Monday, August 15, 2011

Thinking about the Old Testament in a Missional Hermeneutic

Rediscovering the Old Testament
A key feature of a missional approach to the Bible is that it provides a framework for reading the OT and the NT as Christian Scripture. It sets the New Testament within its full Biblical context and it opens up the Old Testament for reflection.
In the context of the Western world’s biblical illiteracy, the Old Testament in increasingly neglected in teaching and preaching. At best its stories are left for Children’s education. At worst, it is viewed as irrelevant or even na├»ve.

To be sure the Old Testament contains its share of difficult passages. It shares stories of violence and human foibles. We can find the best and worst of humanity in its pages. John Bright once wrote, “I find it most interesting and not a little bit odd that although the Old Testament on occasion offends our Christian feelings, it did not apparently offend Christ’s ‘Christian feelings’!” The witness of Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Church was univocal on the significance of the Jewish Scriptures. They were treated as substantive, essential, and authoritative for the Christian life and for engaging the world missionally. We must recapture the Old Testament in our day.

A missional reading of Scripture boldly reasserts the relevance of Israel’s Scriptures for the Christ following movement. The book of Genesis serves as the harbinger of renewed engagement with the theology of the Old Testament with its narratives of Creation, Fall, and God’s calling into existence a new humanity that will serve as agents of blessing to all people. The Old Testament is essential for understanding God’s creational intentions for both the world as a whole and for women and men in particular. It describes poignantly and relationally the problem of lostness and brokenness that confronts us in our daily lives. A missional reading resists the temptation to focus exclusively on the New Testament. Apart from the witness of Israel’s Scriptures one risks distorting the mission and message of Jesus the Messiah as well as that of the Church as the sent people of God. Toward this end, communities of faith seeking to shape identity around God’s mission will consciously teach the whole of the Scriptures because of their necessity in forming a sent people to reflect God’s character to/for/in the nations.

As followers of Jesus, we may find in the stories of the Old Testament easier points of contact between the Gospel and outsiders. First, as we noted, Genesis 1–11 has an international focus. It invites all people everywhere to find their story in the Scriptures. Second, the stories found in Israel’s Scriptures are profoundly human. We find in them all of the foibles and peccadilloes that befall women and men as well as the major life altering train wrecks with which we are all too familiar. The Old Testament narrative include stories of risk and adventure, joy and sadness, success and failure, and liberation and oppression. These are the themes that capture the imagination of us all as they represent the dreams and fears of all people. Last, the Hebrew Scriptures narrate the working of God in human history. The story of God’s mission offers a counter-narrative to those of our day and demonstrate that history is truly moving toward some greater purpose than self-centeredness and the carnage that ensues when self-centeredness as practiced by individuals, tribes, or nations is implemented against those deemed outsiders.

What do you think?