When God’s mission (mission dei) takes center stage in the life of Christ followers, we read the Bible differently. Our eyes are opened to the reality that mission permeates the core of the Scriptures. This is the presupposition of a missional hermeneutic or any missional reading. Mission is present from Genesis through Revelation. Mission begins with God’s creative work to bring order to Creation (Gen 1:1–2:3). God created human beings to serve as a missional community to reflect God’s character to the world (Gen 1:26–31). A proper understanding of imago dei (image of God) turns on recognizing that image at its core points to God’s intentions for humanity to serve Creation as a visible representation of the divine. As my friend, Alex McManus says, “We are a clue.” In the aftermath of humanity’s embrace of sin (Gen 3–11), God’s mission focuses on the redemption of humanity and Creation. The Bible exists as the witness to this mission.
How do we read the Scriptures differently when we participate actively in God’s mission?
1) We bring different questions.
Engaging others in conversation by entering into the world outside the safe confines of local communities of faith quickly subverts typical Sunday School fare. In the West, a Judeo-Christian worldview is rapidly fading. This means that many of the non-Christ followers with whom we will speak will have no points of contact with the religious talk that we use. A few encounters in the world will send us back to the Scriptures in search of the Gospel beyond proof-text and for more than personal devotion. Walking the streets of Orlando brings me into conversation with persons from all over the world and from all the religions of the world.
I can remember the day this reality truly struck me.
I chaperoned my youngest daughter’s class’ trip to a Wilderness Center. I enjoyed hanging around with the kids and watching them engage the wilds of Florida. During lunch, I engaged in a fascinating conversation with a young man. He had been telling me of his love for dinosaurs. He paused. A song bird was singing. He grinned. He then took me by surprise with his next sentence. He said, “This is a beautiful place to mediate.”
I looked up from my lunch. “You meditate?” I asked.
“Yes. Meditation is the only way that we can speak with the gods.”
Wow. I was taken aback. This was the first time in my life that I was confronted by an openly polytheistic statement. Yet it was coming from a 9 year old boy! I followed up, “What gods do you speak with?”
He began to rattle off a series of Hindu gods such as Krishna and a litany of others.
At this moment, a girl sitting a few seats away joined him in talking about the various deities and their stories. I sat amazed at these two young people sharing with me and their friends about their religious beliefs openly and proudly.
My daughter looked at me with some confusion. We talked later about the world religions.
This conversation and others like it forced me to go back to Scripture to read it from a missional perspective and to ask the Bible different questions. What does it mean to be on mission in a polytheistic, syncretistic, and spiritual world? What kind of person do I need to become to live out the Gospel in my context? How do the Scriptures shape God’s people to live as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”?
2) We read the Bible to gain insight into humanity.
Don’t hear this incorrectly. The Bible is fundamentally about God and God’s story. But it does offer the truest portrayal and analysis of the human condition. As we seek to reach people with the Gospel, the Bible is our only true guide to understanding the deepest needs of humanity. The story of Creation–Fall–Israel (God’s new humanity preparing for the Kingdom)–Jesus the Messiah (the ultimate human/God-incarnate)–Church (God’s new humanity engaging the World with the good news of the kingdom)–New Creation
3) We read to allow God to transform us and our communities into missional communities.
Encounters with non-Christ followers will drive us to the realization that we need to become more profound people and our communities of faith need to become more authentic and Christlike. The recognition of our own need for continued cleansing and renewal pushes us to read the Scriptures in order to answer this question: How do I as an individual and we as a community of faith need to change in order to reach the world?
What do you think?
© 2015 Brian D. Russell (revised 3/2016)