Book Review: Reading the Bible Missionally

Michael W. Goheen (ed.)
Reading the Bible Missionally 
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.
Available at Amazon.com

By Mark Simon

The book is structured in five section, the first concerned with definitional issues presented from a diverse range of perspectives. The second and third sections contain chapters on missional readings of the Old and New Testaments respectively, while the fourth and fifth sections shift the focus to the practical domains of preaching and theological education.

For those new to the field of Missional Hermeneutics, the key chapters to set the scene are chapter 2 ‘Mission as Hermeneutic for Scriptural Interpretation’ by Richard Bauckham, chapter 3 ‘Mapping the Missional Hermeneutics Conversation’ by George Hunsberger, chapter 6 ‘Reading the Old Testament Missionally’ by Christopher Wright and chapter 9 ‘Reading the New Testament Missionally’ by N. T. Wright. These chapters are generally revisions of material published elsewhere, which outline the defining features and methodology of missional hermeneutics.

There are then a number of possibilities for the reader to dig deeper. Chapter 4, by Craig Bartholomew ‘Theological Interpretation and a Missional Hermeneutic’ works to tease out definitional issues in the field, based largely on David Bosch’s Witness to the World and Transforming Mission. Bartholomew highlights the importance of ecclesiology for a workable understanding of mission, but faults a narrow focus on the institutional church, or the church as alternative community. While not the only lens for interpreting Scripture, biblical interpretation needs missional hermeneutics, according to Bartholomew, because it focuses on the meaning of the Bible for us in the church today, and helps overcome the tendency of western biblical scholars still operating under an Enlightenment framework to “obscure their own ideological underpinnings”. Michael Goheen’s chapter ‘A History and Introduction to a Missional Reading of the Bible’ also advances the apologetic for a missional reading, seeking especially to convince Biblical scholars that mission is a valid and necessary interpretive approach.

In chapter 5, ‘Intercultural Hermeneutics and the Shape of Missional Theology’. John Franke argues that in order to avoid absolutizing our own socially constructed cultural models of interpretation, we need to seek out the views of Christians in other cultures who interpret the biblical texts in different ways from us. Franke’s commitment to postmodern approaches as part of intercultural hermeneutics is a provocative challenge to the hegemony of modernist, foundationalist approaches to theology.

The chapter by Mark Glanville on ‘A Missional Reading of Deuteronomy’ shows the potential for missional hermeneutics to produce surprisingly rich accounts of biblical texts that winsomely convey the good news of God’s concern to free communities from slavery and lead them into joyful feasting. A similar set of themes also emerge in Goheen’s chapter on Missional Reading and Preaching. He argues that missional reading orients the preacher to their task of preaching Christ with the goal of forming a distinctive community; a community liberated from bondage to cultural idolatry, a community living the ‘true story’ of the world, a community transformed by the power of God, for the sake of the world.

For those involved in theological education the final two chapters by Guder and Goheen contain a number of helpful suggestions for how missional readings can address some of the crises and criticisms facing institutions delivering theological education. Missional reading of scripture pushes teaching theologians to greater engagement with their cultures and contexts, a stronger focus on personal formation, and curricula which are better adapted to the changed needs of post-Christendom western society and the exploding demand for missional leadership training in the global South.

This volume is a rich resource for those concerned that the Bible be read and interpreted with a strong orientation to the needs and context of the church and world. It brings together contributions from many respected authors in the field. If there is a minor criticism of the volume, it is that none of the contributors are non-Western. Our engagement with the missional nature of the Bible will be further enhanced as we share readings of scripture that emerge from non-Western contexts where interpreters are grappling with the needs of the Christian and wider community in distinct cultural settings.

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