This post is part of a series on the Bible as a missional text, to catch up see the intro post here.
Then we have Genesis 38. Wow. If you aren’t familiar with this story…well, I’m not going to recap it here. Take a minute and read it yourself. Don’t worry, the post will still be here when you get back…
The story of Judah and Tamar is disturbing to begin with…but the conclusion? Judah basically says, “Oh, I see, I should have taken care of her. My bad.” Then the laugh track kicks in and we cut to commercial. (Or so it seems.) If this were on TV there would be Christian groups in an uproar demanding that it be removed – and for good reason.
Here we have Judah, son of Jacob – who was the twin brother of Esau. This is the same Jacob who robbed his brother Esau of his birthright and blessing. And Esau…well, his other name is Edom, as in the father of the Edomites…you guessed it, another enemy of Israel.
Judah’s mother was Leah, Jacob’s first wife – who he married because his uncle Laban (Leah’s father) was as deceptive as he was…and because he apparently wasn’t too concerned with confirming the identity of the person with whom he was crawling into bed.
Leah is actually presented in the narrative as a good person. Unfortunately, she is a good person trying unsuccessfully to get her husband to love her – a fact of which her children were undoubtedly aware. Judah’s father was deceptive, manipulative and not all that great with the whole concept of treating women (or people in general) very well…of course he learned a good deal of his deception from his mother Rebekah, but I digress.
So Judah probably had both Daddy and Mommy issues. So what? Guess who else had those same issues? Joseph.
Joseph’s mother was Rachel – Leah’s younger sister – the one that Jacob wanted to marry (and did eventually). My wife, whose name is also Rachel, was the first one to point out to me that the only really positive thing the narrative ever says about Rachel is that she was “lovely in form and beautiful.”
We certainly don’t get any indication that she was much of a role model for young Joseph. Being Daddy’s favorite – with 10 older brothers – didn’t help matters. Why bring all this up? Well, the thing about Judah and Tamar’s story in Genesis 38 is that it is preceded by Genesis 37 and followed by Genesis 39 (funny how that happens.)
Genesis 38 was an abrupt change of setting in the narrative. This isn’t Judah’s story, its Joseph’s. Chapter 37 ends with young Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. Then we all get grossed out, and hopefully enraged, with Judah’s actions (which ends with a birth story strangely reminiscent of good ole Poppa Jacob and his brother Esau…generational and system brokenness anyone?) But then we abruptly transition back to Joseph…imprisoned in Egypt (curse you Ham!).
And with what is Joseph, the prisoner, immediately faced? Well, sex of course… But not in the way you might think given that this is prison story. No, it’s a beautiful (married and powerful) woman throwing herself at him.
So, what does the brother of Judah, son of Jacob do? He runs away. His brother behaved awfully and had no immediate repercussions – though the people pay for it down the road. Joseph behaves nobly and it almost kills him – but it saves his people down the road.
The juxtaposition of these stories is not accidental. Again, these stories are part of a larger tapestry. Taking them out individually and dissecting them destroys them…as dissecting things tends to do.
When we talk about Scripture as a missional text, we are not saying that there is a missional principle at work in every individual piece of the narrative. However, when we step back and view the larger plotline we see that all along God is at work to reconcile creation and form his people into those who will join in this mission.
Words are words; a jumble of sounds to which we’ve collectively assigned meaning. The words themselves matter little. We talk about fancy words, bad words, loaded words. Words aren’t really any of those things. They are just sounds. But the meaning – the agreed upon usage – that’s a different story.
The word missional means little to me. It is a helpful point of reference in conversation. It is also popular, which means that it has a limited shelf life in our culture – its biological clock is ticking so to speak. But I still believe that the meaning assigned to this word missional is of great importance.
And I also believe that this word serves as an important reminder when used in conjunction with Scripture.
Perhaps I’m not the best one to answer the “who cares” question. I obviously care about this topic. I am committed to instilling this way of approaching Scripture in my boys, encouraging it among my faith community, teaching it in my courses and interactions in the Missional Wisdom Foundation. Its obvious that I have decided it is a topic worthy of consideration. But what say you? What do you see – or fail to see – of worth in this discussion?
How does this resonate within your own heart? What do we gain by approaching the Bible as a missional text? What do we lose? What does it matter?
This post is part of a series on the Bible as a missional text, to catch up see the intro post here.
In my last post I described 2 streams of thought – as distilled by George Hunsberger – that describe what we mean when we say the Bible is a missional text. These next two turn the perspective toward us – the readers. What does it mean for the missional orientation to inform our reading, and is that appropriate?
Probably an unnecessary spoiler, but… yes, it is appropriate.
Stream 3: The Bible is meant to be read BY a missional people
A missional perspective is the most appropriate posture for the Christian community to engage a faithful reading of the Bible. The text is intended to be received by – is addressed to – people who already understand themselves to have been called to join the mission of God…even if they aren’t always sure what the means.
The first two streams have looked at our hermeneutic (method of Biblical interpretation) from the perspective of the text’s work in describing a missional God and forming a missional people. This theme looks at the issue from the perspective of the missional people being formed.
A missional hermeneutic involves “an approach to the biblical text rooted in the basic conviction that God has a mission in the world and that we read Scripture as a community called into and caught up by those divine purposes.”
This is similar to the previous theme. The primary difference is that theme #2 refers to the way the Scriptures forms people and now we consider that we don’t read as just interested bystanders. We’re interested, yes, but as participants who have received and who share the calling that was being cultivated in the people we read about. We are in community with those who originally received these texts.
If that is the case, we “self-consciously, intentionally, and persistently bring to the biblical text a range of focused, critical, and located questions regarding church’s purpose in order to discern the faith community’s calling and task within the missio Dei.”
It is not just our right, but our responsibility as the missional community to read, ask hard questions, come to conclusions and move forward in faith. We are the interpreting community. We come to this text with questions that arise from living the message in our whole life. So, of course we must approach this as a missional text…because we’re a missional people, God is a missional God and this is the story of relationship between us.
Important questions for the interpreting community:
– Does our reading of the text challenge or baptize our assumptions and blind spots?
– How does the text help to clarify appropriate Christian behavior–not only in terms of conduct but also in terms of intentionality and motive?
– Does our reading emphasize the triumph of Christ’s resurrection to the exclusion of the kenotic (self-emptying), cruciform character of his ministry?
– In what ways does this text proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives, and how might our own social locations make it difficult to hear that news as good?
– Does our reading of this text acknowledge and confess our complicity and culpability in personal as well as structural sin?
– How does this text clarify what God is doing in our world, in our nation, in our cities, and in our neighborhoods–and how may we be called to be involved in those purposes?
Stream 4: The missional engagement with cultures.
The Bible itself (particularly the New Testament) provides us with a matrix for missionally engaging our own culture with the text of scripture…in other words, applying it directly to our context, drawing from our own metaphors, recognizing the uniqueness of this place and this time.
This one is probably the most challenging, but is also empowering and recognizes how we are equipped to do that to which we’ve been called. There are scores of passages throughout the Old Testament, but specifically in the New Testament, where the writers engage older texts and read them through the lens of Jesus and their present situation – sometimes changing the way the text was used in the first place!
Think about this: when they did so, the result of became part of the biblical tradition passed on to us. What happens in the New Testament, in other words, is a model for our own regular engagement of the gospel with our own culture today. This encounter is the stuff of the church’s calling and mission.
Now to be very clear: that doesn’t mean we have license to take passages and make them mean whatever we need them to at the moment – there’s been quite enough of that already!
“As told to us in the New Testament, the gospel exhibits these structural features: It summons to allegiance and decision. (It makes a claim.) It presupposes a public horizon and universal scope. (It presents itself as world news.) It regards death and resurrection as paradigmatic. (It opens up a way.) These function as criteria that must guide every fresh interpretation of biblical message anywhere and at any time.”
More specifically, if our “fresh interpretation of the biblical message” serves a purpose other proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God; if it doesn’t equip us to live missionally or call others to take up the challenge; if it doesn’t remain true to the storyline of scripture – then we aren’t contextualizing the message, we’re changing it.
Taken together, these four streams lay out a holistic reading of scripture which recognize that as the missional people of a missional God, we can’t help but read scripture from a missional perspective. But this isn’t something we have to use our imagination to find, the text itself carries the mark of the missional life for our community. To summarize these four streams even further: the text of scripture presents a missional narrative which is meant to cultivate and be received by a missional people and provides the proper lens for missionally and incarnationally engaging the surrounding culture.
The “holistic” reading thing is important. After considering these 4 streams you may be thinking, “Does this apply to every passage in the Bible? Because I can think of a few that would need some pretty amazing acrobatics to fit this missional orientation.”
And that is what we’ll discuss in the next post.
For many, the word has become like a Katy Perry song: love it or hate it, you can’t go 10 minutes without hearing it…and catching yourself singing along unconsciously. Others may think that the word is owned by Apple, because it shows up in front of absolutely everything the same way their lower-case “i” does.
Speaking of which, yes, there is an iMissional.org.
And as often as I use the word, I admit, even I get tired of hearing about missional toasters, missional coffee, missional songbooks, missional underwear (wait, no, that one could be interesting). There’s even a Missional Study Bible. Perhaps I’m just bitter because I wasn’t asked to contribute anything, and in fairness, it looks pretty cool, but I believe we already have a missional Bible – the Bible.
That’s what I want to address in this series of blog posts. It wasn’t actually inspired by the publication of the Mission of God Bible – that’s just a happy coincidence – instead it has come about for several reasons. First of all, I believe that those of us who are committed to (or even just considering) missional and incarnational approaches to faith should wrestle with the deeper theological realities that accompany this orientation. They’re there, they have been ignored too often and for too long – and they transcend, “this just works better.”
I’ve written here, and lots of other places, that missional is first a theological, rather than pragmatic or strategic, issue. Theology is the practice of thinking, contemplating and talking about God. So when I say this is a theological issue, my claim is that saying something about missional is actually saying something about God – not just the strategies, practices or attitudes of Christians.
Therefore, it makes a great deal of sense to look more carefully at the relationship between missional theology and scripture. Is the Bible a missional text? What does that mean? What does it look like? This question is not just about putting missional in front of yet another aspect of Christianity. Frankly, I hope that we will someday reach a point where it is (as it should be) redundant to even use the word missional in relation to our faith.
Unfortunately, given that our society tends to devour words and ideas voraciously until they become bitter in our collective mouth, there is a good chance it will fall out of use long before it becomes unnecessary.
In one sense, I’m already seeing the trend begin. Mike Breen’s post, Why the Missional Movement Will Fail is one example. In fairness, what I take Breen to be saying in his post is that we cannot focus on “doing” mission if we are not first pursuing discipleship – without discipleship our missional efforts will be empty, short-lived, and will ultimately fail, cut-off as they are from the source of our calling.
Perhaps our thoughts on this depend on what we mean by, and how we’re using, the word missional. Stated very briefly, missional means that the whole community of faith, not just a few special standouts, is called to live on mission with God. The concept is meaningless without discipleship – just as discipleship can easily become individualistic and theoretical without a missional orientation. Missional isn’t a doing focus – it is essentially about who we are; who we are called to be and formed into being by the one we want to be with and be like. We can’t really claim to BE these people if we fail to DO what such people are called to do…but the doing is a result of being, not the other way around.
We live this way, on mission with God, because we are the people of God. In this way our actions are in response to our calling and thus originate, not in our own awesomeness, but in the Divine Awesomitude.
Missional is more than a call to personal piety, activism, social justice, evangelism or discipleship – it encompasses all these aspects in a holistic call to the Way of Jesus, empowered by the Spirit in the midst of God’s mission of reconciliation…together, as the Body of Christ. Each disciple of Jesus, each person who bears the name “Christian,” is included in this call – not just those who attended seminary, have tons of free time to volunteer, enjoy teaching Sunday School, or set aside time in the summer for a mission trip to Mexico.
Sadly, as we consider the state of the Church in North America, missional is not yet a redundancy.
So what about the Bible? Is it right to refer to it as a missional text? Are we saying that every passage is a “missional passage?” What does that mean?
When I refer to the Bible as a missional text I’m claiming that:
– The metanarrative (overall story) of Scripture is about a missional God who creates as an act of love and hospitality. The brokenness and separation experienced in creation are not God’s doing – they are precisely that which God is undoing. As those created in God’s image, God is (and has been all along) inviting humanity to collaborate as junior co-creators in this mission of reconciliation. Make no mistake, it is God’s mission – but we are called to participation.
– The purpose of Scripture is to equip God’s people as those being called and sent together. This Story, like all truly great stories, aims to change those who hear it. But our transformation goes beyond personal piety or eternal destination…we are being pulled into the Story that transforms everything.
– Basically, I’m saying that God is actually up to something in this world; we – all of us – are called to play an active role in that something, and the Bible is the story of that something.
In this series of posts we’ll address: (these titles will become links once the posts are live)
Really? Scripture is Missional? Have You Actually Read It?
Still…Judah and Tamar?? What the What?!?
I hope that this series will be helpful for ongoing conversations – and that you’ll be willing to engage some of that here on this page.