100 questions for missional Bible reading – series introduction

This morning I was talking to a Luke-Acts class about the kind of questions we might ask that could help bring out the missional nature of the Bible. Over the last few years I have spent a lot of time thinking about this whole area and it seems to me that there are numerous questions one could ask.

So this morning I have set myself a challenge: over the coming months (years?) I will try to write a series of one hundred blog posts on such questions. I’d like to try and think of one hundred questions that we could ask of the text as we seek to read it missionally.

This is deliberately ambitious: partly to push myself to think creatively, and partly in an attempt to demonstrate that missional hermeneutics opens up all kinds of possibilities that can enrich personal Bible reading, the church, and scholarship.

What questions would you include?

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

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).

Free access to Chris Wright Truth with a Mission

When students arrive for Redcliffe’s BA(Hons) in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts I get them all to read Chris Wright’s 2005 Grove booklet, Truth with a Mission: Reading the Scriptures Missiologically. It is a really good, concise introduction to the idea of the Bible as a missional book, and sets out the basic approach we take at Redcliffe to Biblical Studies.

The ever-eagle-eyed Antony Billington recently noted that Wright’s essay has now been published in the Summer 2011 volume of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, and is freely available on their website under the slightly changed title: Truth with a Mission: Reading All Scripture Missiologically. It is in an essay format rather than a study booklet and doesn’t have the questions for reflection that are in the Grove booklet, but otherwise it is exactly the same.

If you are looking for a short introduction to the idea of a missional reading of the Bible Truth with a Mission: Reading All Scripture Missiologically is an excellent place to start. SBJT are to be commended for making it available.

P.S. And do check out Antony’s blog if you’ve not done so before. He writes most days and is particularly good at spotting when journals are published, often noting when there are freely accessible articles.

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

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 www.archive.org 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.