This post covers Day 1 of the A Missional Reading of Scripture Conference. My reflections on Day 2 can be found here.
I’m spending today and tomorrow at the A Missional Reading of Scripture conference at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. Michael Goheen has pulled together the line up for this conference, giving space to N. T. Wright, Christopher Wright, and Darrell Guder to share their perspectives on the way mission shapes God’s word and God’s people. Perhaps, the brilliance of the conference, however, is found not in the big names, but in the three streams that shape the space between the plenary sessions. These streams focus on the relationship of A Missional Reading of Scripture and Preaching, and the Local Congregation, and on Theological Reflection on a Missional Hermeneutic. I’m planning to spend most of my time in the Local Congregation stream as it looks like it will have a fair bit of overlap between my current academic and pastoral work.
Throughout the next two days, I’ll add a few thoughts and reactions to what catches my attention in the conference. While this won’t be a live blog, I’ll keep this post going as a running commentary with updates throughout my time here. If you’re on twitter, you can follow the larger conference dialogue at #MRSC13.
Opening Plenary: Christopher Wright – A Missional Reading of the OT
Chris Wright called us to see the missional origin and direction of the OT through the lens of Jeremiah 36 and the story of the king burning the scroll of God’s word through Jeremiah. Wright outlined the standards of a missional thrust: emerges out of a story, into a context, toward a goal, and at a price.
He then identified how the scripture originates from the issues that arise from learning to live at God’s people in specific contexts. He pointed to how the revelation of God as One (monotheism) is primarily missional and not merely a philosophical. Wright then reflected on the missional thrust of the biblical story, recognizing how the “Creator’s mission is is nothing less than the blessing of all nations.”
This missional origin and thrust of scripture form God’s people as ethically distinctive and not just religiously different than other people. In the end the texts point to how scripture portrays the nations as spectators and beneficiaries to what God is doing among his people. The redemptive blessing of all of creation – not just the nations, or God’s people – is the vision of God’s mission in and through his people.
Wright then closed with several questions we should ask as we read scripture, including what do we know of the missional origin of the texts original context?, how is this text formed in and contribute to the telling of the broader story of scripture?, and what questions does this text ask of our practices?.
One of Wright’s comments that is resonating with me is: “There is no biblical mission without biblical ethics.” The call to be a holy people who embody God’s mission in and through Christ comes to the forefront in this. The formation of our godly character-shaped living is central to our participation in God’s mission. What I am left wondering is how is that character formed? What is the role of worship and discipleship in forming biblical ethics?Update: 1st Worskshop: Tyler Johnson & Chris Gonzalez – Pastoring People Unto Life
Tyler and Chris offered a peak into the missional approach that shapes their pastoring in Phoenix with the Surge School. The focus was really on what is the pastor’s role in a missional community. They contend that the pastor’s work is to equip the congregation for missional engagement where they live and work – almost a de-professionalizing of Christian ministry.
One of the concepts that they presented is that pastors serve as translators of scholarly work in ways that equip the practitioners to engage in mission. They referenced this idea both in relationship to academic studies around movements of significant cultural change and to Ephesians 4, where pastors are to equip the body of Christ for works of service. That work comes through in at least two ways: (1) helping people to discern the implications of encountering the biblical story, instead of seeing the Bible as a collection of “to-do lists” that we need to apply (implication instead of application) and (2) providing symbols or shorthand ways that simplify the telling of the gospel story.
The last idea is sticking with me. What tools – tangible, accessible tools – can we provide so that the members of our churches can more easily participate in their work of service? The visual orientation and learning style of many church members and of those outside the Christian community seems to come into play here. As the phrase says “A picture is worth a 1,000 words”; and in this case, finding ways to tell the gospel – including the missional identity formed through it – through simple pictures that can be drawn on a napkin is crucial. Hearing and seeing the overarching or broad sweep of the biblical narrative and being able to locate ourselves within that story take on a high priority in this missional readings of scripture.
Update: 2nd Plenary: Mike Goheen – A Missional Reading and Preaching
Goheen launched into his presentation by rapidly building a framework of missional reading of scripture that would lend itself well to seeing how preaching ought to be missional in nature and praxis. Borrowing from CS Lewis, Our World Belongs to God, Richard Bauckham, Darrell Guder, and Herman Ridderbos, Goheen explained how scripture both tells God’s story and becomes a tool for equiping God’s people to extend that story. It is a record and a tool, informs and inspires, forms and equips all with the bent toward forming God’s people as a distinctive community in the midst of the nations and for the sake of the world.
Exploring scripture and authority through the lens of NT Wright and Ridderbos, Goheen contended that missional preaching participates in the trajectory of God’s mission through its capacity to make Christ present in the here and now. It does this relying on the Hebrew notion of teaching, which is not a dissemination of facts or knowledge about God, but the didache of bringing the reality of historical events to bear within the present context. In this way, faithful preaching and teaching, makes Jesus Christ present by revealing the reality of his life, death, & resurrection for the current contexts.
He then illustrated this with several extended reflections on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In this reflection, Goheen highlighted: (1) we preach Christ as the one who liberates us from bondage to the powers, (2) offer an alternative story to those proposed by the current cultural context, similar to Paul’s offer of Christ is Lord as an alternative to the Roman powers and gods, (3) calls the congregation to an alternative way of living that critically engages and counters today’s dominate consumerist worldview.
Two ideas are lingering at the moment. First, the importance of seeing historical events as providing meaning for the story that shapes a community to live into that story. We can’t brush over the Christ events as optional or secondary to the story – they are the story in that the whole narrative of scripture has meaning through them. And in that meaning-filled story, the community of God’s people are shaped to participate in the continuation and extension of that story. Second, Mission is not primarily about going and doing, but being – about being a distinctive people who live a counter-cultural narrative for the good of the world.
Update: 2nd Workshop: Scot Sherman – Introduction to Missional Liturgics
Playing off Bruggemann’s Cadences of Home, Scot Sherman led a conversation on missional worship suggesting that it needs to be “thick” enough to form the identity of God’s people and yet remain “comprehensible” enough so that the world can taste and see the sign and foretaste of God’s reign. Ultimately, this form of worship is porous (Keller’s word) allowing the story of God’s mission to seep through. Sherman framed the rest of the presentation around this idea: “Missional worship is shaped by and engages the world with the biblical story.”
In it’s richest and most basic sense, liturgy is a reliving of the story. This reliving unfolds through the contours of the biblical story. Sherman pointed to Jamie Smith’s idea that “to be restored is to be re-storied with the story.” This reliving also engages at the crossroads of two cultures (Goheen), so that it is at home everywhere and yet at home nowhere (Andrew Wall), and so that we experience the coming reign of God even in and through the current imperfect offering (Webber). Sherman then highlighted a variety of tangible ways that this reliving can take place within a liturgy, including setting the font in full view of the congregation, pouring water into the font during the confession/absolution period, and celebrating the eucharist more frequently (each week, if possible).
As I reflect on this workshop, I find that much of it resonated deeply with me in terms of looking for ways to be more explicit in telling the biblical story throughout the worship gathering. Too often – likely coming from the emphasis within the Reformational marks of the church – we try to place the weight of the story-telling on the preaching. The approach suggested in this workshop helps to broaden the conversation so that the entire worship gathering participates in the re-storying of God’s people.
Update: Evening Plenary: NT Wright – New Testament & Mission of God
Playing off Mark Twain, Tom Wright encouraged us to see that: “The story of God never repeats itself, but that sometimes it rhymes. And it’s really, really, really important to pay attention to those rhymes.” Though directed toward the New Testament, the first part of this talk drew our attention toward some of the original expressions of mission in the OT. Wright asserted that God’s mission is not simply the salvation of individual human beings, but for all of God’s creation to become all that he intended for it. In this sense, Genesis 1 & 2 are not a tableau to be held in some perfect static state. Rather, they are the launching of a project – a project in which human beings are charged with mission of being God’s image within creation.
The story of God’s faithfulness emerges in response to a humanity that refuses to carry out the mission God has given to them – God is determined to do what he set out to do, even though humanity has made a mess of everything. God’s rescue plan is to work through one couple – Abraham and Sarah – and the people who would come through them – Israel – to bless the nations of the world so that humanity can once again image God within creation. But the difficulty inherent in this is that the carriers of God’s solution are also carriers of the problem. As such, they spread the problem of brokenness even while attempting to carry God’s blessing.
The NT continues this story but with a surprising, shocking solution in that God sends his own son, Jesus Christ, to fulfill what God’s people had not yet fulfilled: to faithfully image God. This sending is so crucial to the revelation of God’s generous love that John’s gospel records Jesus almost using it as title for God: “The Father who sent me…” Wright confronts two deviations of mission infected by postenlightenment thought: mission is either about saving disembodied souls up to a heaven that is far from the created world or mission is about serving as chaplain to the world, simply affirming what appears good within it and reassuring the world “that it will all be okay.” Wright asserts that both versions fall short of the grandeur of the biblical vision of a generous Creator-God who launches a good creation in the Genesis garden and leads it through the rebellious brokenness of humanity so that in Jesus Christ humanity might be redeemed and participate in the flourishing of all of creation in the garden-city of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation.
Drawing attention to how Jesus embodied the love of this generous God, Wright then demonstrated (mostly from John’s gospel) how Jesus sent the disciples in the same way as the Father had sent him. As such, expect suffering. The way in which Jesus brought about the kingdom was by the defeat of evil by going to the cross and taking the full weight of evil upon himself. Likewise, we ought to expect that in following Jesus as his disciples we will also be called to participate in the defeat of evil “by going all the way to our own Jerusalems and our own crosses, whatever they may be.” Wright then pointed to China and other places where the persecuted church has continued to grow.
He concluded with several thoughts on how we should live in response to this missional reading of the NT storyline. A few of them that stuck out to me were:
- rediscover memory – the church is always in danger of thinking (and singing) that the gospel is just about Jesus and me. The gospel is much broader and deeper than that. All of creation is in view.
- rediscover imagination – “We need the imagination to celebrate the glory of God now so that the world can see that the coming city is the holy of holies in the new world”
- re-expression of the personal story within the larger story – personal salvation is about becoming part of God’s project. “We are to be people through whom every square inch of angled mirror reflects God’s glory to the rest of the world!”
One of the images that I am still reflecting on was Wright’s depictions of the Garden-City theme that carries through scripture. It was particularly striking to hear Wright point to Cain’s building of a city after killing his brother Able. Even while immersed in rebellion against God and rejection of his mission, the human inclination is still to build a city. This city reaches its pinnacle of arrogant distortion in the Babel story. So God scatters them and starts the city buildng project over with a nomad and his descendants who build a temple in a city in the land – a Garden-City that will serve as a foreshadowing of the New Jerusalem revealed in Revelation. Wright was far more eloquent than I can covey here (or could capture in my notes), but the progression from Garden to Garden-City has caught my attention. Too often the conversation around city and creation is polarized as if they are incompatable with each other. It leads me to wonder more about what the role of the church might be today in cultivating glimpses of the coming Garden-City here and now.