Reading the Bible Missionally

Written by Michael W. Goheen, ed. Reviewed By Christine E. Thornton

Since the end of the 20th century, scholarly discussions considering the intersection between biblical hermeneutics and mission have become more and more commonplace. From Johannes Blauw and David Bosch to Christopher Wright and Richard Bauckham, the cross-disciplinary conversations have proven fruitful for both missiological and biblical disciplines. Michael Goheen’s edited volume Reading the Bible Missionally joins these conversations by presenting a survey of topics related to mission and Bible interpretation. With contributors like Richard Bauckham, George Hunsberger, John Franke, Christopher J. H. Wright, Craig Bartholomew, Dean Flemming, N. T. Wright, and Joel B. Green, this text provides a helpful orientation for students unfamiliar with the missional hermeneutic conversation as well as challenging scholarly articles for advanced students on the topic.

Goheen divides the book into five sections: (1) A Missional Hermeneutic, (2) A Missional Reading of the Old Testament, (3) A Missional Reading of the New Testament, (4) A Missional Reading of Scripture and Preaching, and (5) A Missional Reading of Scripture and Theological Education. The first section begins with a brief historical overview. It introduces the three central aspects of a missional hermeneutic: “reading the whole Scripture with mission as a central theme, reading Scripture to under what mission really is, and reading Scripture to equip the church for its missional task” (p. 15). Bauckham, Hunsberger, Bartholomew, and Franke build on those central themes as they impact biblical interpretation, historical perspective, theological interpretation, and intercultural hermeneutics respectively.

In particular, Franke’s chapter adds a decidedly philosophical and theological timbre to the predominantly biblical and missiological conversation. His treatment of intercultural hermeneutics moves readers to consider how these conversations relate to theological disciplines. He guides readers through deep theological waters, addressing the doctrine of the Trinity, modern and postmodern philosophies, their impact on hermeneutics, and insights from anthropological scholarship. Franke should be applauded for the helpful complexity of his consideration. His treatment, however, leaves readers questioning the status and role of the inspired biblical text in his system, which grows out of his focus on the diverse contextuality of Christian knowledge and the impact of context in the Scriptures themselves. Yet, he helpfully takes intentional steps to affirm a robust realism in his interaction with postmodern philosophy.

In the second section, Christopher J. H. Wright introduces his framework for reading the Old Testament missionally. Readers acquainted with his larger work The Mission of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006) will find this chapter familiar. Mark Glanville and Carl J. Bosma follow Wright with a narrow lens focus on Deuteronomy, Psalm 67, and Psalm 96. Both of these chapters are rich with observations on how their respective passages help the church better recognize God’s missional working in Israel looking forward to Christ.

In the third section, N. T. Wright begins by arguing the New Testament should be read “from the entire missional agenda of the early church” (p. 176). Joel B. Green and Dean Flemming follow Wright by offering in-depth treatments of James and Colossians read through a missional lens. Green’s treatment of James through the lens of narrative identity and incarnation gives readers a helpful lens through which to consider a book not normally associated with a missional impulse.

The fourth section moves the book into a natural and necessary treatment of how a missional hermeneutic can result in missional preaching. Goheen brings preaching into the missional hermeneutic conversation by considering its telos—“to form a distinctive community for the sake of the world” (p. 247). Goheen’s high view of both Christ and the Bible is laudable and refreshing. Next, Timothy M. Sheridan compares missional preaching with Tim Keller’s gospel-centered preaching, arguing that preaching influenced by a missional reading of Scripture is preferable to a gospel-centered approach.

Finally, Darrell J. Gruder and Goheen consider the impact of missional reading of Scripture on theological education. Gruder outlines the historical development and current contours of the theological education. He argues that a missional reading of Scripture “must reshape theological education so that the community of saints may be equipped through their encounter with the written word of God” (p. 297). Gruder’s ability to juggle the complexities of theological education and synthesize a missional hermeneutic into those conversations makes this chapter a valuable addition to the growing body of literature about the purpose and role of the seminary in the life of the church. Goheen concludes the book by framing his perspective on a missional hermeneutic and theological education through the lens of the 1952 International Missionary Council in Willingen, Germany. He proposes a constructive model for how to create a theological curriculum centered on the gospel, the mission of God, and the mission of the church.

Goheen’s edited volume truly is a multi-disciplinary look at nature of a missional hermeneutic and its application to the life of the church. The genuine diversity of the contributors allows readers to consider the reality of a missional God and his missional text from a number of different angles. As a result, the ability to uncover and tease out the implications for a missional interpretation from so many varied perspectives drives home the reality that the Scripture and the life of the church truly are centered on God and his mission. In addition, all of the contributors share a commitment to pre/post-Enlightenment interpretation of the Scriptures. For readers who do not align with these philosophical presuppositions, this text could prove occasionally troublesome. Even so, Reading the Bible Missionally is a rich resource. It is a must-have for scholars and students in missiology and biblical studies.

Christine E. Thornton

Christine E. Thornton
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina, USA

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