Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Reading the Bible Missionally with Tony Stiff – Part I

Reading the Bible MissionallyToday starts a new series of blog post by Tony Stiff on Reading the Bible Missionally. If we are going to make sense of our sacred text, we must learn to read it missionally and this short series will give us some meaningful ways to do that. You can learn more about Tony and his vocation at the bottom of each entry. Here is the introduction to the series.

INTRODUCTION
“It is not enough, however, just to say that mission has a solid biblical foundation, we also need to see that the Bible has its roots in mission. That is, the Bible is the product of God’s engagement through God’s people in God’s world for God’s ultimate purposes for the nations and the world…So from beginning to end, the Bible is missional, by its very existence and by its comprehensive message. Mission then has to be a prime hermeneutical key for our own Bible reading and teaching.” (Wright 2003:3)

What is the missional conversation all about?
The missional conversation is connected to a new situational and theological awareness that Christians in the West are coming to. The situational awareness is tied to the ever declining presence and influence that the Church in the Western world is having and how that is causing Christians in the West to rethink what it means to be the church sent – the missional church. Darrell L. Guder, editor of perhaps the most well known work on the topic called The Missional Church, sets up the problem facing the Church in the Western world today; “Rather than occupying a central and influential place, North American Christian churches are increasingly marginalized, so much so that in our urban areas they represent a minority movement. It is by now a truism to speak of North America as a mission field.” (Guder 1998:2)

The theological awareness that is spreading across the Church in the West is that God himself is missional. God is sent and we as his people must see our churches as sent. Again, Darrell L. Guder fills this out when he says; “We have come to see that mission is not merely the activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation. Mission means sending, and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God’s actions in human history…We have learned to speak of God as a missionary God. Thus we have learned to understand the church as a “sent people.” (Guder 1998:4) As Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:12)

The West has been growing more and more Post-Christian but for a God who is missional, and for a church who because she is made in His images is also missional, this shift to a more Post-Christian setting in the West is a huge opportunity to be what by nature she is called to be. A sent people.

What is a missional church?
“A missional church is characterized by a great deal of respect for people who don’t believe. In other words a missional church understands what its like not to believe.” (Keller) What that means is that missional churches give great consideration to how they speak both corporately in preaching and teaching, as well as in smaller community dynamics like small group discussions because they view themselves as a sent people. Missional churches are well versed in their surrounding culture’s stories and they know how to retell them in a way that contextualizes the Gospel. What this means for missional churches reading of Scripture is that it is marked by cultural sensitivity. They are able to see how it is a word for them, for their community, centered upon how Christ has already and is yet to bring God’s Kingdom agendas to bear on the brokenness of their world. Missional churches don’t stop here though, they are not only self-reflective about their faith and mutually- respecting of their unbelieving neighbors, but they also actively seek to equip each other for service in the public arena.

Why read the Bible missionally?
Without a missional hermeneutic (a way of reading, understanding, and applying text) it is impossible to be a missional church. There is, however, an even more important reason why we should read the Bible missionally. A reason indicated in the opening quote by Christopher Wright, “So from beginning to end, the Bible is missional, by its very existence and by its comprehensive message. Mission then has to be a prime hermeneutical key for our own Bible reading…” (Wright 2003:3) We should read the Bible missionally because the Bible is a missional book that”s not to be only studied, but to be read as a word from Him to empower His mission through us.

The following series of posts will explore what it means to read Scripture missionally by learning to read Scripture in light of its missional origin, its missional narrative, our missional context as readers, and the missional engagement Scripture makes in our culture.

Tony Stiff is a pastor seeking to make sense of an ever changing ecclesial landscape while continuing to bring God’s Kingdom to bear on a global/local world. This is almost as daunting a task as loving my wife as Christ loved the church, and raising my child to have her moms strengths rather than her dads weaknesses. I am currently searching for a pastoral calling in a city. My resume website is tonystiff.com.


10 Responses to Reading the Bible Missionally with Tony Stiff – Part I

  1. Michael says:

    While I do not think the dichotomy of having a “local” and “global” mission is helpful, I have to ask: “Why are so many missional Christians uninvolved in God’s global mission?” As the missional conversation continues and deepens, what has occurred that has led to our blindness to the lost world around us? What is missing from this post so far is a sharing in God’s deep concern about His mission to the nations – that His name be praised from the lips of men and women from every corner of the globe. We must feel the Great Commission in our bones.

    Missional churches that are serious about joining God on his mission will obey his commands to disciple the nations. It appears to me that many missional churches are missing the Great Commission in the name of being missional. That makes zero sense. It is a huge (but historically common) mistake. If we are truly interested in being missional – in joining God on His mission – our efforts should actually reflect His stated mission. We are bound to the Great Commandment as the fullest human expression of God’s love. But the Commandment is not hermetically sealed off from the Great Commission. Rather, the Great Commission provides the what of mission, while the Great Commandment provides part of the how. Answering the age-old question of “Who is my neighbor?” should result in the desire to “make disciples of all nations.”

  2. Tony Stiff says:

    Michael I really appreciated the way your closed your thoughts above,

    “We are bound to the Great Commandment as the fullest human expression of God’s love. But the Commandment is not hermetically sealed off from the Great Commission. Rather, the Great Commission provides the what of mission, while the Great Commandment provides part of the how. Answering the age-old question of “Who is my neighbor?” should result in the desire to “make disciples of all nations.””

    Thank you for taking the time to read the first part of the multi-part posting by JR of my paper. Here are some initial thoughts I had as I read your response;

    1) I agree with you, this approach to reading the bible missionally is more invested in reading it missionally for a post-Christian West because of the awakening started by Lesslie Newbigin that the West is a missions field as much as the rest of the world.

    2) However, the general thrust of this opening should be applicable for any and every context whether that be traditional cross-cultural mission or new global city mission context where West and East mean less because the world has come to global cities.

    3) I don’t think there has to be an unhealthy tension between a missional posture toward the post-Christian West and “discipling the nations.” Its not an either or but a both and; especially because of the growing presence of global cities throughout the world.

    4) In many ways the missional church conversation owes its maturation to the cross-cultural mission program your passionate about. Its applying similar methods and questions to a Western context because the West is becoming less and less Christian. So rather than there being tension between cross-cultural missions and Post-Christian mission there symbiotic relationship because after all it is all part of the missio Dei.

    5) But nevertheless your comments have definitely made me see something I hadn’t considered thoroughly enough. Missional hermeneutics must be for every mission, not just the one to post-Christian culture.

    Thank you Michael for helping me see more clearly my blind spots.

  3. Pingback: JR Woodward is hosting a three day discussion on my paper, “Reading the Bible Missionally.” Head over and participate. « Sets ‘n’ Service

  4. Tony Stiff says:

    Michael I was thinking about your post and I couldn’t help but notice its almost identical wording to Ed Stetzer’s post here;
    http://blogs.lifeway.com/blog/edstetzer/2009/09/five-reasons-missional-churche.html

    Am I speaking with ‘Michael’ or Ed?

  5. JR Woodward says:

    Tony,

    I really like your introduction to this whole topic, and feel like when you quoted Christopher Wright at the beginning of this post “the Bible is the product of God’s engagement through God’s people in God’s world for God’s ultimate purposes for the nations and the world…” that clearly showed the tone of mission is to the nations.

    I also appreciate the importance of having a contextualized tone when reading the scriptures and being read by the scriptures. It is important for us to think about the area that we happen to be placed by God in to minister, the unique history and challenges so that we might be and share the good news with love and understanding.

    I’m looking forward to this series of posts and the conversation and transformation that might take place because of them. Thanks for being a guest blogger here.

  6. Michael says:

    I am currently in a country with spotty wifi and unintentionally submitted my
    comment without referencing Ed. When I tried to go back I could not. Thanks for calling it out.

  7. Tony Stiff says:

    My pleasure JR, thanks for the invite. Humbled by it.

    Michael I understand I’ve done the same thing before. When I read the second paragraph over at Stetzer’s post for a moment there I thought, “huh, could this be Ed Stetzer blogging pseudonymously.”

    I’m really thankful for your comments and interaction; Ed Stetzer or not.

  8. Kiona says:

    I like the part where you write: “Missional churches are well versed in their surrounding culture’s stories and they know how to retell them in a way that contextualizes the Gospel.” For me, it’s been a lengthy process; it has only been two years since I got reacquainted with U.S. culture and the people here. I may have to rely on the common humanity element rather than trying to become “all things to all men…”

    I think the Raven in Lilith (by George MacDonald) has something to say about living missionally: “‘…for until you are at home, you will find it as difficult to get out as it is to get in.'” I need to become one with them as Jesus did with us and that is a lengthy process indeed. I wonder if that’s what occupied the first thirty years of Jesus’ life… and why the last three were so fruitful.

    [Just some thoughts. I never leave comments so please be merciful. :) ]

  9. Tony Stiff says:

    Kiona thank you for sharing. I appreciated how you articulated the need to be incarnational to the people you’re serving like Jesus was. You know I’ve never really considered what it must have been like for Jesus to connect with his culture, and how his 30 years played to his 3 years of intense ministry. Hmm.

    On the one hand a lot of commentators point out that priests would enter service around 30 and the timing in Christ’s life was meant to indicate he was a priest to God (high priest). I think that’s right but you bring up a very thoughtful point that I hadn’t considered.

    All those years he was learning people, learning his culture, his setting. Of course he never tabled his divine attributes but he was as the Chalcedonian Creed says “truly God and truly man.” So he was definitely learning (Luke 2.52).

    Insightful point, thank you!

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