Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Reading the Bible Missionally with Tony Stiff – Part IV

Reading the Bible MissionallyReading Scripture in Light of Our Missional Context as Readers
“One possible place to begin talking about the Bible and mission is with the intersection between the biblical text and the reader who encounters this text in new ways in the context of missionary activity. The German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer spoke of all interpretation as having two horizons—the horizon of the text and the horizon of the reader. Meaning and understanding, he said, takes place at the intersection of these two realities.”

The above quote by Grant LeMarqu and hits on something that is often lost in discussions about how we should read Scripture: The
necessity of having our lives wrapped up in mission. If you’re going to read the Bible missionally you must be living missionally otherwise the questions you bring as a reader to the text won’t be aimed at mission but something else. Nevertheless there is a circularity at work here. Reading Scripture missionally also deepens and informs missional living.

Typically in discussions about the interpretation of the Bible you’ll hear people say things like, “once you discover the authors intent then you have the meaning of the text.” Discovering what the author intended must be a foundational concern in all interpretation but there are problems in limiting our reading of Scripture to just a quest for the authors intent. There are in fact at least two problems with this method or goal in reading texts. First, the problem with this method is that it is ignorant of the underlying presuppositions every reader brings to the task of interpretation. We are creaturely and by nature finite which means we always interpret things from a finite, limited point of view. In seeking to discover the authors intent our own vantage point and agendas get added in. Even the original gospel writers weren’t free of bias. There bias was in part due to the missional needs of their audiences as they composed their accounts of Christ.

New Testament scholar, Richard Bauckham, notes the bias of the Gospel writers accounts in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses; “They [the Gospels] embody the testimony of the eyewitnesses, not of course without editing and interpretation, but in a way that is substantially faithful to how the eyewitnesses themselves told it, since the Evangelists were in more or less direct contact with eyewitnesses…”

Secondly, in seeking only to discover the original authors intent in interpreting or reading the Bible the reader misses the reality that texts can have far more meaning and relevance than what the original authors may have had in mind. This ought to be assumed from the outset since every part of Scripture has a dual authorship: human author(s) and Divine. Scripture is able to speak to situations (or locations) far beyond those the original authors and their communities were dealing with.

Reading the Bible missionally requires us as readers to be self-aware of our missiological needs and interests that we bring with us as we read. A missional reading of Scripture requires us to explore how the text before us does and doesn’t engage those needs and interests. To read Scripture missionally means raising “located questions” that are sensitive to our missional context and interested in engaging our culture. What are “located questions”?

“’Located’ questions, then, are those that arise out of that tangible place and time in which the sent community [missional church] lives in terms of which it seeks to discern its particular charism and vocation. And that implicates further the community’s location in its publicly present witness in that time and place. Its mission itself is the proper location from which the Bible is interpreted.” (Hunsberger 2009)

What does it look like to read the Bible in light of our missional context as readers?

Questions intended to help you read Scripture in light of your missional context:

  • How does this text speak to our missional context, what are the “located”questions our context is asking from the text?
  • What does this text call us to unlearn and learn afresh as we engage our missional context?
  • Are there models of contextualization in this text that we can learn from as we seek to be in but not of this world?
  • How does this text call us as God’s people to be both different from and involved in the world?
  • What are the ways this text equips us for mission?
  • Did this text play an integral part in the formation of the missional identity of its original audience? If so, how can it play that part in us?

(Some of the questions above for this section were taken and modified from Michael J Gorman, Some Basics of a Missional Hermeneutic)

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.


Leave a Reply