September 21, 2020

Three Resources For A Missional Reading of the Bible

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand NarrativeThree good resources for a missional reading of the Bible: one essay, one book, one set of questions.

The essay is Notes Toward a Framework For a Missional Hermeneutic by Michael Goheen. Goheen is one of the authors of the outstanding literary/narrative introduction to the Bible, The Drama of Scripture. Goheen is a professor at Trinity Western University.

In this collection of notes for a presentation of a missional hermeneutic, Goheen gives an overview of the entire Bible quite similar to a Biblical introduction, but with a focus on how the Bible itself functions in a missional communication of the Kingdom. The essay begins with some personal notes, but the meat of the presentation is in the two larger sections.

Goheen suggests that the word missional is the word that describes what God is doing in bringing the gospel to cultures, what controls the gospel’s interaction with culture, and how the Bible itself facilitates the spread of the gospel throughout all times and places.

Outstanding material, and very suggestive of the deeper, more “missionary” source of missional thnking that the critics are missing.

For a book length treatment of the entire Bible as a missional text, secure Christopher J. H. Wright’s, The Mission of God, a magnum opus that takes on the entire Bible as a missionary text. Wright is a professor of missions and a prolific writer on on the Old Testament role of the Holy Spirit. Reacting against those who shop around for missionary texts in the Bible, and who don’t know what to do with the Old Testament especially, Wright sees the entire Bible as the missionary mandate. His little section on the various terms associated with mission would be worth the hefty price for some critics.

This isn’t a book for the casual reader, but if you want to actually work through major sections of the Bible with a missional orientation as the primary hermeneutic for understanding the Bible’s message, this is the best book in print. I found it quite readable, particularly after the introductory section, which is a bit tedious if you aren’t in the higher levels of discussing a Biblical theology of missions.

Finally, Michael Barram suggest some questions for the “missional” reading of any Biblical text:

How does our reading of a given text demonstrate humility—recognizing that we see and understand only in part?

Does our reading of the text challenge or baptize our assumptions and blind spots?

In what ways are we tempted to “spiritualize” the concrete implications of the gospel as articulated in this text?

How does the text help to clarify appropriate Christian behavior—not only in terms of conduct but also in terms of intentionality and motive?

Does our reading emphasize the triumph of Christ’s resurrection to the exclusion of the kenotic, cruciform character of his ministry?

In what ways does this text proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives, and how might our own social locations make it difficult to hear that news as good?

Does our reading of the text reflect a tendency to bifurcate evangelism and justice?

Does our reading of this text acknowledge and confess our complicity and culpability in personal as well as structural sin?

In what ways does the text challenge us to rethink our often-cozy relationships with power and privilege?

How does this text expose and challenge our societal and economic tendencies to assign human beings and the rest of creation merely functional, as opposed to inherent, value?

Does the text help clarify the call of gospel discipleship in a world of conspicuous consumption, devastating famine, rampant disease, incessant war, and vast economic inequities?

How does the text clarify what love of God and neighbor looks like in a particular context?

How does this text clarify what God is doing in our world, in our nation, in our cities, and in our neighborhoods—and how may we be called to be involved in those purposes?

Does our reading allow the text the opportunity to define everything about our mission in the world—including our assumptions, processes, terminology—everything?

The current emphasis on exegetical preaching among many evangelicals is heavily weighted against seeing anything in the text that might undermine the dominant culture of the exegete. Barram’s questions suggest we do more than grammar, background and word meanings. He suggests we get off our high horses of supposed objectivity and admit we are missing applications, defending power structures, avoiding implicating ourselves in the blind spots that we maintain and otherwise exegeting in a way that keeps us “safe” at the end of the day from any “hot potato” applications.

The problem, of course, is that many younger pastors are not doing this, but are letting the truth and message of the Bible go places evangelical conservatives have traditionally been told were “liberal” concerns, such as politics, economics, relationships, communities, power structures and so on. The results will be explosive, but will also be exciting. Notes to the people holding all these conferences on “verse by verse” preaching: you aren’t going to be able to keep the lid on where this is going once the application of Biblical authority gets outside of your approved list of conservative causes. Stand by for a lot of new churches doing a lot of new things. I’m sure you’ll all be very encouraging. (jn)

More on some of this later.


  1. I’m probably a pain, but a conversation with with my wife about the emerging church phenomenon has once again drawn my attention to the semantic questions I have which still have not been answered:

    1. When we talk about the “emerging church”, what emerges? and from whence does it emerge?

    2. I gather that the main thrust of the emerging church is to reach the unchurched folk around them where they are at. How is that so different from what various groups and movements throughout church history have done again and again that it needs a new label?

    3. What is the difference between “missional” and “missionary” or “evangelistic”?

    I look forward to any answers.


  2. Might I also suggest the video conversations between Al Roxburgh and Craig Van Gelder and Al Roxburgh and Pat Keifert at the Allelon site on the question, What is Missional Church?

    I think Mike Goheen is at Trinity Western University in BC.