Making a Biblical Studies programme missional, part 3

This is the third in a series of posts exploring the Biblical Studies side of the new curriculum at Redcliffe College. Specifically, I’m aiming to inform and excite you about the way we are trying to make our teaching of Biblical Studies a thoroughly missional activity. Check out part 1 and part 2 of the series for an overview and introduction.

Having established a missional approach to the Bible and a foundational survey of the books of the Old and New Testaments in the first year, we then focus on some key texts in year two. By this stage we want students to be deepening their understanding of the content, interpretation and application of biblical texts.

As well as a biblical language, students have the option to take the following modules:

Missional texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11

The module aims to enable students to analyse important aspects of these two key Old Testament texts and consider how they relate to the thinking and practice of the church’s involvement in the mission of God.

This module covers:

  1. The function of the book of Psalms and Genesis 1-11 as part of a missional reading of the Bible;
  2. Key issues in understanding and interpreting Psalms and Genesis 1-11, including historical and cultural contexts, genre, structure, literary features and theological themes;
  3. Case-studies in exegeting Psalms and passages from Genesis 1-11;
  4. The contemporary application of Psalms and Genesis 1-11, especially in relation to the thinking and practice of mission.
For me, it is so important that students leave Redcliffe equipped with the Psalms. More than any other part of Scripture, the Psalms articulate life and give us a liturgy for all the experiences we may go through. We encourage the students to pray through the Psalms – a habit I hope they will adopt, enjoy and be shaped by. There are also some important and intriguing missiological questions in the Psalms, not least the role of the nations and the great eschatological visions of nations gladly worshipping the LORD.
Genesis 1-11 has often been treated as the background to God’s mission. In this module we explore the content of the text in depth and try to see how it can function missionally.

Missional Texts: Luke and Acts

The module aims to enable students to analyse important aspects of Luke’s contribution to the New Testament and consider how it relates to the thinking and practice of the church’s involvement in the mission of God.

This module covers:

1. The function of Luke-Acts as part of a missional reading of the Bible;

2. Key issues in understanding and interpreting Luke-Acts, including historical and cultural contexts, genre, structure, literary features and theological themes;

3. Case-studies in exegeting passages from Luke-Acts;

4. The contemporary application of Luke-Acts, especially in relation to the thinking and practice of mission.
The language of the descriptor is clearly very similar to the Psalms and Genesis 1-11 module. Luke and Acts was an obvious choice in that it spans at least two different genre, and is often referred to in the literature on mission.
Finally, in addition to these book-specific modules, we offer a hermeneutics module:
Interpreting the Bible in Intercultural Contexts

The module aims to enable students to analyse important aspects of historical and contemporary interpretation of the Bible, and consider biblical hermeneutics in relation to a variety of Western and non-Western cultural contexts.

This module covers:

1. Key periods and events in the history of Biblical interpretation (e.g. Jewish, early Christian, and Medieval exegesis; the hermeneutical impact of the Reformation and of the Enlightenment;

2. Major topics in contemporary hermeneutics (e.g. literary approaches and  the role of the reader;

3. Biblical interpretation in different cultural contexts (e.g. Latin American, Asian and African);

This is an opportunity for students to look at the bigger picture of biblical interpretation, but also explore issues of intercultural reading and contextualisation.

So, by the end of the second of their three-year bachelor’s degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts, students are delving deeply into some crucial biblical texts and becoming more sensitive and globally aware interpreters. Stay tuned for the final year…

Making a Biblical Studies programme missional, part 2

Redcliffe's web page for the BA(Hons) Degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural ContextsThis is the second in a series of posts exploring the Biblical Studies side of the new curriculum at Redcliffe College. Specifically, I’m aiming to inform and excite you about the way we are trying to make our teaching of Biblical Studies a thoroughly missional activity. Check out part 1 of the series for an overview and introduction.

The first thing to say is that we no longer have a module entitled, A Biblical Basis of Mission.

Yes, you heard me right! Traditionally, Bible Colleges have run courses in the Biblical Studies department called something like, Introduction to the Old Testament / Introduction to the New Testament, and then the Missiology/Theology department might have a module on a Biblical Basis of Mission.

But should these really be separated?

If, as I have contended on numerous occasions in this blog, the Bible is thoroughly missional, should not an overview course of the Bible take account of its missional character in a fully integrated way?

More than this, I would suggest that running separate modules is communicating something rather unhelpful to students; that you can have an introduction to the Bible separate to an introduction to Biblical mission.

So we now have modules in the first year called ‘A missional introduction to the Old Testament’ and ‘A missional approach to the New Testament’. These courses orient students both to the the context, content and contemporary significance of the books of the Bible, but also look at how the Bible is a product, record and tool of mission. This approach is an attempt to bridge the disciplines of Biblical Studies and Missiology. It also means that a students gain a solid foundation in the content, interpretation and missional nature of the Bible, and a thorough basis for understanding the church’s missionary identity and task.

To flesh this out in more detail, here is some course info.

In the first year students take two compulsory Bible-focused modules (though they can do a biblical language as well):

  • A missional introduction to the Old Testament
The module aims to introduce students to the background, content, interpretation and contemporary relevance of the books of the Old Testament. Questions relating to the thinking and practice of mission will be asked throughout.
This module covers:
1. An introduction to the missional nature of the Bible, particularly in relation to the texts of the Old Testament;
2. An overview of the books of the Old Testament accounting for issues such as historical context, genre, structure, contents, main themes, interpretation and application;
3. An exploration of the significance of Old Testament texts for the thinking and practice of mission.
  • A missional introduction to the New Testament
The module aims to introduce students to the background, content, interpretation and contemporary relevance of the books of the New Testament. Questions relating to the thinking and practice of mission will be asked throughout.
This module covers:
1. An introduction to the missional nature of the Bible, particularly in relation to the texts of the New Testament;
2. An overview of the books of the New Testament accounting for issues such as historical context, genre, structure, contents, main themes, interpretation and application;
3. An exploration of the significance of New Testament texts for the thinking and practice of mission.
Having build a solid foundation for Bible and Mission, the challenge for the second year is to see how that works when looking at particular texts in more depth. Next up, Missional texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11; Missional texts: Luke and Acts; and Interpreting the Bible in intercultural contexts.

Making a Biblical Studies programme missional, part 1

Redcliffe's web page for the BA(Hons) Degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts

This post is the first in a series that I hope will inform and excite you about the way in which we have sought at Redcliffe to make our teaching of Biblical Studies a thoroughly missional activity.

Today I will give a broad introduction while subsequent posts will unpack what we are doing at each stage of the degree programme.

The world is changing fast so we need to constantly develop our training to meet the increasing complexities and new challenges and opportunities of mission. To that end, over the last few months at Redcliffe we have been working hard on a revamp of our entire undergraduate Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts programmes.

One of my challenges as the main lecturer in Biblical Studies has been to see how the Bible-focused modules can reflect recent developments in the area of Bible and mission. Specifically, we have been more intentional about integrating (1) the missional interpretation of the Bible, and (2) the growth in Scripture Engagement across the curriculum. This reflects the values of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission where we look at both mission in the Bible/the missional nature of the Bible, and the Bible in mission.

In addition to Greek and Hebrew, these are the Bible-focused modules students can now do (It is worth noting that these modules are just one part of the overall training, so there are plenty of other modules students can do as well. And, of course, there is biblical input into other modules too).

First year
A missional introduction to the Old Testament
A missional introduction to the New Testament

Second year
Missional texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11
Missional texts: Luke and Acts
Interpreting the Bible in intercultural contexts

Third year
Missional texts: Isaiah
Story, song and social network: Bible engagement and oral culture

One of the most interesting discussions and decisions is to drop the module we have traditionally taught called ‘A Biblical Basis for Mission’. I’ll explain more about that in my next post! If you can’t wait until then, drop a comment in the box below to suggest why we might have done that…

The Bible and Lausanne’s Cape Town Commitment – part one

The recently published Cape Town Commitment is a document to come out of Lausanne, following the working groups and convention in South Africa in the Autumn 2010. It is subtitled ‘A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action’. You can read the whole thing here: The Cape Town Commitment.

There’s a tremendous amount to reflect upon within this large document. So I’ll just look at one section today.

We Love God’s Word

This section of the commitment highlights four aspects of the Bible: The Person the Bible reveals; The story the Bible tells; The truth the Bible teaches; The life the Bible requires. The second is put this way:

The story the Bible tells. The Bible tells the universal story of creation, fall, redemption in history, and new creation. This overarching narrative provides our coherent biblical worldview and shapes our theology. At the centre of this story are the climactic saving events of the cross and resurrection of Christ which constitute the heart of the gospel. It is this story (in the Old and New Testaments) that tells us who we are, what we are here for, and where we are going. This story of God’s mission defines our identity, drives our mission, and assures us the ending is in God’s hands. This story must shape the memory and hope of God’s people and govern the content of their evangelistic witness, as it is passed on from generation to generation. We must make the Bible known by all means possible, for its message is for all people on earth. We recommit ourselves, therefore, to the ongoing task of translating, disseminating and teaching the scriptures in every culture and language, including those that are predominantly oral or non-literary.

This is a very helpful overview of the missional nature of the big story of the Bible, as well as the worldview-shaping nature of the Scriptures. It also touches on the Bible as a tool of mission in the final paragraph. Could it have talked about mission in a broader sense (cf. the ‘integral mission’ or ‘mission as transformation’ discussion the document addresses elsewhere)? Nevertheless, it is excellent to see such an overarching view of the Bible as thoroughly missional.

New Testament theology is essentially missionary theology

A Concise New Testament Theology by I. Howard MarshallMission is not just another (albeit important) theme in the Bible. It is not even merely the major theme in the Bible (though I think it is also this). No, the relationship between the Bible and mission is much more fundamental than either of these assertions. As many have said, mission describes the essential character of the Bible:

the Bible does not just talk about missional things; it is itself missional.

This is the claim of Howard Marshall in his New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel. I quote here from A Concise New Testament Theology, which is an abridgement of the much larger work. It’s a lengthy quote but well worth reproducing in its entirety (his italics):

Mission and Theology

The focus of the New Testament writings is to be found in their presentation of Jesus as the Savior and Lord sent by God, through whom he is acting to bring salvation to the world. More specifically, they are the documents of a mission. The subject matter is not Jesus in himself (or God in himself), but Jesus in his role as Savior and Lord. New Testament theology is essentially missionary theology. The documents came into being as the result of a two-part mission: first, the mission of Jesus’ follwers, called to continue his work by proclaiming him as Lord and Savior and calling people to faith and ongoing commitment to him, as a result of which his church grows. The theology springs out of this movement and is shaped by it, and in turn the theology shapes the continuing mission of the church. The primary function of the documents is thus to testify to the gospel that is proclaimed by Jesus and his followers. Their teaching can be seen as the fuller exposition of that gospel. They are also concerned with the spiritual growth of those who are converted to the Christian faith. They show how the church should be shaped for its mission, and they deal with the problems that form obstacles to the advancement of the mission. In short, people who are called by God to be missionaries are carrying out their calling by the writing of Gospels, Letters and related material. They are concerned to make converts and then to provide for their nurture, to bring new believers to birth and to nourish them to maturity.

Recognition of this missionary character of the documents will help us to see them in true perspective and to interpret them in the light of their intention. The theology of the New Testament is not primarily ecclesiastical or ecclesiological, with a central interest in the church and its life and its structures. Nor is it an exercise in intellectual understanding for its own sake. Recognition of the missionary orientation of the New Testament will lead us to a more dynamic view of the church as the agent of mission instead of the static view that we sometimes have; it will also ward off the danger of seeing New Testament study as a purely academic exercise.

There is a quite helpful classification saying that actions in the New Testament have three aspects: doxological (glorifying God), antagonistic (opposing and overcoming evil) and soteriological (saving the lost). There is a natural tendency to give primacy to the doxological on the grounds that the highest activity of human beings is to glorify God and even what God does is intended to increase his glory. That is correct, but since the glorification of God should be the ultimate aim of all our activity, a focus on glorification may fail to express what is especially characteristic of the New Testament: the specific way in which God is glorified is through mission. The New Testament is primarily about God’s mission and the message associated with it. Similarl, the antagonistic motif is clearly of great importance, in that the powers of evil and death must be overcome if humanity is to be rescued, but this victory is not an end in itself: the triumph of the crucified must be proclaimed to humankind and become a reality for them – through mission. Again, soteriology is understood in a one-sided manner if attention is centered purely on the work of Christ as if it were an end in itself. It is significant that in Paul the fact of reconciliation achieved by the death of Christ and the proclamation of reconciliation by his messengers (leading to the human acceptance of reconciliation) belong together as the two essential and integral parts of God’s saving action (2 Cor 5:18-21).

Granted, Marshall’s focus is on the New Testament. See Chris Wright’s The Mission of God, pp.48-51, for a whole Bible perspective.