Streams of Missional Thought pt 1
This post is part of a series on the Bible as a missional text, to catch up see the intro post here.
*Groan* – “Please don’t tell me you’re going to write about missional thinking now.”
Calm down. I mean, I could – there’s plenty there – but actually we’re still on the missional scripture thing. What does it mean for scripture to be missional?
A while back, a gathering of theologians and practitioners considered this very topic (okay, yes, it happens fairly often, but I’m about to reference a particular one that occurred “a while back”…geez, you’re so nit-picky today.)
As discussions progressed and papers were presented, George Hunsberger noticed that they were falling into four basic streams – which he summarized, not as competing concepts, but rather as aspects of a collaborative whole.
Hunsberger suggested that the following are each important and should be viewed together, not as separate attempts at defining a missional hermeneutic (method of biblical interpretation).
Stream 1: The missional direction of the story
The Bible is the story “of the mission of God and the formation of a community sent to participate in it.” The Bible is one continuous story describing God’s ongoing mission in the midst of creation – and God’s creation of communities (specifically Israel and then the Church) to join in that mission. The mission isn’t just for the benefit of those communities. What makes it a missional story is that the work which was involved; the work we’re invited to join is God’s work for ALL creation.
And so Christopher Wright (a theologian who’s done some pretty amazing work in this area) says, “The whole Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation.”
This stream of thought understands the Bible as a missional text because the story it tells is that of God’s mission.
Stream 2: The missional purpose of the writings.
The Bible is not only a missional story, or a story about a missional character (God). The very purpose that Scripture seeks to fulfill is missional – the Bible seeks to cultivate missional people. So the Story is not just about God’s mission, but also plays an active role in God’s mission.
Darrell Guder is the one who has most forcefully made this case. “Jesus personally formed the first generation of Christians for his mission,” he argues. “After that, their testimony became the tool for continuing formation.” Thus, “the apostolic strategy of continuing formation of missional communities became the motivation of their writings.”
The New Testament writings have as their purpose to equip the churches for witness. This is particularly evident in the epistles. They “carry out this formation through direct engagement with the challenges arising out of the contexts of the addressed communities.” But it is no less true of the Gospels. They are about “the same fundamental task.” They invite the churches into “the process of discipleship that consists of their joining Jesus’ disciples and accompanying him through his earthly ministry on the path to the cross….In this preparation of disciples to be become apostles, missional formation is happening in the Gospels.”
Guder concludes that “The purpose of this ‘Word of God written’ was and is the continuing formation of the missional church…. This formation happens as the biblical word works powerfully within the community.” So the driving question this stream emphasizes as we read the scriptures becomes “How did this text equip and shape God’s people for their missional witness then, and how does it shape us today?” Or put another way, “how did this particular text continue the formation of witnessing communities then, and how does it do that today?”
So when we say the Bible is a missional text we’re not only saying that it describes something or someone that is missional, but it functions as part of God’s mission.
With these first two streams of thought we see that both the being and the doing of Scripture are missional in scope and orientation. The Bible itself is a missional text. So what about how we are to read this missional Bible? The next two streams consider the other side of the equation – us.