Missional Hermeneutics: Hunsberger’s Taxonomy

George Hunsberger of Western Theological Seminary and the Gospel and our Culture Network (GOCN) is a leading missiologist and an ardent advocate of the missional church and of a missional hermeneutic. Last year, in meetings that met at both AAR (the American Academy of Religion) and SBL (the Society of Biblical Literature), George proposed a taxonomy of four distinct (though not necessarily mutually exclusive) approaches to missional hermeneutics.

1. The missional direction of the story. The framework for biblical interpretation is the story it tells of the mission of God and the formation of a community sent to participate in it.

This approach focuses on the Bible as one story, the story of God’s salvation, the missio Dei. The Bible offers us the true metanarrative. This view is associated with the names Christopher Wright (The Mission of God), Grant LeMarquand, Michael Goheen, and Richard Baukcham (The Bible and Mission). It is also largely assumed by the other approaches that place the accent elsewhere.

2. The missional purpose of the writings. The aim of biblical interpretation is to fulfill the equipping purpose of the biblical writings.

This approach focuses not on the Bible as a whole but on the individual writings, arguing that their purpose was and is to equip, or at least to shape the identity of, the missional church/people of God. It is associated especially with Princeton missiologist Darrell Guder (stressing equipping) but is visible in the work of others, notably Jim Brownson, also of Western Seminary (stressing identity; Speaking the Truth in Love: New Testament Resources for a Missional Hermeneutic).

3. The missional locatedness of the readers. The approach required for a faithful reading of the Bible is from the missional location of the Christian community.

This approach focuses especially on the general vocation and the specific social location of the church (as opposed to the nature of the biblical text). It has been advocated especially by Michael Barram of St. Mary’s College (“The Bible, Mission, and Social Location: Toward a Missional Hermeneutic,” a 2007 Interpretation article). This approach stresses concrete contexts for interpretation and mission.

4. The missional engagement with cultures. The gospel functions as the interpretive matrix within which the received biblical tradition is brought into critical conversation with a particular human context.

This approach is associated especially with Jim Brownson and also Princeton’s Ross Wagner. For them, a missional hermeneutic means allowing the gospel of God’s salvation in Christ to shape the way in which we interpret the text in a particular cultural context, allowing the gospel to shape us and address our specific culture.

I think it is fair to say that in this taxonomy we have two approaches that stress the character and role of the text and two that stress the character and role of the interpretive community. I hardly think these are incompatible.

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3 Responses to “Missional Hermeneutics: Hunsberger’s Taxonomy”

  1. mshedden says:

    Dr. Gorman,
    I have admit this topic seemed distant from theology until I took classes with both Colin Greene and Wilbert Shenk. It would be interesting if you have time to see you interact with some of their thought. (Colin’s newest book is Metavista: Bible, Church and Mission in an Age of Imagination, and Shenk has a couple all from an Anabaptist perspective.)

  2. MJG says:


    Thanks. I am very sympathetic to an Anabaptist perspective and would like to look at their work. (I know Shenk’s work a bit.)

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