A Missional Hermeneutic Pt. #2 ~ Foundations of Missional Artistry: Four Approaches to a Hermeneutical Practice

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In his ‘Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic’ George Hunsberger present four streams of thought in a missional approach to hermeneutics. Each one holds to a vital emphases or point to finding meaning in the scriptures but may fall short in other areas of interpretation. The first approach to defining a hermeneutic focuses on the writing of scripture as a whole collected work, while finding the central understanding on the story or mission of God throughout the completed text. Speaking from Christopher Wright’s approach, Hunsberger states that, “taken as a canonical whole, the Bible, he says, tells the story of God’s mission in and for the whole world, and with it the story of the people of God whom God has called and sent to be implicated in that mission.[1]

In this view, the biblical text as a whole is viewed as a narrative, which does not seem to leave much room for the expression of cultural metaphorical expression. Historically we know also that many of the first century Christians and their community’s did not have access to the whole of Christian scriptures as we find today in the canonized Bible. Do we then assume that they did not know or truly understand the Word of God? I do not think we can make that assessment.

Still, this view points us to the importance of recognizing the metanarrative voice to which scripture can speak to us. This of course extends into the greater picture of today as we call in our own narratives and ask where is God in the bigger picture.

The second approach Hunsberger identifies is the missional purpose of the writings of scripture. This is an approach that no doubt focuses out of Paul’s words to Timothy in saying, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.[2] Quoting Darrell Guder as one of the main proponents, Hunsberger states, “The New Testament writings have as their purpose to equip the churches for witness.[3]

I would agree that the scriptures were written for equipping in service and mission however, we cannot dismiss their intrinsic value in the workings of the redemption and sanctification of the inner self we all are in search of. The power of transformation to which God speaks through the scriptures is one not just for the non-believer but for the believer taking part in it’s reading also!

Thirdly, Hunsberger distinguishes a hermeneutic stream in the missional locatedness of the reader. Speaking from the viewpoint of Michael Barram he describes it as, “the claim that ‘Christian congregations caught up in the missio Dei read the Bible from a social location characterized by mission’”[4]

Without a doubt, we must allow the scriptures to speak to us through the practice of community. The ecclesia in which the gospel speaks, shapes the enfleshing acts to which God’s Word molds people into the mission to which he has called them. And yet, we cannot dismiss the individual relationship each person has with his Word also. Just as God calls community to be in mission, he also calls each individual to be on mission and as such the scriptures continue to have a validity in the missional locatedness of every believer. As Alan Hirsch has pointed out, “Every church is a church planting church. Every believer is a church planter.[5]

The forth and last hermeneutic that Hunsberger identifies is in the missional engagement with cultures. This is largely reflected in James Brownson’s work as Hunsberger describes, “his model focuses on what is taking place in the missional moment as biblical writers address the people of their own times and places in terms of the received religious tradition.[6]

Mark Love sees this approach as offering a,

hermeneutical shift that does not begin with the relationship of the reader and the text, but that begins instead with the relationship between God and the biblical texts as we find them.[7] This is a shift that, “does not begin with the relationship of the reader and the text, but that begins instead with the relationship between God and the biblical texts as we find them… It’s not just the case that we read these texts. It is possible that these active texts can read us and re-describe our worlds.[8]

With this understanding, in approaching our own practice of reading scripture we should always begin with the question of, "In what way does this reveal the identity and character of God?" Followed by the secondary reflection of, "How does this revelation of God's identity shape our understanding and call us into the creation of the world around us?"

It is from these approaches that I have reflected on my own approach to hermeneutics and seen how the three worlds of Context, Culture, and the Gospel have converged to allow God’s Word to speak into life. It is these thoughts to which I will turn to in my next post.

"So, now we have a holy God and a living text, and these features should determine how the text performs among us. It would be a violation of both a holy God and a living text to treat the text as a lifeless object, or simply as a container for meanings that we can excise through the surgical use of critical approaches. Missional hermeneutics, or biblical hermeneutics in general, should proceed on the notion that these living texts generate meanings. It is not just that we read these texts. It is possible that these active texts can read us and re-describe our worlds" ~ Mark Love in 'Missional Interpretation: The Encounter of a Holy God through a Living Text'

[1] George R. Hunsberger, "Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation,", 311.

[2]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (2 Ti 3:16–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] George R. Hunsberger, "Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation,", 313.

[4] Ibid., 314.

[5] Alan Hirsch, "Alan Hirsch: Every Believer a Church Planter", Verge Network, Web, (, 2011). http://vimeo.com/14626641

[6] George R. Hunsberger, "Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation,", 316-317.

[7] Mark Love, "Missional Interpretation: The Encounter of a Holy God through a Living Text," (Paper presented at Rochester College, Rochester, MI., 3.

[8] Ibid., 3-4.