people for their missional calling to be a distinctive people. Specifically the Scriptures are an instrument of God’s loving and powerful presence among his people to shape them for their missional calling. N. T. Wright suggests that “a full account of the role of scripture within the life of Israel would appear as a function of Israel’s election by God for the sake of the world. Through scripture, God was equipping his people to serve his purposes.” Equipping, Wright continues, is “inadequate shorthand for the multiple tasks scripture accomplished.”

It is precisely in order that Israel might fulfill her missional calling and be a light to the nations, that the law ordered its national, liturgical, and moral life; that wisdom helped to shape daily conduct in conformity to God’s creational order; that the prophets threatened and warned Israel in their disobedience and promised blessing in obedience; that the psalms brought all of Israel’s life into God’s presence in worship and prayer; that the historical books continued to tell the story of Israel at different points reminding Israel of and calling them to their missional place in the story.

In a similar vein Chris Wright points out that the Old Testament is a missional phenomenon that reflects the struggles of a people called to be a light to the world in their missionary encounter and engagement with competing cultural and religious claims of the surrounding world. Specifically, the story of the exodus in the Torah narrates how the LORD confronts the rival religious claims of the Pharaoh and Egypt; the story of creation is presented as a polemic against the creation myths of the Ancient Near East; the historical narratives and pre-exilic
prophets depict Israel’s struggle with the religious culture of Canaan; the exilic and post-exilic books emerge as Israel’s struggles with their identity in the midst of large empires with competing religious commitments; wisdom texts engage pagan wisdom traditions “with a staunch monotheistic disinfectant”; the psalms and prophets nourish the calling of Israel to be a priestly kingdom in the midst of the nations.

In short, the Old Testament canon was shaped by a people called to be a community of mission, a light to the nations. The various books arose to nurture that calling in various ways. (pp.91-92)

The article as a whole is well worth reading. The books he cites are N.T. Wright’s The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (New York: Harper Collins, 2005) and C.J.H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006).

Redcliffe College launches new MA in Bible and Mission

I’m really excited to announce a new postgraduate MA in Bible and Mission that is being launched at Redcliffe College, ready for September 2010. This has been one of my projects over the last couple of years and it is now going through the validation process with the University of Gloucestershire.

I’ve reproduced the MA in Bible and Mission course page from Redcliffe’s website below. A few aspects are worth highlighting. Firstly, the course is being developed in partnership with mission agencies. Among them, Wycliffe Bible Translators and Bible Society have been particularly involved. Secondly, the course will seek to bridge missiology and Biblical studies in an integrated way. Thirdly, it aims to help students reflect on the Bible missionally, and mission biblically. There will be a key emphasis on missional hermeneutics and it also reflects on the Bible as a tool of mission as well as a record and phenomenon of mission.

Any comments or questions? Leave a comment below…

With the increasing complexity of the Church’s mission in the world, clear and deep biblical reflection is essential. Not only should God’s people have a firm grasp of how mission fits into the Scriptures, we should also be confident and competent in using the Bible to engage missionally in a variety of cultural contexts.

Redcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission enables students to explore mission in the Bible and the Bible in mission thinking and practice. It is being developed in partnership with various agencies including Wycliffe Bible Translators and Bible Society, both of whom will also be involved in the ongoing content of the course.

Students complete three required modules and choose one further module.

Method and Content in Missiological Study: Develop your competence in research methods at postgraduate level and gain an overview of Missiology.

Reading the Bible Missionally: Enhance your understanding of the Bible and mission by applying a ‘missional hermeneutic’ to the Scriptures.

Bible Engagement in Intercultural Contexts: Explore and evaluate different approaches to using the Bible in different cultural contexts, both in the ‘West’ and in the majority world.

Optional choice modules may include:
The Mission of the Church in the Context of Post-colonialism and Globalisation;
Crucial Issues in Asian Mission and Theology;
Crucial Issues in European Mission and Theology;
An Introduction to Global Leadership;
The Greening of Mission.

Studying part time over two years…
Studying the MA part time allows you to study exactly the same curriculum as the full time qualification. The compulsory modules are studied during the first year. The second year includes the optional modules and completion of the dissertation.

Studying the ‘flexible learning mode’ option…
This distance learning style course is ideal for mission practitioners working overseas or on home assignment, international students, and those who are unable to spend an extended period of time away from the workplace or home.

Visit Flexible Learning Mode MA to discover more.

So What Next?
We hope you have found this information helpful. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.

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