Archive for the ‘Missional hermeneutic’ Category

Participation and Mission in Paul

Monday, December 12th, 2011

I am in the process of completing a book on participation and mission in Paul. Here is a draft of some paragraphs from the first chapter. I look forward to thoughts and comments.

The Mission of God
What is God up to in the world? What is the missio Dei, the mission of God?

For Paul the answer to that question is clear: to bring salvation to the world. The means of that salvation is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Israel’s Messiah, and the world’s true Lord. This is the gospel, the good news. The mode by which that salvation is conveyed to the world is the preaching of this good news both in word and in deed. And the mode by which that salvation is received is described best not merely as belief in the sense of intellectual assent but as participation in the sense of a comprehensive transformation of conviction, character, and communal affiliation. This is what it means to be “in Christ,” Paul’s most fundamental expression for this participatory life that is, in fact, salvation itself….

We need to examine a bit more closely the missio Dei. What is the nature of this salvation God seeks to bring to the world?

According to Paul, God is on a mission to liberate humanity—and indeed the entire cosmos—from the powers of Sin and Death. The fullness of this liberation is a future reality for which we may, and should, now confidently hope. In the present, however, God is already at work liberating humanity from Sin and Death, through the sin-defeating and life-giving death and resurrection of his Son, as a foretaste of the glorious future that is coming. God is therefore at work creating an international network of multicultural, socio-economically diverse communities (“churches”) that participate in this liberating, transformative reality and power now—even if incompletely and imperfectly. They worship the one true God, confess his Son Jesus as the one true Lord, and live in conformity to the self-giving divine love displayed on the cross by means of the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

Participation and Mission
The thesis of the book, in a nutshell, is this: that Paul expected the salvation of God to spread throughout the world not only by means of his own gospel ministry (and that of his close colleagues), but also by means of the participation of his converts in the various house churches. They were, in essence, to become the gospel, not merely playing a supportive role by praying for and underwriting Paul’s work, but participating in the advance of the gospel through proclamation, praxis, and persecution (i.e., suffering). In a word, through witness: witness in word, in deed, and in the unpleasant consequences that often attend faithful witness.

But my goal is not principally a historical argument. In fact, if that were the book’s primary goal it would have a quite different shape. Rather, my goal is theological and indeed missional. The burden of the book is to suggest that those of us who read Paul’s letters as Christian Scripture need also to participate in the advance of the gospel by becoming the gospel, in word, in deed, and—if we are faithful—in suffering.

Participation, in other words, is essential not only to salvation, ethics, and eschatology, as many students of Paul have noted, but also to mission. Indeed, to separate these aspects of Pauline theology and spirituality is to commit an egregious act of misinterpretation of the apostle, for all of these are inseparably knit together for him. To be in Christ is to be in mission; to participate in the gospel is to participate in the advance of the gospel.

Upcoming at the 2011 SBL

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Well, the annual SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) meeting is just around the corner, together with AAR and preceded by ETS and IBR. Inquiring minds may (or may not) want to know what I’ll be up to, so here are a few things, with boldfaced type indicating sessions in which I have an official role:

1. I will be present at the first session of the GOCN Missional Hermeneutics Forum (of which I am on the steering committee), with a great program on reading the parables missionally, including a response to the papers from my friend and parables-expert Klyne Snodgrass. This will take place on Saturday, Nov. 19 from 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM in Golden Gate 6 – Hilton Union Square.

2. I will also attend the first session of the Theological Hermeneutics of Christian Scripture group (which I chair), which will have a great session on Reading [the book of] Revelation as Christian Scripture on Sunday, Nov. 20, from 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM in room 3004 of the Convention Center.

3. Sunday, Nov. 20, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM in Golden Gate 8 – Hilton Union Square: A book review session on my book Reading Revelation Responsibly, sponsored by the GOCN Missional Hermeneutics Forum. This should be very fun and interesting, with responses from missiologist Darrell Guder of Princeton Theological Seminary, theologian John R. Franke, and NT scholars Jim Brownson of Western Theological Seminary and Sylvia Keesmaat of Trinity College in Toronto.

4. Monday, Nov. 21, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM in Golden Gate A – Marriott Marquis: Theological Hermeneutics of Christian Scripture Group session on “Theological Interpretation and Jesus-Studies.” This session will explore the significance of two recent attempts at identifying Jesus: Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Richard B. Hays, eds., Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (Eerdmans, 2008); and Darrell L. Bock and Robert L. Webb, eds., Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence (Eerdmans, 2010).

I will be presiding, with reviews from Michael Bird of Crossway College, Amy Plantinga Pauw of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Murray Rae of the University of Otago, Panelist, and Rob Wall of Seattle Pacific University. Respondents will be the editors of the two volumes.

In addition to these sessions, I hope to hear my former Duke doctoral student Presian Burroughs give a paper on Romans 8 on Saturday morning at the Ecological Hermeneutics session, and I hope to attend the various sessions of the 2 Corinthians unit, in part because they look great and in part because I am now preparing to write my Two Horizons commentary on that letter.

Most importantly, I look forward to meeting up with old friends and with publishers. Oh–and it won’t be bad to be in San Francisco!

See some of you there!

A Missional Paradigm for the Resurrection

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Over at Frederik Mulder’s blog, NT scholar Johnson Thomaskutty from India (also host of NT Scholarship Worldwide on FB) has some significant things to say about the resurrection as of Jesus as paradigm for mission. Among his comments:

The significance of the resurrection of Jesus in my Indian context is multi-faceted. When I’m talking about the resurrection of Jesus in our multi-religious, multi-cultural and pluralistic culture of India, I have to re-interpret the significance of Christ’s resurrection for our diverse communities. The salvific significance of Christ’s work on the cross, and his resurrection should first and foremost be taught and proclaimed, as the good news of salvation for the various religious and ethnic communities. As a second order to this, when I am witnessing Christ for instance to the Dalits, Tribals and the Adivasis (the poor and marginalized, also called the dust of the dust), I use Christ’s resurrection as a model for liberation out of the clutches of oppression and dehumanization. As Christ was humiliated on the cross, and was raised by the Father from the grave, so also, Christian mission should focus on the upliftment of the oppressed out of the bondages of poverty, casteism, sin and injustice.

Resurrection is therefore a unique missional paradigm, comprising the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection, its salvific significance as well as its social implications.

Paul and the Missio Dei

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

My brief article called “Missional Musings on Paul” is out in the newest issue of the magazine for seminarians called Catalyst.

In the same issue is a fine survey of recent work on Scripture and ethics by Nijay Gupta.

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.

SBL-Bound

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Tomorrow I leave for the 2010 SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) meeting in Atlanta. This is always a great time of seeing old friends, meeting new people, hearing interesting papers, seeing (and often buying) new books, meeting with publishers and potential publishers, etc. Atlanta is not my favorite place for a conference; the downtown area is unexciting compared to, say, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Francisco, or Boston. As I said to a good friend yesterday, Atlanta is a nice place to live but not such a great place to visit.

The conference will be good, however. N.T. Wright holds forth on justification, with respondents, tomorrow evening for the IBR (Institute for Biblical Research). I will chair a session on historical criticism and theological interpretation Saturday morning, featuring three fine papers, including one by Joel Green. Then I will attend the section on missional hermeneutics, focusing on exile, early Saturday afternoon. (I’m on the steering committee of both these groups, and I highly recommend both sessions.) After that, I’m not sure, except for the other session for the theological interpretation of Christian Scripture group. There’s an excellent buffet from which to choose!

Brief reports to come later.

Come Out of Her (Rev 18:4) and Mission

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

In my forthcoming (fall 2010) Cascade book Reading Revelation Responsibly, I argue that Revelation has a missional spirituality. This may surprise some people, so here’s a foretaste of the argument:

The notion of a missional spirituality may seem odd at first, especially as a characterization of the NT book that says, “Come out of her [Babylon], my people” (18:4). That would seem to end any conversation about mission before it even begins. But it does not.

“Come out” is not a summons to escape, and the spirituality of Revelation is not an escapist spirituality. The withdrawal is not so much a physical exodus as a theopolitical one, an escape from civil religion and the idolatry of power-worship. It is a creative, self-imposed but Spirit-enabled departure from certain values and practices, which may entail, for some, a geographical move as well. (I am thinking here of the New Monasticism and its commitment to moving into places “abandoned by Empire.”) It is the necessary prerequisite to faithful living in the very Babylon from which one has escaped. That is, the church cannot be the church in Babylon until it is the church out of Babylon….

It is important therefore to stress that Revelation does not call for the wholesale rejection of culture and of engagement with the world; it calls for discernment. It is one thing, in other words, to live in an empire or superpower, to live in the shadow of the beast, trying to avoid participating in the evils of idolatry while bearing witness to another empire, the kingdom of God, and thereby working for the good of the world as salt and light. It is quite another to endorse that empire—or any culture—unconditionally, or to sacralize it. Yet that is what many Christians and churches have done; they have baptized their culture and/or country into the name of the triune god of political, economic, and military power, wrongly thinking that this is the power of God.

The eternal gospel of the slaughtered Lamb unveils the fallacious nature of this undiscerning baptism. But because civil religion in the West borrows heavily from the symbols and texts of Christian faith, it is nearly impossible for many Christians and churches to recognize the problem before us. Syncretism is a very powerful, very subtle device. (See previous post, too.)

Thus the vision needed for discernment does not make Christian faith anti-Rome, anti-American, or anti-culture in some general, all-encompassing sense. Rather, it calls us to rely on the discerning Spirit to distinguish the good (and the neutral) from the bad in order to remain in the world (Babylon) but not of it. Then the church’s mission can go forward in faith—and in faithfulness.

Philippians 2 and the Story we tell this Sunday

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

As we approach Palm/Passion Sunday, I want to offer some reflections on Philippians 2 from my forthcoming article on this text, which is called “The Apologetic and Missional Impulse of Phil 2:6-11 in the Context of the Letter.” Philippians 2:5(6)-11 is the epistle reading in the lectionary for this Sunday. Non-lectionary-based churches should feel free to use it, too!

I would like to reflect directly, theologically and missionally, on our own context for reading Phil 2:6-11. I have suggested that it is the church’s master story that it recites in some form, as creed or poem or hymn, when it gathers for worship. The story’s immediate context suggests that the story it tells is inextricably connected both to its larger life together as koin?nia in the Spirit (2:1-4) and to its mission in the world (2:12-16).

Thus to recite the story liturgically is to remember the narrative shape of the One who, by the power of the Spirit, lives among us (and within whom we live) to form and re-form us into his image such that our individual and corporate narratives more faithfully resemble his. Worship of this God as Father, Son, and Spirit is therefore an exercise in spiritual formation for faithful living—for ethics and mission, if you will.

Part of that worship—its high point if we follow the trajectory of the story—is confessing “Jesus is Lord.” To confess Jesus as Lord, to the glory of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Spirit is relatively easy to do in the safety of a community of the like-minded. But as a group of Christians makes this confession week in and week out, or (better) day in and day out, and as it keeps that confession connected to the larger story, it becomes empowered to live and proclaim that story faithfully outside of its own walls.

Here the insights of Aristotle and Thomas on virtue are worth considering. We become what we practice. Our liturgical habits make it possible, or not, to live and tell the story faithfully, even naturally, over time. Churches that dispense with the telling of the story, perhaps in the interest of sensitivity to “seekers,” will eventually have nothing identifiably Christian to say, either to themselves or to those seekers. But since everyone, and every community, needs a master story, a new one will fill the void, and the new master story will carry with it a new, and most likely alien, ethic and mission. The final consequence of this creedal amnesia will be that the church has nothing left to live for or, if necessary, to die for, that faithfully embodies the story of Jesus. (Parenthetically, this same consequence is likely for those with sacramental amnesia, though we learn that from the Corinthians [1 Cor 11:17-34] rather than the Philippians.) The church will, instead, call on its children to live and die (and even kill) for some allegedly noble cause, almost certainly one that is ethnic or nationalistic in nature. It will have come, thereby, full circle, reaping the whirlwind of its fear of confession. By neglecting the story and confession of Jesus as universal Lord, the Lord who rules as Suffering Servant, the church will substitute the universal Lord for a tribal deity and the Suffering Servant for a conquering king. Sadly, this has too often been the pattern of the church throughout its history, especially in its mission.

I would submit that the intrusion of an alien master story, and the ongoing re-conversion of the church to that pseudo-gospel, is the greatest and most persistent sin of the church, at least in the United States, today. From presidential claims, both Democrat and Republican, that the United States is the light of the world and the hope for human freedom, to the language of “mission” that permeates military discourse, to talk of “redemptive violence,” to the incorporation of nationalistic holidays and devotion into the liturgical life of the church, the church is constantly bombarded with temptations to honor an alien Lord with an alien mission in the world.

By telling and re-telling the church’s true master story, however, the church is empowered to cast off this alien master story and is prepared to live the story missionally and faithfully.

Wouldn’t Palm/Passion Sunday take on new meaning if we really understood, preached, and lived Philippians 2 as our master story and—most importantly—allowed it to challenge those alien master stories that seek to replace it?

Reflections on InterVaristy’s “Urbana”

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

There is a fine post by Nick Liao over at Duke Divinity’s Faith and Leadership blog on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s triennial conference on Christian mission that just ended. “Urbana,” as it is called (named for its location at the University of Illinois until it moved, this year, to St. Louis), has had a profound effect on many young Christian leaders, including some of my friends as well as my own children and their friends and spouses.

Nick works for IVPress, but I think his piece is a fair and helpful analysis of what IVCF is up to these days—all very positive in my view.

Another Voice on Missional Interpretation

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Over at Sets ‘n’ Service Tony Stiff has a downloadable pdf file that is a nice synthesis of his interaction with a number of voices in the area of missional interpretation, with some of Tony’s own insights as well.

Tony also has some recent posts of video-interviews with my office-next-door neighbor at Duke, Jeremy Begbie (on theology and the arts—with Jeremy at the piano) and with the late Henri Nouwen. Tony’s blog is worth following.


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