Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What is a missional hermeneutic? (The Mission of God, Wright)

Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation.  It provides a map that guides the reader to a meaning of a text.  All maps aim to simplify and represent reality, and there will necessarily be limitations in any map.  But a good map is essential if you want to accurately understand where you are and where you are going.

In The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative, Chris Wright demonstrates how a “missional hermeneutic” is a map that approaches the whole Bible from the perspective of mission.  This is the perspective which enables us to grasp the driving dynamic of the Bible’s grand narrative. 

According to Wright, it is not enough to recognize the Christological focus of the Bible.  (And also not enough to recognize the plain, historical, and grammatical hermeneutic.)  Of course Jesus is the central interpretative key by which we understand the overall significance of the Old and New Testaments, but we must also recognize the missiological focus of the Bible because God in Christ is on a mission.

A key text in biblical hermeneutics says, “Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations”” (Luke 24:45-47). Wright comments that Jesus “seems to be saying that the whole of Scripture… finds its focus and fulfillment both in the life and death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah, and in the mission to the nations, which flows out from that event… he was setting their hermeneutical orientation and agenda. The proper way for disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus to read their Scriptures, is messianically and missionally” (30).

Here’s the point- it is fundamentally inaccurate to attempt to find a biblical basis for mission.  Let that sink in for a bit…!  Instead, it is more appropriate to speak of a missiological basis for the Bible.  “The whole Bible itself is a missional phenomenon” (22).  The Bible is a product of the mission of God and thus guides and empowers his people to their participation in his mission.  Mission is what the Bible is all about.  This perspective brings clarity and richness to its story.  For me, re-reading the Bible in light of the missional hermeneutic has been fun and enlightening.

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