Archive for the ‘Missional hermeneutic’ Category

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.

Theosis and Mission: The Conversation Continues

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Recently David Congdon, a Ph.D. candidate in systematic theology at my alma mater (Princeton Seminary) who has a fine theology blog called Fire and Rose, raised some excellent questions about my new book Inhabiting the Cruciform God. The questions were posed especially in light of my commitment to a missional hermeneutic. The ensuing conversation was buried in the comments of an earlier post, and I thought that it was sufficiently significant to create a new post repeating them. So here, with David’s permission, is that conversation. He and others of you are welcome to join in.

DWC = David
MJG = me

DWC:

This [the missional hermeneutics program on Philippians at SBL] looks excellent. I celebrate the rise of missional hermeneutics and I hope it gains a wide hearing.

But I have a question. I’m working on a review of your latest book, and while there is much that I like about it, I am unsettled by the total absence of mission from your exegesis. This is apparent in many places where you speak about the faithfulness, holiness, and cruciform love of the community—but you never once mention witness, proclamation, or mission. As far as I can tell, you never connect the sending of the Son by the Father with the sending of the community through Word and Spirit. For the most part, this wouldn’t be hard to fix: you could simply clarify that when you talk about faith, hope, and love you intend this to be inclusive of the community’s life of missional obedience.

The problem becomes especially apparent in the chapter on holiness. A lot of what you say here is excellent, except for the lack of mission. But this is key. You speak about holiness as cruciform and communal love for the other. Where is the act of proclamation and witness to the gospel? If holiness is defined by Christ, then holiness is not about being “set apart” from the world but about being “sent into the far country,” as Barth would put it. Holiness is precisely to be sent into the world, to be in concrete solidarity with the poor and persecuted. I don’t think you deny any of that, but the focus on holy sex and holy politics makes it seem like holiness is something that can be accomplished “internally,” so to speak. I would rather define holiness in terms of our “going out,” our centrifugal activity as a community of faith.

Another important issue has to do with ontology and what constitutes the being of the community. And here is where I think the lack of mission connects with your thesis on theosis. The lack of any discussion of ontology is maybe the one thing most missing from the book, and it’s almost a death-blow to your main thesis—in part because theosis has always implied some kind of ontology, and you can have ontological participation in God without theosis (see Barth). But that aside, the question is whether there is any “gap” between being and act in your ecclesiology, which is then a question of whether there is a “gap” between being and act in your doctrine of God. Missional theology defines God’s being in terms of mission (act), and the same goes for ecclesiology. I feel like, in your book, you come up to the point of saying that the being of the church is in act, but you never actually say it. You say that the obedience of faith is “inherently a participation in the being . . . of God” (p. 93), but you don’t make the crucial reverse move: that participation in God is inherently (and we ought to add, solely) our obedience of faith. Your account needs an actualistic ontology in order to be suitable for a missional hermeneutic. Otherwise there is a substance that participates in God apart from mission. I don’t think you want that, but it isn’t explicitly clear in the text.

All in all, though, it’s a fine book. But the lack of mission is conspicuous and troubling.

MJG:

David, I appreciate much of what you say, and I admit that much of my thinking on missional hermeneutics is developing—literally—day by day. But I think you may have missed some of the at least implicit (and even explicit) missional language in the book. I will try to write more about this when it’s not 1 a.m., but the most important dimensions would be (1) the inseparability of the vertical and horizontal in justification, with the stress on justice (chap. 2) and (2) nonviolence, which is of course about being and action vis-à-vis the world constituted as real or potential enemy.

Furthermore, even in the chapter on holiness, I speak of participation and theosis as other-centered love, and I do not restrict that to the Christian community. Is that not missional? And is not “holy politics” outwardly oriented? See especially p. 128.

As for ontology, I hope I make it clear that being and act in God are inseparable (chap. 1) and therefore at least imply the same for the church and ecclesiology.

I think there is more centrifugal movement in the book than you have noted, and I would hope you could look again before publishing the review!

Oh—one other thing. Please remember that as a sequence to Cruciformity, this book is taking a rhetorical stab at scholarship that divides participation in Christ from participation in God, and at piety that divides faith from obedience.

I am grateful for you compliments and critique.

MJG:

Two other quick thoughts, David.
1. As you probably noted, Richard Hays blurbed the book, concluding his endorsement with the words “Gorman’s book points the way forward for understanding the nonviolent, world-transforming character of Paul’s gospel.” If the missional dimension is really conspicuously absent, then Richard completely misread the book. But I don’t think so. On the other hand, his phrase “points the way forward” suggests that a direction has been set yet there is more work to do, and I indicate as much in the book’s introduction.

2. When I speak about theosis and/or participation, I am understanding those terms narratively, as the book’s subtitle conveys. Again, there is much more to say, but it seems to me that a narrative approach to Pauline soteriology (which I think is absolutely essential to understanding Paul) is inherently missional. Or, in the words of Brian Blount quoted in chap. 2, justification is “kinetic.”

DWC:

Thanks for the responses. I certainly recognize everything you’ve said. And I am in complete agreement with you on basically all of these points, esp. the issue of politics and justice. But I think a properly missional theology has to recognize that our political witness cannot be divorced from the ecclesial act of witness to Jesus Christ. Of course, our political witness is itself an act of witness, but the language of witness and proclamation and discipleship is, from what I can tell, wholly absent from the book. There is also no language of the church “being sent.”

I have an essay in the Journal of Theological Interpretation (2.2, 2008) on the Trinitarian shape of faith in Galatians. I make the missiological element central. I think you’ll find a lot to agree with, especially since I too stress the participatory element.

I do have other critiques on the theosis issue, but that’s separate from the question of mission. I’m happy to discuss those issues as well.

DWC:

Most of my critiques of your book can all be found in some form on p. 93, and I’d like to quote one section that demonstrates the conspicuous lack of mission:

“For Paul theosis takes place in the person and especially the community that is in Christ and within whom/within which Christ resides, as his Spirit molds and shapes the individual and community into the cruciform image of Christ. But this process of transformation takes some human cooperation, including especially contemplation of the exalted crucified One (2 Cor. 3:18). For Paul, this is not merely a form of ancient, perhaps vacuous, mysticism, but a sustained reflection on, and identification with, the narrative pattern of Christ crucified and of its paradoxical power to bring life out of death (2 Cor. 4:7-12), all enabled by God himself at work in the individual and community (Phil. 2:12-13). This sustained reflection and identification begin in the public act of faith and baptism and continue throughout one’s life in Christ …”

Setting aside the issue of cooperation which raises problems regarding the relation between divine and human agency, the biggest concern for me is how you define the process of transformation. The words you use are “contemplation of,” “reflection on,” and “identification with.” While I know you want to define these acts in terms of our active life in the world, what is implied here is that we are transformed first through an inner process of contemplation and reflection which then (and only then) plays itself out in a life of obedience and love in the world. There is an implicit separation here between our vertical participation and our horizontal obedience, despite your rejection of this separation. The fact that you even have to say that this isn’t “merely” mysticism is telling. Furthermore, the lack of mission is all too apparent.

I think you should have dropped the language of cooperation (without heavy qualification), and then replaced the language of contemplation with something like: our identification with the crucified Christ is actualized in our active witness and correspondence to his life of faithful obedience to the Father through the Spirit.

MJG:

David,

Thanks for the ongoing critique. I think, however, that mission is implicit in your quote from p. 93, though it could have, and indeed should have, been more explicit. I cannot avoid the “contemplative” character of a text like 2 Cor 3, although for Paul and his communities this contemplation is embodied in cruciform personal and communal public existence. I am afraid that perhaps you go too far in neglecting the aspects of Paul’s thought and experience that might be called mystical (e.g. revelations and visits to heaven) and doxological (hymns, worship). These are for Paul foundational to and formative of the practices in the world that you term “faithful obedience.” Paul sees Jesus as the true glory of the true God and worships him as such, inviting others to do the same and then (using your words) actualizing that reality and its inseparable narrative in the world. To use contemporary terms, there is a difference between contemplation/worship and action (vertical and horizontal) though they are inseparable; this is spiritually and doxologically based witness/mission.

My mistake on 93 was to stop at Phil 2:13 instead of going on to the following verses that imply a mission in the world (though the tone of my sentences suggests that). I certainly also could have/should have been more explicit about the church’s task of proclamation, but to say that the call to discipleship, and the content of discipleship, are missing from this book is a puzzle to me.

I hope that my SBL paper on Phil 2 will make more explicit what was sometimes only implicit (not missing) in the book.

DWC:

Just to note one more example: there is no discussion of 1 Cor. 9:19-23 anywhere in the book. You cite v. 19 in reference to Paul’s “enslavement” as an example of a Christlikeness (p. 23), but you nowhere connect this self-enslavement to Paul’s life of witness to the Gentiles, his pursuit of becoming all things to all people in order to “win” them to Christ, the translation of the gospel to other cultures, and other such missional themes.

This is what I mean by the lack of discipleship, even though you are right that discipleship as such is not missing. The book is all about “being a disciple,” but I don’t see anything about “making disciples.”

MJG:

David,

Thanks again for your input. Four quick points:

1. You are correct that the book is primarily about being a disciple, not making disciples. But I would argue that that my focus is primarily what Paul’s letters are about, and my task in writing this book is to interpret the theology, etc. found in those letters.

2. The debate is quite vigorous at the moment about whether Paul expected his communities to evangelize (however that is defined); I think he did expect them to do so, and I think they did (this will come out in my SBL paper)–but the word evangelize needs to be carefully defined. In any event, the task of making disciples (in the sense of converts) is not Paul’s primary focus in the letters, and therefore not in my book.

3. It is important to note that this book, as the Introduction states quite clearly, is a sequel to my 2001 book Cruciformity, which is closer to a full-blown Pauline theology. Inhabiting in many ways presumes and builds upon Cruciformity, where lots of topics and texts not covered in Inhabiting are treated. Among these is 1 Cor 9:19-23, which figures quite prominently in Cruciformity. I treat Paul’s narrative missional posture and activity in that book, and I also have a discussion of “The Missionary Character of the Colony” (363-66) in my chapter on the church.

4. Having said all that, I will be the first to admit that both I and the majority of Pauline scholars have a LONG way to go in reading Paul’s letters missionally. Let’s hope that this conversation contributes to that enterprise. I have written elsewhere that “theological interpretation” is insufficient if it does not lead to missional interpretation and thus mission. I very much appreciate your excellent JTI article on Galatians, which I have read on two occasions. It’s good to have a systematic theologian working so closely with the text of Paul and pushing all of us in good directions.

DWC:

That’s very helpful; thanks. Let me just state for the record that your book is really an excellent work that I have far more praise for than criticism. Thanks for engaging my questions so thoughtfully and kindly.

MJG:

Let the conversation continue and the conversation partners multiply!


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