Thursday, August 10, 2023

William P. Payne - How the Missional Hermeneutic Reveals the Missio Dei, Part I

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. William P. Payne. Payne is the Professor of Evangelism and World Mission at Ashland Theological Seminary. The following exerts are from a soon-to-be-published book on missional theology.

Imagine that you are touring a large mansion. Upon entering, a labyrinth of opulent corridors greets you. As the tour guide leads you through the halls, you notice that each room is painted a different color, has its own design, and is furnished in a particular way. To get a better feel for the mansion’s floor plan, you walk around the perimeter. As you stroll, you notice large walls, decorations, a solid foundation, and gorgeous landscaping. You note that the building is not rectangular because the walls do not connect at 90-degree angles. Because of all the turns, you cannot visualize the full layout of the mansion. Finally, you go up in a hot air balloon and look down upon the mansion. From this vantage point, you can see the external design.

In this metaphor, the mansion is the Bible. The rooms are the books of the Bible. The outside walls are the main groupings of scripture. The foundation is the eternal truth that the Bible reveals. The landscaping is the socio-cultural context that influenced the Bible writers. The corridors are varying themes that connect the books together. The tour guide is the history of interpretation. The roof is the grand design that overshadows the Bible.

What Is the Missio Dei?

The missio Dei[1] (God’s mission) is the grand design of the Bible and the missional hermeneutic allows one to see it. In this sense, the missio Dei is the hermeneutical key that holds the Bible together – the all-inclusive story that the Bible tells.[2] Michael Goheen calls it the “One unfolding story of redemption against the backdrop of creation and humanity’s fall into sin.”[3] In its simplest form, the missio Dei says that God is a missionary God; the Bible from Genesis to Revelation tells God’s missional story; and the church is God’s missional agent in this age. The missio Dei begins with God, runs through the church, and ends with the fulfillment of God’s purposes on earth and in the heavenly realms (Eph. 1:19-20).[4] When the end comes, every knee in heaven, on the earth, and below the earth will bow before the glorious name of Jesus (Phil. 2:10-11). Until that time, God continues to pursue God’s mission.

Mission is the mother of theology because it is the theological hub around which all other biblical themes revolve.[5] God’s self-revelation serves God’s mission. God’s action in history shows God’s mission. Prophecy declares the direction of God’s mission. Jesus embodies God’s mission. The Holy Spirit enables God’s mission.[6] The church serves God’s mission. All of scripture explicates God’s mission. God’s mission is God’s purpose and God’s will. God’s missional character and God’s missional work are fully intertwined. To know God is to be caught up in God’s mission.

David Bosch adds a necessary nuance. He says that the missio Dei is “God’s self-revelation as the One who loves the world.”[7] God’s love is not silent. It is demonstrated by God’s involvement with the world. For instance, God created humans because God loves them and wants to be in a relationship with them. When they inhaled God’s Spirit and became sapient beings (Gen. 2:7), God gave them rulership and invited them to serve with him (Gen. 2:16 and Psalm 8:5-6). They were to be God’s representatives on this earth. When they rebelled against God’s design, God did not abandon them to sin, death, and Satan. The sacrificial system pointed to God’s plan (Lev 16).

In the New Testament, the missio Dei announces the good news that God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and brings people into a right relationship with the Father (John 1:29 and 36). In this age, Jesus is undoing the catastrophe of the fall. His ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation destroy the power of Satan and give people the hope of full restoration into the image of God. Those who receive Christ and live under God’s rule are called the children of God (1 John 3:2-3). They are restored to their rightful place as members of God’s family (John 1:12-13).

The church is apostolic because God sends it into the world to announce God’s mission and do God’s work (John 20:21). The church does not have its own mission. Rather, it manifests and extends God’s mission.[8] Leslie Newbigin captures this when he says, “Mission is God’s, not ours. But God chooses men and women for the service of God’s mission.”[9] Yes. As the living Body of Christ, the church is the face of God’s mission in the world.

Theologians who make an exaggerated distinction between the mission of God and the mission of the church fail to realize that the church is dynamically and intimately caught up into God’s mission. In the same way that God worked through Moses to defeat the gods of Egypt and set the Israelites free, God works through God’s church to accomplish God’s mission today. This does not mean that God cannot work through a donkey, a Persian king, the magi, angels, a traitor, or an earthquake. Rather, it means that the apostolic church is so tightly tied to God’s mission in this world that it is defined by it.[10]The church has no reason to exist if it is not accomplishing the missio Dei.[11]

The Missional Hermeneutic

The missional hermeneutic is a heuristic device that enables Christ followers to read the metanarrative of the Bible in light of God’s missional intentions; purposes that supremely swirl around Christ and his ongoing work. It affirms that the whole Bible points to the missio Dei and that God’s mission is the central theme of the Bible.

When speaking of the missional hermeneutic, Boubakar Sanou says that the entire Bible reveals the various means by which God is seeking to redeem lost humanity.[12] He drives this point when he writes, "Missional hermeneutics seeks to recover biblical interpretation from a mere creedal and academic reading of the Bible and refocus it on the missio Dei. As both the central interest and the unitive theme of the scriptural narrative. From this perspective, biblical interpreters will see Scripture, as a whole, a missional thrust rather than having to focus only on the theme of mission in select texts."[13]

Stephen utilized this approach when he recounted the history of the Jews (Acts 7). His interpretation of sacred history shows that he and the leaders of the Jerusalem Church read the Hebrew scriptures from the perspective of the Christ event. I say this because Stephen reiterated what he had learned while studying at the feet of the apostles (Acts 2:42). Paul did the same thing when he preached in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-41). His sermon retells the history of the Jewish people from the perspective of salvation history. God was working through the events of the Jews to bring them to a new reality in Christ. Paul concludes his sermon by saying, “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33 RSV). From the perspective of the unfolding story, sacred history points to the crucifixion, resurrection, and the new reality that has come into existence through Jesus. In order to continue with God, the Jews must receive Christ and follow in the new way.

[1] L. Hoedemaker provides an excellent overview and critique of missio Dei in Missiology: An Ecumenical Introduction, 162-166. Also, see Darren Sarisky, “The Meaning of the Mission Dei,” 258-269, Eddie Arthur, “Missio Dei and the Mission of the Church,” 1-7, and Timothy Tennent World Missions, 487-489.

[2] Boubakar Sanou, “Missio Dei as the Hermeneutical Key for Scriptural Interpretation,” 301.

[3] Michael Goheen, “Continuing Steps,” 61.

[4] In Ephesians, the “heavenly realms” (epouranios) refers to the place where God is (Eph. 1:3, 1:20, 2:6) and the place where the powers and principalities reign (Eph. 3:10 and 6:20). As a general term, it means, the spiritual realm.

[5] Martin Kahler, Schriften zur Christologie und Mission, 190.

[6] Newbigin connects the mission of the Spirit to the mission of the church when he says, “It is the Spirit who will give them (the disciples who are sent out in Jesus’ name to do his work) power and the Spirit who will bear witness. It is not that they must speak and act, asking the help of the Spirit to do so. It is rather that in their faithfulness to Jesus they become the place where the Spirit speaks and acts” (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, 117-118).

[7] Bosch, Transforming Mission, 10.

[8] Ibid., 391.

[9] Newbigin, The Open Secret, 19.

[10] Emile Brunner says that “The Church exists by mission just as fire exists by burning,” (The Word and the World, 108).

[11] Girma Bekele, “The Biblical Narrative of the Missio Dei,” 154.

[12] Boubakar Sanou, “Missio Dei as Hermeneutical Key for Scriptural Interpretation, 308.

[13] Ibid., 306.

No comments:

Post a Comment