Archive for December 16th, 2010

A Pauline Missional Hermeneutic (1)

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

I was recently asked to write a short article on reading Paul missionally. Here’s an excerpt; the full piece will appear in a publication for seminarians called Catalyst.

In his very readable published dissertation, Mission and Moral Reflection in Paul (Peter Lang, 2006) Michael Barram (St. Mary’s College of California) argues that “mission” is not a discrete aspect of Paul’s work, such as evangelism and initial community formation, but a principal rubric for understanding the apostle’s entire vocation, including moral reflection and ongoing community nurturing. Paul’s letters are therefore “mission documents.” If Barram is right, as I think he is, then we need to read Paul’s letters in two ways: first, as witnesses to Paul’s understanding of God’s mission, his role in it, and the place of his congregations in it; and, second, as scriptural texts for our own missional identity, our contemporary vocational and ecclesial self-understanding and practices. Thus is born a Pauline missional hermeneutic.

In a Pauline missional hermeneutic, the guiding question is “How do we read Paul for what he says about the missio Dei and about our participation in it?” In other words, the issue before us is not primarily exegetical or historical, but hermeneutical. What is a Pauline letter? (a mission document). How are we to read it appropriately? (missionally). Older historical and exegetical questions—e.g., about how and whom Paul evangelized, and whether he expected his communities to do the same—are still relevant, but they will not be our primary concerns, and they are not ends in themselves. Rather, they are part of a larger discussion about Paul and mission. Together with all kinds of new questions that emerge from this enlarged understanding, they serve as a means to our own theological and missiological reflection.


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