February 20, 2017

Missional Hermeneutic


Note: Before reading this, you might want to start here and here.

Sorry for the delay of getting back to this series. Yet, before I get too far, let me offer a point of clarification regarding my last post in this series. Some readers asked what I was getting at with the whole mega-church and consumerism idea. Fair point. I didn't do that good of a job explaining my point.

What I was hoping to say was that consumerism has contributed to the success of models of western church that acquiesce to the consumer sensibility. This is not a direct indictment of mega-churches as much as a cultural observation. These churches are not numerically successful because they are more orthodox. They are numerically successful because they know how to cater to the consumer. This is not, of itself, a bad thing but it does require a sober awareness of the flaws and weaknesses (as Willow Creek bravely proved possible some years ago).

Okay, moving on.

I wrote in my last post on the subject that the argument for a missional church came about through a reading of Scripture with a particular lens. In his brief, yet dense book, Bible and Mission, Richard Bauckham argues that the Bible ought to act as a metanarrative for the Christian. In other words, the Bible offers a particular view of how the world works. As I said before, these theologians have argued that what they have derived from Scripture is that it is primarily the story of who God is and what God is doing. Along the way, God's people are invited into God's activity.

If Scripture is a comprehensive (though not always so cohesive as some would argue) drama or story than Christopher Wright argued that there are certain characters and particular stage.

God and God's people are the characters.

The context of each reading is the stage.

I would go one step further based on my reading of Walter Brueggemann and offer that there is a third character.

The third character in every reading is the other.

Brueggemann argued that in any reading of Scripture there are always three "scenes" (and these are the scenes of any great drama, to be honest).

Scene one is of conflict and victory.

Scene two is announcement of this victory.

Scene three is response to the announcement.

Three characters. One stage. Three scenes.

Let's try to summarize. The entirety of Scripture conveys a story of God's mission of reconciliation. The mission, which ultimately believed to be victorious, experiences small "wins" along the way. Which means that this mission is in conflict with other missions or agendas. Some are witness to this and they are invited to share the good news of these victories with others. But this brings us to a critical yet often missed piece--the kicker, if you will: someone is always invited to respond to the announcement of this good news. In other words, without another in our midst, an other that is invited to also enter into the story ... it lies fallow. The mission, and the message of this mission, is always intended to provide a doorway for the outsider to become an insider. Without it, it is another story. Not this story.

A word about the first scene of conflict. I am convinced that this is a primary element of reading Scripture with a missional lens. I imagine that some that have taken on the term "missional" have done so simply with the intention to use it as a replacement for "evangelism" or cultural relevance. If so, the idea of conflict might be disagreeable. I would then argue to go use another term. It's important to remember that the seminal work on this subject, Missional Church had as advisers to the contributing authors John Howard Yoder, Justo Gonzales and Stanley Hauerwas; theologians that represented Anabaptist and liberation theologies. These are theologies that are rooted in a contrasting narrative, a presumed conflict with other metanarratives. In their reading of the Bible, the architects of missional theology understood it to be a contrast to popular worldviews. As they saw it, the missional church would not seek to impose or acquiesce to culture. It would exist in contrast to the popular (or dominant) culture. 

A word about the "other." Read from cover to cover, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) are headed in a particular direction. That is to say that all the authors, over various times and places, that wrote the books compiled into what would become the Bible point towards a shared mission. This is not only a holistic biblical interpretation, it is a traditional and historical interpretation. The canon, compiled as it is, conveys an integrated vision even when considering the contextual conflicts. If a missional hermeneutic implies that God is on a mission to be reconciled with all people, all of creation then there is always someone(s) to whom the news of victory over other metanarratives is good news. If our conception of God's people is static than it is unlikely that it is missional. Again, go use another term. A missional hermeneutic implies that there is always a "listener," a "hearer," someone within the context invited to respond.

Got to to stop here. Next time, we'll try this on for size with a couple passages.

Until then, some reading:

Bible and Mission by Richard Bauckham
The Mission of God's People by Christopher Wright
A Light to the Nations Michael Goheen