Mission and the Psalms – liturgy is not play acting

Israel and the Nations by James Chukwuma OkoyeI’ve been thinking ahead to a module on Redcliffe’s Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts degree programme called, ‘Missional Texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11’. Here is a nice quote from Okoye found in his wonderful book, Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament. It is part of a chapter on Psalm 96:

The psalmist calls on Israel and the nations to be united in the worship of the one God, Yahweh. The gentiles may be restricted only to the “courts,” that is, the courtyards of the temple, which are open to non-Jews, yet the “wall of separation” has begun to crumble, if not in fact, surely in the religious imagination.

The praise and worship of the nations, which the prophets predicted of the eschatological future, are transferred to the present in our psalm (Gunkel and Begrich 1998, 25).

The coming of Yahweh is, first of all, liturgical: the royal glory and power of Yahweh are made manifest to the worshipers, who accordingly prostrate in obedient submission to their King. The very assembly of praise enacts the reign of God, for the assembly thereby recognizes itself as servants coming into the presence of their lord to acknowledge Yahweh’s rule and to declare the dealty to Yahweh (Mays 1994a, 64). As Walter Brueggemann affirms, “liturgy is not play acting, but is the evocation of an alternative reality that comes into play in the very moment of the liturgy” (1984, 144). The alternative reality is that of a society that has been made right under God – true worship leads to true society. Liturgy is the beginning of the dismantling of the old order of injustice and faithlessness (ibid., 146). Insofar as Israel and the families of nations participate in the worship of Yahweh they are sharing in the dismantling of the old order and the emergence of the new order under Yawheh.

But the coming of Yahweh is at the same time eschatological. Cultic gatherings at the temple anticipate the gathering of the nations and peoples of the earth to the shrine of Israel’s God, who is over the nations (Willis 1997, 302). The eschatological promise is that all the earth will also enjoy the just effects of the rule of Yahweh.

In a subtle manner, Psalm 96 merges the praise of “all the earth” and that of Israel. The Israelite who makes such an “oratorical outreach” (Marlowe 1998, 451) is being invited to pull down the wall of separation that continued to keep apart fellow worshipers of Yahweh. (pp.106-107)

If you’d like to look into the Psalms and mission in more depth, have a look at issue 33 of Redcliffe’s Encounters Mission Journal, which was on the theme of The Psalms and Mission.

Was Jonah a missionary?

Chris Wright's The Mission of GodAll first years at Redcliffe are required to take a Bible overview consisting two modules: ‘A Missional Introduction to the Old Testament’ and ‘A Missional Introduction to the New Testament’ (see these two posts for the rationale behind a missional approach to teaching the Bible: Making a Biblical Studies programme missional, part 1 & part 2).

Students are currently wrestling with the assignment for the OT course, which this year is to discuss the extent to which they think the book of Jonah would be an appropriate subject for a Bible study series at a church’s mission weekend.

For obvious reasons I’m not going to discuss this at length but I thought this was a nice quote from Chris Wright’s The Mission of God on the subject:

The book of Jonah has always featured in biblical studies of mission, sometimes as almost the only part of the Old Testament deemed to be of any relevance. Here at least is someone who has some semblance of being an actual missionary, sent to another country to preach the word of God. However, for all the fascination of the character and adventures of Jonah, the real missional challenge of the book undoubtedly and intentionally lies in its portrayal of God. If Jonah is intended to represent Israel, as seems likely, then the book issues a strong challenge to Israel regarding their attitude to the nations (even enemy nations that prophets placed under God’s declared judgment), and regarding their understanding of God’s attitude to the nations. The concluding open-ended question of the book is an enduring, haunting rebuke to our tendency to foist our own ethnocentric prejudices on to the Almighty.

It is interesting and informative to compare and contrast the response to Jonah to the word of divine judgment on a pagan nation with that of Abraham. Commissioned to proclaim Nineveh’s doom, Jonah ran away and jumped in a boat, alleging later that he had done so precisely because he suspected that YHWH would revert to type and show compassion. Informed of God’s intention to investigate the outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham jumps to intercession and finds YHWH prepared to be even more merciful than he initially bargained for.

Nathan MacDonald finds a thread running through texts such as Genesis 18, Exodus 32-34, Psalm 103:6-10 and Ezekiel 18. “The Judge of all the earth,” who will unquestionably do what is right, is also the “gracious and compassionate God” who “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” The character of YHWH is exercised in forgiveness and mercy, extended to all nations, not just to Israel. (p.461)

Missional hermeneutics reading part 1

Today we had the first two sessions of the Reading the Bible Missionally module on Redcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission. The course itself takes its structure from Chris Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. By the end of the course we have read the whole thing. But fantastic though Wright’s book is, it is also important for students to have a good grasp of other writers in the field.

So today we had an introduction to the development and legitimacy of a missional hermeneutic, alongside discussions of the methodologies of Chris Wright and Richard Bauckham.

To get a flavour of some of the literature have a look at this microsite’s Bible and Mission books and articles page. In the meantime, here is a selection of the things we’ve been looking at today:

Bauckham, R. ‘Mission as Hermeneutic for Scriptural Interpretation‘, Currents in World Christianity Position Paper, Number 106 (1999).

Bauckham, R. The Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2004).

Goheen, M.W.  ‘A Critical Examination of David Bosch’s Missional Reading of Luke’ in C.G. Bartholomew, J.B. Green and A.C. Thiselton (eds.), Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), pp.229-264.

Hunsberger, G. ‘Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation‘, Gospel and Our Culture Newsletter eSeries, 2 (January 2009). Subsequently published as G. ‘Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation’, Missiology, 39:3 (July 2011).

Wright, C.J.H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006).

Wright, C.J.H. Truth with a Mission: Reading All Scripture MissiologicallySouthern Baptist Journal of Theology, 15.2 (2011), pp.4-15.

Tomorrow we turn our attention to Dan Beeby, James Brownson, Michael Goheen and Darrell Guder.

Free access to Richard Bauckham on Mission as Hermeneutic for Scriptural Interpretation

Noted New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham has written two important works on the Bible and Mission. The most developed is his 2003 book Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, which I posted about last week: Mission by way of the least in Luke. But prior to this he wrote a short essay entitled ‘Mission as Hermeneutic for Scriptural Interpretation‘, which he has made available on his website, along with a number of other Accessible lectures and essays.

The 1999 essay was presented in Cambridge as a Currents in World Christianity Position Paper. There are some very interesting points, which he expands on in the later book. I ask my students on the Reading the Bible Missionally module of Redcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission to read both. At some points he differs from people such as Chris Wright, though at others he compliments them well.

Here are a couple of quotes to give you a flavour:

The title that was suggested to me for this lecture could be read in at least two ways, which are certainly not mutually exclusive. One could take it to mean that the church’s practice of mission is a form of scriptural interpretation. The Bible is the sort of text that calls for interpretation not only by means of more text but also by the practice of what it preaches. Could anyone really understand what it means to love enemies without doing it, or at least seeing it done? That the church’s mission in and to the world is the practice of the biblical text in which the text is constantly being interpreted is important, and we shall return to it at the end of the lecture. But it depends, I think, on the other possible meaning of my title. In this case the title refers to a missionary hermeneutic of Scripture, in other words a way of reading the Bible for which mission is the hermeneutical key, much as, for example, liberation is the hermeneutical key for the way of reading the Bible that liberation theology advocates. A missionary hermeneutic of this kind would not be simply a study of the theme of mission in the biblical writings, but a way of reading the whole of Scripture with mission as its central interest and goal. Of course, such a missionary hermeneutic could and should only be one way of reading Scripture among others, since mission itself is not the comprehensive subject of the whole Bible. But a missionary hermeneutic would be a way of reading Scripture which sought to understand what the church’s mission really is in the world as Scripture depicts it and thereby to inspire and to inform the church’s missionary praxis. Such a hermeneutic that reads the Bible with a view to mission should properly be developed in reciprocal relationship with the practice of mission as itself a practice of interpreting Scripture…

The biblical particularity of God’s own narrative identity is non-negotiable. But the effect of its encounter with other narratives is not uniform or predictable since they each have their own particularity. This is where the element of contextualization in a missionary hermeneutic is required. It is also the point at which missionary praxis turns out to be itself a necessary part of a missionary hermeneutic.

Mission MA module intensives at Redcliffe College this year

Redcliffe College MA programmesRedcliffe’s MA in Bible and Mission is one of a number of postgraduate Master’s degrees we are running here at the college. We also have programmes in:

MA in Global Leadership in Intercultural Contexts
MA in Global Issues in Contemporary Mission
MA in Intercultural Studies in Asian Contexts
MA in European Mission and Intercultural Christianity
MA in Member Care
MA in Sport and Christian Outreach (in conjunction with the University of Gloucestershire)

The modules for these MAs are taught in intensive bursts throughout the year. To give you a flavour of what’s on offer, here is a list of planned dates and modules. Check out the links on each course above to see which modules are available on which programmes.

7-10 Oct and 9-12 Dec 2011
Method and content in missiological study

18-20 Oct and 15-17 Nov 2011
Reading the Bible missionally
An introduction to global leadership
Intercultural Christianity and the European Regions
The greening of mission

7-9 Feb and 20-22 March 2012
Theology of religions
Prosperity theology and suffering
Organisational development and cultural change
Just mission – justice issues in intercultural contexts (subject to validation by University of Gloucestershire)

2-5 Mar and 11-14 May 2012
The mission of the Church in the context of post-colonialism and globalisation
Crucial Issues in European mission and theology
Crucial issues in Asian mission and theology

30 April – 18 May 2012 (Summer school)
Bible engagement in intercultural contexts
Method and content in missiological study
The greening of mission
Crucial Issues in European mission and theology
Crucial issues in Asian mission and theology
The mission worker as a person: Building life-skills and interpersonal skills
The member care worker: Equipping self and others

Bible Engagement and Oral Culture

International Orality NetworkIn a previous post I highlighted the Cape Town Commitment’s inclusion of the key issue of communicating the Bible in oral cultures.

The Bible and orality is a theme I will be returning to with more frequency, not least because over the Summer we will be preparing a new final year module as part of Redcliffe’s BA Degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts on ‘Story, Song and Social Networks: Bible Engagement and Oral Culture’.

As a helpful orientation here are a couple of excerpts from the website of the International Orality Network. The first gives a definition of their understanding of ‘oral learners’ or ‘oral communicators’. The second gives some statistics and facts.

Those of us who have tended to learn through literate means simply must get to grips with what this stuff means. Not only will it make our efforts to communicate the Bible more effective. I would argue it would also enrich our appreciation and understanding of the Bible immeasurably.


An oral learner or oral communicator is:

1. Someone who cannot read or write.

2. Someone whose most effective communication and learning format, style, or method is in accordance with oral formats, as contrasted to literate formats.

3. Someone who prefers to learn or process information by oral rather than written means. (These are literate people whose preferred communication style is oral rather than literate, even though they can read.)


Statistics and Facts

1. Over 4 Billion people in the world do not read as their primary method of learning – either they cannot read; they do not read; or they will not read.

2. The vast majority of missions work has been done for a literate audience. Unfortunately the vast majority of the true audience is therefore not able to connect with the Gospel.

3. Oral cultures are very relational – they share their lives with one another.

4. Most oral cultures will communicate with one another in narratives, dialogues and dramas, proverbs, songs, chants, and poetry. When asked what he thought about a new village school headmaster, a Central African replied “Let’s watch how he dances”

This leaves us with some serious questions to answer: how different would our missionary efforts look if we truly took the phenomenon of orality seriously? What could we learn that would apply to a (if I can use this term) ‘post-literate’ society? How much to I base my efforts to communicate on how I would understand something, as if my preferred learning style is objective?

Lots to chew over in the coming months. In the meantime, check out ION’s website

What do I do with what I’ve seen?

This is the content of a talk I gave this morning at Redcliffe Devotions/chapel. For context, many of our students have come back from their six-week placements.

What do I do with what I’ve seen?


‘So, how was your placement?’
This is the dreaded question many of you will be wrestling with over the next week as you write your block placement reports. It’s a simple enough question, isn’t it? Well, maybe not – simple to ask but hard to answer; how do I make sense of all those experiences?
How do I even begin to process it all?

The question I want to explore together this morning is this: What do I do with what I’ve seen?

This is relevant to placements but essential to any time of ministry, given that trying to follow Jesus in our broken world will involve times of intense joy, times of extreme pain, and an awful lot of days of nothing in particular. But each requires a response.

I want to share with you three brief reflections from the Bible on what to do with what you may have experienced on placement: What do I do when I’ve seen wonders?; What do I do when I’ve seen heartbreak?; What do I do when I’ve seen nothing?

When I’ve seen wonders – Luke 10:17-20

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (TNIV)

Earlier in the chapter Jesus had sent out these 72 of his followers on a kind of block placement. Perhaps you can relate to some of their experiences: they were going into some scary situations like lambs among wolves, they were dependent on the hospitality and generosity of others, they had to eat what was put in front of them!

Eventually they come back to Jesus and tell him about it; not through a 25 minute presentation or a 3,000 word assignment but a kind of excited report of the miracles they’ve witnessed.

Perhaps you witnessed or experienced things on placement you weren’t expecting. These seventy two weren’t necessarily expecting to be casting out demons so it came as a ‘joyful extra’. No wonder they were excited; in some way they had been participants in Jesus’ victory of satan, seeing something of the kingdom of God breaking in and taking charge!

Jesus’ response is to give them a lesson in perspective and priorities. The sick people they had seen healed (probably the context in which the exorcisms took place) will one day die.

What will last is that the disciples belong to God. Yes, take joy in seeing God at work now but have even more joy in knowing your name is written in the book of life.

When I’ve seen heartbreak – Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

Ecc. 4:1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.

2 And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.

3 But better than both
is the one who has not yet been,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun. (TNIV)

For some of you the abiding memory of your placement will be being confronted with some of the grinding poverty, abuse, suffering and hopelessness experienced by people living and dieing in our broken world.

For some you will read verses like this passage in Ecclesiastes and it will describe some of what you have seen. Just an overwhelming sense of grief.

I don’t propose to tell you how to fix this sadness in your soul if that is what you feel.

I do know that having our hearts broken makes us more able to understand the pain of our broken world; and maybe we are more able to follow Jesus if we are walking with a limp.

Henri Nouwen talked about being a ‘wounded healer’. Perhaps processing these uncomfortable aspects of the realities of the world means not an escape from them or a recovery from them straight away, but a dwelling with them for a while. Before launching into all the necessary action, perhaps for a time, like Job’s comforters, God is calling you just to sit amongst the ashes.

When I’ve seen nothing – 2 Tim. 4:6-8

2 Tim. 4:5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (TNIV)

Finally, moving in from the extremes we are left with the middle ground. Neither joy, nor pain; just routine.

One of the most valuable things we need to learn is ‘long obedience in the same direction’. Any guesses who might have come up with this wonderful phrase? It was Fredriech Nietzsche! He said, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is. . . that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

Eugene Peterson adopted the phrase to describe Christian discipleship (see his brilliant book on the Psalms of Ascents, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction).

Yes, there are days of excitement, of sorrow, of joy, of pain. But there are also stretches of nothing-much-ness; tedium; neither one thing nor the other. Even for Paul, he must have had many days where nothing particularly exciting happened, but he could still say at the end of his life that he had remained faithful throughout.

Maybe as you consider your placement your abiding memory will be staring at a computer screen, or taking out the rubbish for the 100th time. But in terms of character development, this is often where the action is. Who knows, without even realising it, your supposedly run of the mill experience of a placement might end up being pivotal in your development as a disciple of Jesus.


Finally, perhaps my original question was wrong. Perhaps it should not be

What do I do with what I’ve seen, but…

What do we do with what I’ve seen

The point of being in community is that my story becomes our story. My joys become our joys; my pain becomes our pain. Maybe even, my tedium becomes our tedium.

Whatever you have experienced on placement; whatever you have experienced this year at Redcliffe, you have the opportunity to work it out together. This is part of the ‘one-another’ing we reflected on earlier in the year.

As we meet in community groups or chat over meals, let us consider:

– how might the exciting times remind us to realign our joy perspective?
– how might we process pain together and be shaped by it?
– how might the in-between times shape our long obedience in the same direction?

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…

Redcliffe’s 2011 Lecture in Bible and Mission

Reading the Bible with the Global ChurchThis year’s Annual Lecture in Bible and Mission will be held on Wed 30 March, 7pm to 9pm. It is the key public event of the year for the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission, with previous speakers being Chris Wright on The Bible and Mission and Gordon Wenham on The Nations in the Psalms.

Our lecturer this year is Eddie Arthur, Executive Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators, who will be speaking on the subject, ‘Reading the Bible with the Global Church: Opening our eyes to see how God speaks worldwide’.

It is being put on in partnership with Bible Society, Wycliffe Bible Translators and Biblefresh.

Here are the details from Redcliffe’s website:

We all come to the Bible with our own perspectives, insights and blind spots, which is why reading it with others is vital. But often the groups we are part of come from similar cultural backgrounds. Are there things we could be missing?

Imagine being part of a Bible Study group made up of believers from Britain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso and Bulgaria. How might this open our eyes to read God’s Word afresh?
At this year’s lecture in Bible and Mission Eddie Arthur will explore what it means to read the Bible alongside believers around the world. There will also be discussion groups led by church leaders to unpack what this might look like in a local congregation context.

About Eddie Arthur
Eddie Arthur is the Executive Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Previously he has worked as part of the translation team for the Kouya NewTestament in Ivory Coast and as the National Director for a Wycliffe partner organization in Ivory Coast and Mali. You can read more of Eddie’s thoughts on Bible translation and life on his website kouya.net, or follow him on Twitter @kouya

The evening is free, but prebooking is required.

To book
Please complete the online form or call 01452 308 097.

Please see our directions page for details on how to find us.


Suffice it to say that it should be an excellent evening! Eddie is a clear and deep thinker, a great communicator, and someone with a wealth of experience in the thinking and practice of Bible and mission.

More reflections to follow in the run up to the event…