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?

The Gospel and Cultural Diversity

Bible and Mission by Richard BauckhamDoes the presence of a single ‘grand narrative’ that is the biblical story reduce, flatten or fight against cultural diversity? Is it just another example of a totalising ideology that seeks to impose itself at the expense of particularity?

I believe the Bible answers these questions with a resounding, ‘no!’. I’ve posted before on what James Brownson calls the ‘irreducibly multi-cultural‘ mode of the presence of God (see The Multicultural Presence of God). But here is a nice quote from Richard Bauckham in his Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World. In it he suggests not only that the Bible does not flatten cultural diversity, but that it celebrates and requires it. Indeed, the biblical metanarrative confronts those competing stories (in our own day, globalisation being a dominant one) that would seek to totalise:

The biblical story is apt to clash with the global metanarratives of power, and… with local narratives that ape them. But this is not necessarily the case with all the local individual narratives it encounters. The biblical story is not, as the narrative of economic globalization has been called, a cultural tidal wave sweeping away all the wonderful diversity of human culture. Perhaps the miracle of tongues at Pentecost in Acts 2 is a symbol of this. It is a miracle that symbolically transcends the diversity of human languages: they no longer divide people or impede understanding, as they did at Babel. But this diversity of human language is not abolished. Everyone hears the gospel in their own language. The miracle was in one sense quite superfluous, since virtually everyone there could have understood Greek, Aramaic or Latin. There was no practical need for such profligate speaking in all kinds of local languages. But God reverses Babel in such a way as rather conspicuously to affirm human cultural diversity. When Paul states that in Christ there is no longer Jew, Greek, barbarian or Scythian (Colossians 3:11), what he denies is cultural privilege, not cultural diversity.

The biblical story is not only critical of other stories but also hospitable to other stories. On its way to the kingdom of God it does not abolish all other stories, but brings them all into relationship to itself and its way to the kingdom. It becomes the story of all stories, taking with it into the kingdom all that can be positively related to the God of Israel and Jesus. The presence of so many little stories within the biblical narrative, so many fragments and glimpses of other stories, within Scripture itself, is surely a sign and an earnest of that. The universal that is the kingdom of God is no dreary uniformity or oppressive denial of difference, but the milieu in which every particular reaches its true destiny in relation to the God who is the God of all because he is the God of Jesus.

It’s worth noting that talking about Pentecost as a ‘reversal’ of Babel is a complex and contested issue. Check out Wycliffe’s Eddie Arthur on Babel, Pentecost and the Blessing of Diversity to explore more.

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 by way of the least in Luke

Bible and Mission by Richard BauckhamIn Richard Bauckham’s excellent Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World he outlines four different ‘strands’ in the big story or metanarrative of the Bible, which illustrate the idea of movement in the Bible ‘From the One to the Many’:

(1) From Abraham to all the families of the earth
(2) From Israel to all the nations
(3) The king who rules from Zion to the ends of the earth
(4) To all by way of the least

I’ve been listening to Luke’s Gospel on my way home from work recently, which reminded me of this fourth strand (though, of course, each are important themes for Luke).

Here I just want to quote something Bauckham says about the theme, and then point out what this looks like in the early chapters of Luke:

This fourth of our thematic trajectories through the biblical story is a necessary reminder that the church’s mission cannot be indifferent to the inequalities and injustices of the world into which it is sent. The gospel does not come to each person only in terms of some abstracted generality of human nature, but in the realities and differences of their social and economic situations. It engages with the injustices of the world on its way to the kingdom of God. This means that as well as the outward movement of the church’s mission in geographical extension and numerical increase, there must also be this (in the Bible’s imagery) downward movement of solidarity with the people at the bottom of the social scale of importance and wealth. It is to these – the poorest, those with no power or influence, the wretched, the neglected – to whom God has given priority in the kingdom, not only for their own sake, but also for all the rest of us who can enter the kingdom only alongside them. (pp.53-54)

Consider the broken conditions into which the Gospel was announced and Jesus was born; a tiny pocket of a vast and domineering empire

Consider the barren couple to whom John the Baptist was born

Consider young, unmarried Mary

Consider the scorn and scandal

Consider the fragility of human life, of God becoming an embryo

Consider the future task of the baby in Mary’s song, to bring down rulers and raise the humble

Consider the early witnesses of Jesus: marginalised shepherds, frail but hopeful Simeon, and ancient Anna, who had known grief after only seven years of marriage.

When God became flesh he stepped into this broken world. But what Luke expertly portrays in what he says and in what he implies is the brokenness, fragility, grief and oppression endured and caused by real people in space and time.