Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wright's Missional Hermeneutic

“It is possible, is it legitimate, is it helpful for Christians to read the whole Bible from the angle of mission? And what happens if they do?” (531). These are the driving questions of Christopher J. H. Wright’s, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Wright insists that this is not another book attempting to encourage those already engaged in mission or guiltily motivate the unmoved. Instead of an apologetic for missions which usually amounts to “searching the Scriptures for a biblical foundation for mission,” where too often we “find what we brought with us—our own conception of mission, now comfortingly festooned with biblical luggage tags” (37), Wright wants to offer a missional hermeneutic. He argues that the canon itself is “a product of mission in action” (49) in that they witness to a God with a mission to redeem all of creation.

The book moves in four parts. In the first and briefest part, Wright suggests that his missional hermeneutic is built into the framework of the Bible itself. Part two focuses on “The God of Mission” which amounts to his theology via salvation history. He begins with a chapter on God’s revelation to Israel (chap 3) focusing on Exodus and Exile as two key components of Israel’s experience with God. Next, he moves to Jesus as the incarnation of Yahweh (chap 4). The last chapter of part two focuses on distortions of God in idolatry (chap 5). Part three moves from the God with a mission to his chosen people –“the people of mission”. This is the longest section of the book which focuses on how God works through particular people (Abraham, Israel, Jesus), paradigms (Exodus [redemption], Jubilee [restoration]) and covenants (Noah, Abraham, Sinai, David, New) to reach his universal creation. Part four is dedicated to “The Arena of God’s Mission” which is nothing less than the whole earth and all of humanity. The last two chapters (14 & 15) in the fourth part of the book would probably be better bracketed as their own section providing the key texts through which the missional hermeneutic is shaped. The book moves well with nice internal summaries and reminders of the overarching argument.

Christopher Wright has been quipped as the “OT Wright” counterpart to the wildly popular N. T. Wright. The description is a play on the fact that while Nicholas “Tom” Wright is one of the most admired NT scholars in the world, Chris Wright is his OT scholar complement. The two scholars are both British, Cambridge trained, popular among evangelical Christians, active in the church and fairly good writers. Oh, and they have the same last name. The most fruitful similarity, however, is that they are both “big picture” readers of scripture. They are looking for the overarching Story that shines through the radically diverse stories, songs, poems and letters that make up Scripture. The difficulty with this sort of approach is that it is easy to ignore the stories that don’t quite fit the bigger Story that they’ve written. Their widespread popularity and subsequent contempt among the guild of biblical scholarship is due to the fact that while they are susceptible to ignoring the small stories, their versions of the larger Story are pretty good. That and the biblical scholars can be surprisingly petty and proud.

While the book is probably too long, filled with too many and too extended quotations, unsure in its target audience and in need of interaction with historical theologians, it is a marvelous attempt at biblical theology. If you want a book you can put in the hands of someone wondering, “How do I hold this big weird book called the bible together?” (And by the way, I think a lot of people are asking that question). Then this is a great place to point them. Just hope they have the time and patience to read all 535 pages.

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