The multicultural presence of God

We are half way through the first week of term at Redcliffe. Wednesday mornings see the College community coming together for a corporate time of devotions.

Today our new Principal, Rob Hay, delivered part two of his introductory preach. Part one, on Sunday, focused on the foretaste of heaven we see reflected in our community, which is comprised of around 30 different nationalities. Rob read from Rev. 7:9-12 which describes the multiethnic, multilingual multitude assembled and worshipping before the thrown of God.

It reminded me of something I read recently in an article by James Brownson (‘Speaking the Truth in Love’, International Review of Mission, Vol 83, No. 330 (1994), pp.479-504):

“All of humanity is called to glorify God, not by suppressing diversity and particularity, but by sanctifying it. The universal bond of humanity appears not so much in its set of common responses to its creator and sustainer, but rather by humanity’s diverse responses to the singular vision of God disclosed in the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (p.485)

Brownson then suggests that, “a missional hermeneutic begins with the assumption that the mode in which God is present among the faithful is irreducibly multi-cultural.” (p.485) So, he says, no single culture has a monopoly on understanding or describing God. We, the multiethnic Church must try to understand and worship God together, embracing our cultural diversity rather than constantly seeking our common denominators.

So, yes, it is and exciting and extraordinary privilege to be part of this multicultural community called Redcliffe College. But, yes, we are also a gathering of sinners still in need of God’s grace every day. Which is why Rob’s text for today’s talk was Eph. 5:15-21. We need to walk with integrity, forgiving and being forgiven, cultivating thankfulness and seeing God at work in the nitty-gritty of life. This will be the true test of our spirituality this year: will we seek to love one another when the going gets tough?

Biblical Basis of Mission course – week one

Truth with a MissionToday was the first day of lectures at Redcliffe and I began a six-week course with the first years called, The Biblical Basis of Mission, which is coupled with a six-week course next term on Issues and Trends in Contemporary Mission.

This morning we looked at some foundational stuff using Chris Wright’s introductory material on missional hermeneutics. It’s found in a few different places – Fanning the Flame: Bible, Cross and Mission (edited by P. Gardner et al, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003); Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation (edited by C. Bartholomew et al, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004); Text and Task: Scripture and Mission (edited by M. Parsons, Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2006); and expanded in Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006) – but the most accessible format is his 2005 Grove booklet, Truth with a Mission: Reading Scripture Missiologically (Cambridge: Grove Books).

The issues we discussed included: the Bible as the story of God’s mission; the Bible’s call to mission; the Bible as the product of mission; the Bible as a tool of mission; mission as the theme of the Bible; the messianic and missional nature of the Bible; the difference between evangelism and mission; mission as first-and-foremost God’s activity; and more!

I love this quote in particular:

It is not so much, as someone has said, that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission is not just something we do (though it certainly includes that). Mission, from the point of view of our human endeavour, means the committed participation of God’s people in the purposes of God for the redemption of the whole creation. (in Truth with a Mission, p. 14)

Next week, Mission and the Torah…

Missional hermeneutics 100 years ago

I spent a good chunk of time today reading R.F. Horton’s The Bible A Missionary Book (Second Edition, Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier).

Horton’s take on the mission theme in the Bible is a little different to many of the biblical theologies of mission I’ve been reading of late. Rather than diving into selected texts that provide a ‘biblical basis of mission’ he starts with the premise that the Bible as a whole is a missionary book. The interesting thing is that Horton was writing a century ago, his book being published in 1908.

In some senses, of course, it is a product of its time. There is (to my mind) an overconfidence in the ‘objectivity’ of certain critical methodologies. This relates to his overal methodology but also to details such as the dating of certain texts and how this shapes his view of certain developments in the OT.

He is also rather dismissive of the OT, to the extent that he treats the NT first, with the chapters on the OT as, primarily (but not exclusively), functioning as the precurser to NT mission.

Nevertheless, there is much to chew on. Here are some quotes:

“As the friends of missions have been suspicious of critical scholarship, so scholarship has been too absorbed in its own pursuits to pay express attention to missions. But the two must learn to understand one another, if the missionary cause is to make rapid and solid progress” (p.9)

“of what use is the Bible, if it is not God’s book for man, and of what meaning is the Gospel if it is not God’s message to the world?” (p.10)

“To support the missionary enterprise by the quotation of certain proof-texts is quite inadequate. When we are fumbling among these texts we are in the position of one who cannot see the wood for the trees. The texts appear to be unrelated axioms, and if suspicion is cast upon the correctness or the genuineness of a text, the authority for missions seems to melt away… The first thought, then, is not to enter into a minute examination of certain texts or passages, which may easily be collected from all parts of Scripture, but rather to stand off a little and endeavour to gain a conception of Scripture as a whole, to ask ourselves the question, What is the bearing and the trend of this book?” (pp.23-24, 28)

“There are two ways by which missionary zeal is created and maintained: one, the study of the missionary facts, and the other the study of the Bible as the missionary book. Each method is indispensable. To know the Bible without knowing the efforts which are being made to spread the truth is to miss the most valuable of all commentaries on Scripture; and commentators who ignore the work of missions, as unfortunately many of them do, make of the Bible a hortus siccus, because they lose the sense that it is an organism still living and at work…” (p.187)

“It is in the hope that Bible students may be enabled to intelligently discern the missionary purpose ingrained in the Scriptures, and to feel the enthusiasm which comes from seeing the great purpose of God developed through long ages of history and of religious life, that the foregoing pages have been written.” (p.189)

Having felt very pleased with myself – and not to say proud of Redcliffe’s library 🙂 – that I had stumbled upon what must by now be a very rare book, I Googled it tonight and discovered the whole thing online! According to the website it is out of copyright. It can be read online or downloaded: Read it here

I shall have a closer look at this website in due course and let you know what other Bible and Mission goodies are available.

A missional reading of the book of Ruth

freshexpressionsJohn Scheepers’s fresh expressions blog features a nice reflection on a missional reading of Ruth, building on the work of Darrell Guder.

His starting point is a quote from Guder’s The Continuing Conversion of the Church:

 “Scripture is appropriately read and interpreted as the Spirit-empowered testimony that equips God’s people for their mission…”

What, he wonders, would it look like if we read the book of Ruth this way? He highlights his reading under four headings:

1. God’s mission is universal in scope.

2. God’s mission is particular in execution.

3. God’s mission is integrally linked to covenant faithfulness.

4. God’s mission has an integral call for the care of widows and the vulnerable.

Read the post in full

Encounters Mission Journal on the Bible and Mission

Encounters issue 29 - The Bible and MissionThe Encounters Mission Journal issue based on Chris Wright’s Redcliffe lecture on The Bible and Mission (and specifically, his missional reading of Jeremiah) is finally here! It’s been a lot of work to put together in a short space of time, but all concerned have done a great job. As well as the transcript of the lecture and a link to a downloadable audio file, it features eight response articles from a wide range of people with a lot of interesting things to say.

Here is part of my editorial:

This issue of Encounters revolves around Dr Wright’s excellent lecture and explores the idea of a missional reading of the Bible, in theory and practice. As well as the lecture and question and answer session transcribed in full, the edition also includes a number of responses from a variety of contexts. It has been a truly global venture with contributions from Malaysia, India, Colombia, Asia, the US and the UK.

John Risbridger and Krish Kandiah consider missional hermeneutics in the setting of the UK Church. David Spriggs writes on the relationship between the Bible and missional engagement in the ‘public square’. Eddie Arthur reflects on what a ‘missional hermeneutic has to say to those who translate and desseminate the Scriptures’. Brian Russell and Milton Acosta discuss missional hermeneutics as a method of reading the Bible. Finally, Anthony Loke and Rabbi and Chitra Jayakaran share what a missional hermeneutic might mean for their own contexts of Malaysia and India, respectively.

And these are the articles:

Lecture:  “Prophet to the Nations”: Missional Reflections on the Book of Jeremiah.
(Revd Dr Chris Wright)

Q and A:  Lecture question and answer session.

Response 1:  A UK pastor’s perspective.
(John Risbridger)

Response 2:  A missional hermeneutic and Scripture engagement.
(Eddie Arthur)

Response 3:  Jeremiah and mission in the public square.
(Revd Dr David Spriggs)

Response 4:  What does mission in exile really look like?
(Dr Krish Kandiah)

Response 5:  Breaking open the text.
(Dr Brian Russell)

Response 6:  Missional hermeneutics: some opportunities and questions.
(Dr Milton Acosta)

Response 7:  Missional hermeneutics in a Malaysian context.
(Revd Anthony Loke)

Response 8:  Missional hermeneutics in an Indian context.
(Rabbi and Chitra Jayakaran)

Over the coming weeks I’ll be reflecting on some of the points made in the issue. To read the articles or listen to the lecture, follow this link:

Go to The Bible and Mission – Issue 29 of Encounters Mission Journal

Chris Wright Bible and Mission lecture update

Chris Wright’s 12 May public lecture at Redcliffe College on The Bible and Mission is fast approaching.

As well as setting out a missional hermeneutic of the Bible, he will also be putting this into practice by giving a missional reading of the book of Jeremiah. There will also be an opportunity for questions at the end.

Do you have any questions you would like to ask Revd Dr Wright? If so, and you’re not able to be there on the night, why not pass them to me using the comment facility below? I can’t make any promises but will try to fit them in… 

More details about Chris Wright’s The Bible and Mission Redcliffe Lecture

Forthcoming book on reading the Bible missionally

Brian Russell (Asbury Seminary, Kentucky) has blogged about his forthcoming book on the missional interpretation of the Bible. It is due out next year from Wipf and Stock.

The title is, The Scripture Way of Mission: Reading the Bible Missionally for the Church and the World and it promises to be a great resource for thinking through, and putting into practice this way of reading Scripture.

Brian gives us a tentative outline and asks for feedback. I’m particularly intrigued by the second part of the book, which he outlines here:

Part Two: Reading the Bible for the Mission of God
Part Two of Unleashing the Scriptures focuses on specific practices for unleashing the missional message of the Scriptures into our lives and the lives of our communities of faith. If God’s mission is the core theme of the Scriptures, then it must become the focus of our reading and teaching of Scripture.

Understanding the centrality of mission in the Scriptures demands action. It is not enough to understand that mission stands at the center of the biblical witness. Our use of Scripture must (re)align with the Bible’s overarching aim of creating and shaping a missional community to reflect and embody God’s character to and for the World. This message needs to permeate throughout existing communities of faith and be experienced anew by those outside of these communities. In short, we must be reconverted to God’s mission and allow God to deploy us as agents of change in our communities and as ambassadors for God to those on the peripheries of our communities.

Chapter Eight, “Scripture Unleashed: Learning to Speak Human,” provides a method for engaging in the missional reading of Scripture. It will offer a step-by-step guide for reading the Bible through the lens of mission. It includes practical advice for transforming one’s current reading practices and for learning to read the Bible for humanity—for both insiders and outsiders to the Gospel message.

Chapter Nine, “The Practice and Possibilities of a Missional Reading,” offers concrete examples of missional interpretation that will enhance your own ability to read the Scriptures and translate their message for humanity.

Chapter Ten, “Transforming Our Communities—Engaging the World: A Conversion to Mission,” offers a framework for transforming Churches into missional communities. This chapter explores the role that missional interpretation plays in shaping a missional ethos in contemporary communities of faith and how this impacts the Church’s engagement with contemporary cultures. We will explore strategies for integrating a missional reading into all aspects of our communities.

Chapter Eleven, “Deployment,” brings Unleashing the Scriptures to a conclusion. It will summarize key findings and end with a challenge to those who teach and preach the Scriptures in local churches to unleash the Scriptures as a catalyst to mission.

Please do visit Brian’s blog and share your thoughts with him. It looks like an extremely valuable development in the area of Bible and Mission, and I commend him for being so open to others shaping his work.

Mission-Net, Deuteronomy and the University Alien

mission-net: congress 2009
mission-net: congress 2009

It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged, what with Easter, going to Mission-Net and then having a few days holiday.

It was great to be at Mission-Net. My two seminars looked at (1) The ‘missional basis of the Bible’ along with an overview of the Old Testament; and (2) A study on Deut. 10:12-22 and what it tells us about our missionary God and our role as his people in the world.

The highlight for me was at the end of the second session. I had touched on the importance God places on caring for the vulnerable in society, as exemplified in the laws concerning the marginal groups (widow, orphan, alien). I had relayed a story from my student days where I had been lazy, sticking to people like myself rather than looking out for and befriending the ‘international’ students. A Greek student in the seminar talked about how she was going to make more of an effort to spend more time with a South-East Asian student she was aquainted with. It thrilled me to hear her say this! My prayer is that as she returns to her university she will learn from my mistake and, more importantly, allow God to mould her character and attitudes.

A missional hermeneutics blog

Through Eddie Arthur’s excellent kouya chronicles blog I came across another exciting resource for Bible and Mission. Brian Russell’s realmealministries blog has a wealth of material on reading the Bible missionally.

Here’s Brian’s bio from the blog:

Brian Russell is a thinker, teacher, and writer.

He serves a Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary on the Orlando campus.

He is an expert on biblical interpretation focusing his research issues broadly on developing a missional hermeneutic and specifically on the books of Exodus and Psalms.

At heart, Brian is a passionate practitioner committed to unleashing men and women to live as the people whom God created them to be. Mission is the reason for the existence of God’s people. Brian and his family seek to serve as voices of hope in and for the world.

There really is a broad range of interesting looking stuff on there, so check it out. The other day our Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and Christian Mission class spent a double lecture discussing the first two chapters of Chris Wright’s The Mission of God. I’ll be recommending Brian’s site to them next week.

PS. I’ll do a post on Eddie’s blog soon…