The Scriptural Story: Briefly and Missionally
A missional hermeneutic recognizes that the biblical canon tells the story fundamentally of God’s mission (missio dei) in and for creation. The story of God’s mission can be described broadly via the rubric of Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus the Messiah, Church, and New Creation.
The Bible opens with the creation of the heavens and earth by God. The human community is crafted in God’s image as the pinnacle of God’s handiwork. Men and women equally function as the image of God for the sake of rest of Creation. From the beginning, humanity was created for God’s missional purposes to represent God before Creation by reflecting God’s character in community with God, with one another, and with the world. Implicit in the creation of humanity are three core themes: mission, holiness, and community. As we will see these themes are important for reading the Bible missionally.
Genesis 3-11 broadly function in the story to explain the fundamental problem in the world. The “very good” Creation of Genesis 1-2 is shattered by human sinfulness. Sin infests every human person and institution as well as fractures creation itself. The stories and genealogies of Gen 3-11 describe the world in which we find ourselves living this side of God’s New Creation. Yet in the midst of the chaos of sin and brokenness, Gen 3-11 presents a God who does more than pass the expected judgment—the God of the Scriptures begins to act to redeem a fallen world.
In Genesis 12, God calls a new humanity into being with a series of promises to Abram and his descendents. The narrative thread of God’s new humanity runs uninterrupted through the Protestant canon from Gen 12 – Esther. God’s new humanity becomes the nation of Israel. It is decisively shaped through God’s liberation of Israel from Egyptian bondage and through the forging of a covenant at Sinai. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt is purposeful and is undertaken for the sake of the world. At Sinai, Israel is called to serve as God’s missional people, a holy community for the nations (Exod 19:4-6). The remaining books of the Pentateuch establish a polity for God’s people as they seek to live faithfully in the Promised Land as a witness to the nations. Joshua to Esther narrate the potential and pitfalls of God’s people living in Canaan including the devastation of the Exile due to disobedience and the resilience of God’s faithful love shown through God’s restoration of Judah post-Exile.
A large portion of the Old Testament is not set in the Genesis – Esther narrative framework. How do the Psalms, the Wisdom Literature, and the Prophets fit in the story of the Scriptures?
The book of Psalms serves as the prayer and worship book for God’s people. The psalms reverberate with themes of God’s reign over the nations. Through lament, thanksgiving, and praise, the psalms encourage an expansive vision of the worship of God that ultimately issues for in the concluding exhortation: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! (150:6). The psalms root God’s people in a vital worshiping relationship with the Lord, the Creator of the World and Deliverer of Israel.
Israel’s Wisdom traditions serve God’s story by offering serious reflection on the God’s creation and the good life. Wisdom deals with questions that engage all of humanity. In fact, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes have much in common with the wisdom of Israel’s neighbors. Wisdom is interested in navigating successfully through life. Israel’s wisdom is profoundly practical and relevant to culture because it is rooted in Creation. Since God created all that is, the wise can observe life astutely and deduce principles for living in God’s world. This focus on the human side of life makes it easy to connect Israel’s wisdom to culture. Yet, Israel’s unique contribution to the wit and maxim of the world is profoundly missional: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” The implication is this: careful attention to the human condition may prepare persons for the truth about God (Ecc 12:12-14).
The Prophets (Isaiah – Malachi) serve as a bulwark for the mission of God. They contribute to the Israel’s story in three ways. First, Israel’s prophets continually call God’s people back to their roots as a missional community that embodies God’s holiness before the nations. The Prophets take Israel to task for failing to live as God’s people. Second, the Prophets maintain an international focus. The God of Israel is the Lord of the nations and as such the prophets speak words of both judgment and salvation to the nations. Provocatively Jonah audaciously announces God’s love for even the most committed opponents of God’s people. Last, the Prophets envision a new future work of God’s salvation (e.g., Jer 31:31-34, etc)
It is against the backdrop of Israel that Jesus the Messiah enters the story. Jesus lives as the ultimate human being who fulfills in his life, death, and resurrection God’s Creational intentions for humanity and everything that God had envisioned for Israel. Jesus’ death is for the totality of the Fall and his resurrection declares the ultimate victory of God. The Gospels narrate Jesus’ life and ministry to teach future generations of disciples what it means to follow Jesus. The core of Jesus’ message is the announcement of the arrival of God’s kingdom and his call to realign our lives in light of this reality (Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15 cf Luke 4).
In the aftermath of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the Risen Jesus sends out the Church to announce and extends God’s salvation to the nations. The Church is unleashed in the power of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament witnesses to the spread of the Gospel around the 1st century Mediterranean world. The Scriptural story moves from the land of Israel to the nations as Jesus’ followers take the Gospel to all people in fulfillment of the Israel’s mission.
The Scriptural story ends with Revelation’s portrait of God’s future that ends with New Creation (Rev 20-21).
Learning to understand the big story of the Scriptures is more than a descriptive task. The story of the Scriptures seeks to convert its readers/hearers to its perspective. The key is to discover that in the Scriptural story we find the only true narrative for our lives.
© 2009 Brian D. Russell
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