Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Implementing a Missional Reading of Scripture: Understanding Your Context

Who are the people whom God has called us to reach? What are their stories? What worldviews are held? What causes matter to them? About what do they care? A missional hermeneutic must be attentive to these questions. Obviously we are committed to encountering the Scriptures in all of their richness, but if we hope to share its message with others we must be willing to engage people at a deep level as well. Biblical studies professors often use this quotation to remind students of the centrality of reading the Bible within its literary context: “A text without a context is a pretext for saying anything that an interpreter wants to say.” But it is, likewise, true that a biblical message apart from a local context of people becomes a pretext for misunderstanding and wasted words. We must be committed to shaping our speech, metaphors, and images in light of the context to which we are communicating. When we combine a rich understanding of the biblical story with a deep connection with the people to whom God has sent us, we find ourselves in an environment in which we can truly speak to fellow humans about biblical message of (re)alignment. We find ourselves with the crucified and risen Jesus calling Christ followers to join fully in God’s mission and inviting those on the margins to become part of God’s work of ushering in a different world.
Moreover, we must also gain a sense of the gods that bind the hearts and minds of the women and men in our ministry context. Only when we understand the idols that capture the hearts of the world will we be prepared to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus in ways that subvert the claims and practices of those idols. A missional hermeneutic recognizes that idols exist within both the church and world. They are easy to spot: sex, consumerism, power, family, security, pleasure, and freedom among others.[1] But these have different localized expressions. A missional approach to Scripture listens to the text in light of the idols that reign over our culture.
As interpreters of Scripture, we learn the culture by listening carefully to the stories of the outsiders to the Christ following movement with whom we become friends. We also can learn the culture by reading the books and magazines enjoyed by the masses, and by being conversant and familiar with the popular culture of our day. In a sense, learning to exegete our context involves becoming more worldly in the sense of giving careful attention in terms of time and activities to persons presently outside or on the fringes of the Christ following movement.
A key dimension involves learning to treasure people as people. Talk of mission can sometimes involve bait and switch. We encourage Christians to befriend non-Christians principally for evangelistic purposes. But when a conversion does not follow, we move along to another non-Christian. We need to move to a more relational model of engaging the world where we build lasting friendships regardless of whether our new friend turns to Jesus as Lord or not. Authentic friendships will open up entire new networks of people whom we would otherwise never have met. This will profoundly shape the way that we read the Bible because we will unconsciously begin to see and hear the Scriptures through the eyes and ears of our new friends.  
Interested in more information about reading Scripture through a missional perspective? See my book (re)Aligning with God: Reading Scripture for Church and World (Cascade, 2016).

© 2015 Brian D. Russell 

[1]Alan and Debra Hirsch, Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship (Baker, 2010). See also Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Dutton Adult, 2009).

No comments:

Post a Comment