A Taste of Missional Hermeneutics

The movement of the church in the 21st century will be marked by a hermeneutical adjustment. Rather than seeing itself as an organization founded on propositions that are based in Scripture, the 21st century church will see itself as a continuation of the story of God’s mission in the world, which had its beginning in the Bible. As the shift occurs, the church will more closely model the intention of the Holy Spirit. As Stephen Bevans says, “the way the Spirit calls this church into being is through mission.”

The Scriptures consistently communicate God’s mission. The Bible continues to use specific stories to tell a broader story of God’s mission of reconciling his creation. In other words, the micronarrative continually points toward the metanarrative. The strand begins at creation runs through the life of Jesus and continues today. A missional reading of Scripture places our micronarrative into the metanarrative. As Sandra Richter says, “The Bible is the saga of Yahweh and Adam, the prodigal son and his ever gracious heavenly father; humanity in their rebellion and God in his grace. This narrative begins with Eden and does not conclude until the New Jerusalem is firmly in place. It is all one story. And if you are a believer, it is all your story.”

The quote above is from Dr. Richter’s book The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament. It’s a very good, thorough handling of the Old Testament for all Christians. It would make great material for a small group that is really looking to dig deep.

Next, we’ll take a look at the Old Testament, including three micronarratives that point toward the metanarrative.

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Toward a Missional Hermeneutic

It’s hard to say when the study of mission began in earnest in modern western theology.  It’s clear, though, that about forty years ago, the study of mission was given a place in some theological academies.  Often, the study of mission was an appendage to practical theology (Christian practices) or ecclesiology (the study of the church).  In the most prominant situations, Schools of Missiology were opened.  For instance, the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission & Evangelism was opened in 1983.

As you can tell by the title, the ESJ School of WORLD Mission & Evangelism (and most other mission departments) focused exclusively on the study of international missions and the equipping of missionaries fro the west to go into the world.  This focus on sending out missionaries to pagan tribes in underdeveloped areas made sense in the Age of Christendom.  As Christianity loses its position as the dominant culture in the west, many are calling for missiology to take a greater priority in theological education.  The “missional church” movement is the result of this stream of thought.

As missiology gains influence, many are calling the broader theological world to understand mission as the basis for all of theology.  Since the Enlightenment, theology has been viewed through the lens of “truth.”  The argument is that if mission is a the heart of who God is then it should be at the heart of our theology.

One of the pieces of this assumption that is underdeveloped is a systematica way to read the Bible through the lens of mission, a missional hermeneutic.  Over the past decade, literature about a missional hermeneutic has been building.  Scholars, such as Michael Goheen and Richard Baukham, have been instrumental in biblical studies with a missional hermeneutic.

The definitive work on the missional hermeneutic is Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God.  This 581 page treatment provides an extensive explanation for the missional hermeneutic.  Wright suggests that the God’s purpose is implanted in the first verses of the Bible and that his mission is consistently at the heart of the biblical story.

In the coming days, I will cover a few of the basics of reading the Bible through a missional hermeneutic.  We’ll look at a few examples from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The challenge for us is to recognize that the faith of all Christians has been born out of this mission.  Therefore, understanding and lving out that mission is a faithful response to God’s work in our lives.