Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Reading the Bible Missionally: A Short Guide for Interpreters

The following essay assumes that the reader has already done some interpretive work on a passage of Scripture. Here are two brief essays on the process of interpretation if you desire a refresher: Skills for Reading Scripture (Context) and Suggestions for a Close Reading of A Biblical Text

The goal of interpretation is the conversion of the reader/audience to the message of the biblical text. This involves a continuous realignment with God’s mission as part of a missional community that reflects God’s character to/for/in the world.

Once you’ve carefully read a text and worked out its key teachings, it is critical to connect these teachings with your context and audience. Here is a step by step guide that I follow in my own reading of Scripture:

1) Focused attention must be given to discerning the original application present in the text under consideration. This step serves as a guide to thinking through the application of the text in contemporary communities of faith. 

Here are some key questions to consider:
To whom was the message of the text directed? The faith community, individuals or groups outside of the community, all of the above?

What assumptions does this text make about its audience?

What kind of world does this text imagine to be true for its audience?

What effect did this text intend to have on its audience?

Is there any evidence in the text that would limit its application in any way?

2) Reflect Critically on the Message of the Text in Light of the biblical Canon.

How does our text fit into the overarching narrative of the Bible (Creation – Fall – Israel – Jesus the Messiah – Church – New Creation?

How do the messages of the OT and NT affirm, challenge, nuance, or bring additional light to the message of our text?

3) In light of ##1 and 2, synthesize the key message of our text.

4) Appropriate the Text for a 21st Century Audience.
The biblical interpreter of today must refuse the privileged position of preaching to the choir or simply pointing out to audiences interesting facts/insights about the Bible. The goal of the biblical Gospel is conversion. The text calls all its hearers to align or realign themselves with the mission of God in the World. It speaks to both insiders (Christ-followers) and outsiders (non-Christ followers).

Here are some key application questions to shape the description of the (Re)alignment for which our text is calling. Every text will not cover all three of the following areas but most texts will fall into at least one of the below categores:

1) Mission:
Insider: How does this text envision God’s work in the world?  Where do God’s people fit into this mission?  How do God’s people need to change to participate more effectively with God’s work?

Outsider: What sort of world is this text inviting me to spend my life working to create?  What would my life look like if I joined this mission?

2) Character:
Insider: What does this text tell us about the character or ethos of God’s people?  What are God’s people supposed to become?  How do God’s people need to change in order to more profoundly reflect the character of God? What sort of person do I need to become in order to live out this text?

Outsider: What type of lifestyle/character is this text inviting me to embody?  How would my life be enriched by aligning my character with the vision of this text?

3) Community:
Insider:  How does this text envision the corporate life of God’s people? How do God’s people need to change in order to embody the portrait of community assumed by this text?

Outsider:  What type of community is this text inviting me to explore? How is this text inviting me to participate in a community that exists for something greater than my own wants and desires?

Once you've thought about how a text speaks to both insiders and outsiders in terms of mission, holiness and community. Use this MAP rubric to formulate your teaching/preaching applications:

Missional Insight (Head/Thinking): How does this text challenge me to think differently? 

Attitude Alignment (Heart/Deep Surrender/Will): How do I need to (re)align my heart or what I care about?

Plan of Action (Hands/Feet/Mouthpiece): What specific actions do I need to take or rituals do I need to practice to embody the message of this text?

Remember that we must call our hearers (including ourselves) to a whole person response (head/heart/hands). This must involve action.

© 2008 Brian D. Russell (Revised 2015, 2016 and 2017)
All Right’s Reserved

To see a practical application of this method, check out my resource for small groups Invitation. This study presents the overarching biblical narrative in a way that emphasizes mission, community, and holiness. It is100% designed and written for anyone interested in the Bible (Christian or not).  

Pastors and teachers will want to know that my full blown text book on missional hermeneutics is now available: (re)Aligning with God: Reading Scripture for Church and World

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