The Insufficiency of Theological Interpretation

Now that I’ve got everyone’s attention, what do I mean by the claim implied in this title?

I have just come back from two+ weeks of teaching, lecturing, and preaching in Cameroon. It is a poor, underdeveloped country where school-age children seldom have school books and seminarians (at least the ones I met) NEVER have course texts, not even for their required Hebrew and Greek courses.

Two weeks is not much time, but it was sufficient to confirm for me the insufficiency of theological interpretation, at least as it is sometimes defined and practiced. It is possible for theological interpretation to get stuck in the nexus of Scripture and theology without reference to the mission of the church, or better the missio Dei. I have made similar comments before, both in academic papers and in print, but now I know why I said what I said. The experience in Cameroon made it crystal-clear to me that the truest form of theological interpretation is interpretation that operates with a missional hermeneutic.

I have spelled out what this means in embryomic form in the revised edition of Elements of Biblical Exegesis, and I will be referring to that work, to others making similar proposals, and to my Cameroonian experience in the days to come on this blog.

10 Responses to “The Insufficiency of Theological Interpretation”

  1. I can’t wait to hear more! I have recently been pondering, specifically, what it would mean for a missional reading of the NT to follow your lead in saying that Phil 2 is Paul’s “master story”. Is the master story a missional story? If so, in what sense, and what should the impact be for how we read the rest of his letters?

    As I said, I can’t wait to hear what you have to say on this.

  2. I completely agree. Uniting theological interpretation with a missional hermeneutics is something I am personally engaged in. If you’re interested, I have an essay in the Journal of Theological Interpretation in which I attempt to integrate a missional hermeneutics into a theological interpretation of Galatians.

    Here’s the biblio info: “The Trinitarian Shape of Pistis: A Theological Interpretation of Galatians,” JTI 2, no. 2 (2008): 231-58.

  3. Angela says:

    I too, agree. I am looking forward to seeing the specific experiences in Cameroonian, which shaped your missional hermeneutic development. Doubly as eager to see how the framework of those experiences are infused into a missional hermeneutic understanding. I will have your Elements of Biblical Exegesis in hand. Thanks for the series.

  4. Thomas says:

    This does sound interesting as does David’s article. Any chance that it is available for download somewhere?

  5. MJG says:

    Thanks to all.
    Daniel–I have a paper on that exact topic in preparation, and it may be out in some form this fall.

    David–I skimmed your article whenit appeared and now will go back to it carefully. Thanks.

    Angela–Thanks. I hope you have the revised edition.

    Thomas–it may be at the JTI website.

  6. Angela says:

    Thank you-Ordering Feb. 2009.

  7. Paul Allen says:


    Just curious: would the seminary like some books mailed to them? If so, what sort would they want?

    I’m curious since I know of a small library that is unloading its collection and those books need a home…

    Paul Allen, Concordia Univ. Montreal, CANADA

  8. MJG says:


    Thanks for this. Can you send me some more info offline? My email address is on the “about” page. If the library were in French, it would be great.

    There is an organization in Indiana, Theological Book Network, that facilitates the movement of libraries like this to developing countries.


  9. Its true I agree with you, this is what we go through in most parts of Africa. We need a theology defined from the mission field not just from the high reams of academics. Will be waiting to read it.

    MA Student London School of Theology
    Pastor with Africa Inland Church Kenya
    Academic Dean Pwani Bible Institute.

  10. MJG says:


    Thanks for this comment. It is crucial for us to hear all voices, especially voices like yours.

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