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?

Wealth, poverty and power in the Old Testament

Chris Wright's Old Testament Ethics for the People of GodAs well as teaching on specific biblical modules at Redcliffe, occasionally I join other classes for one-off sessions looking how an aspect of the biblical material relates to their subject. The most recent class like this was on Friday when I joined the Diploma and Professional in Mission class on ‘Wealth, Poverty and the Environment’ to look at how the Old Testament addresses the themes of wealth, poverty and power.

I found Chris Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God particularly helpful in preparing this session. He outlines the Old Testament’s understanding of poverty in three ways: what causes poverty? how are God’s people to respond to poverty; and a future vision of a new creation without poverty.

We then looked at three passages, Deut. 15 and Job 29, 31. The Deuteronomy passage is well-known for its discussion of how Israel is to approach the issue of poverty. Indeed, in his excellent NIBC commentary on Deuteronomy, Wright (again!) suggests that the passage ‘offers limitless opportunity for ethical and missiological reflection and action’. OK, there is hyperbole in this statement but it is undoubtedly true that the passage (and other parts of Deuteronomy) contains much food for missiological and ethical thought. My own Master’s dissertation was on the orphan, widow and alien in Deuteronomy. A couple of years ago I also had a student here at Redcliffe who wrote her dissertation on the book’s approach to poverty and how that might inform how the church addressed the issue in the contemporary UK context.

The Job passages are more obscure to most, but in an attempt to defend his righteousness Job provides us indirectly with a window into an ideal ethical life where those with power protect the weak and address injustice. At one point Job claims that ‘The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.’ (29:13, ESV)

Wouldn’t that verse make a great epitaph?

Mission and the Image of God

In the latest issue of Encounters Mission Journal (December 2010 on the theme, Justice and Mission) I reviewed Andy Matheson’s recent book In His Image: Understanding and Embracing the Poor (Authentic Media).

I was reading it while Redcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission students were taking a class in missional hermeneutics called, ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’. We agreed with Matheson when he suggests that we often neglect the first two chapters of the Bible when formulating ideas about humanity in relation to the mission of God. His book makes a timely and important contribution to the discussion.

Here’s the review:

In His Image is a popular level book written by the International Director of Oasis. Drawing particularly, though not exclusively on his extensive experience in India, Andy Matheson challenges the reader with the importance, complexity and possibilities of standing alongside the poor as a way of participating in the mission of God.

His particular angle, as the title suggests, is to view the issue of poverty (in its many guises) through the lens of all people being made in the image of God. This gives the book a welcome coherence which sets his discussion helpfully within a robust framework.

Following two introductory chapters on the meaning of the image of God and an analysis of the various dimensions of poverty, Matheson then works through a series of relatively short chapters that unpack and illustrate his discussion:
Community; Wholeness; Change; Empowerment; Compassion; Justice; Prayer; Receiving; Celebration; Prevention; and Perspective.

I appreciated the use of the image of God as a starting point, not least because it puts Genesis 1-2 more on the agenda than has often been the case. While he does not compromise on the reality of humanity’s rebellion and sin, Matheson is keen for the reader not to rush past the opening chapters of the Bible, ‘after all, Genesis 1 came before Genesis 3. People are made in the image of God before sin comes into the world. In fact, the fall in Genesis 3 is so horrendous because our creation in God’s image in Genesis 1 is so wonderful.’ (p3)

I found the book’s anecdotal material profoundly challenging, not just because of the heartbreaking stories of broken lives and desperate poverty, but also because of the way Matheson combines honesty about his own failings with a resilient hope that God is at work in the midst of seemingly overwhelming need.

Although his focus is his own experience in India he also draws helpfully on stories from elsewhere, most notably from the work of Oasis in the London area.

A number of key, up-to-date issues are dealt with well, including the difference between development and transformation, the relationship between the local/personal and the global, the need for prevention rather than just dealing with the aftermath of abuse (e.g., with people trafficking), and the importance of genuine partnership.

The book is clearly not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject of poverty, but it certainly makes a significant contribution to the discussion. More than merely discussing these matters, In His Image spurs the reader towards more informed action. A very good and readable book, on an ever-pressing issue.

The Bible as comfort and affliction

In his book, Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical Community, James Sanders has this wondergful phrase:

The same Word of God which comforts the afflicted may also afflict the comfortable.

However you frame it, the Bible has a profound interest in issues of poverty and justice. Richard Bauckham, for example, talks of  the “downward movement of solidarity with the people at the bottom of the social scale of importance and wealth”.

How might the Word of God be comforting us today?

How might the Word of God be afflicting us today?

How might the Word of God be moving us beyond ourselves to consider and engage in the plight and powerlessness of others?