Thursday, February 02, 2006

Old Testament emerging mission

In December I was e-interviewed about my out of bounds church? book. I was asked to comment on an absence of interest in the Hebrew Scriptures in the conversations around missional churches and to what extent can the Hebrew Scriptures offer new models to the Church that is emerging.

In the interview I noted that a dominant mission model in the emerging church is the going to forming new communities of faith. This is often based on contrasting attractional forms of church with incarnational forms of church. I mentioned a article by Walter Brueggemann as a great example of careful Bible reading that goes beyond 2 binary opposites of mission as attraction vs mission as incarnation. A number of people have since emailed asking for the full reference: Walter A. Brueggemann, “The Bible and Mission.” Missiology 10, 1989, 397-412.

bookkells.jpgSteve, before you dash off-line, could you summarise the article? Can perhaps could you apply it to emerging church? Well, part of the article includes 4 different ways in which mission is at work in the Old Testament.

I Kings 4 is a subtle critique of the use of God to legitimate actions. This would mean that Americans who blogged against the Iraqi War are performing mission in the style of 1 Kings 4.

Dueteronomy 19 is the working for legislative reform to enact God’s justice. This would legitimate something like protest4 as Biblical mission even if it never “incarnates” a new faith community.

1 Samuel 2 offers the power of imagination to offer a new vision of society. This would legitimate the art of alternative worship as Biblical mission in it’s potential to offer a radical re-dreaming of Christianity enculturated.

Hosea 2 offers the belief that in a fragmented world, God can intervene in love. A Blue Christmas service offering hope of God’s love would thus be an expression of mission in the style of Hosea.

And for those who want more detail on the Biblical texts, here are my Church and Society (University of Auckland) 2003 Course lecture notes..

1 Kings 4:20-28
This text offers success, of wealth and well-being. People are happy, safe and well-fed. Then it asks how are people happy, safe and well-fed? The answer is by tax and arms proliferation. And so the text paints the picture of a society of success built on tax and war.

The key claim made by the text is shalom, 1 Kings 4:24, that everyone is safe under there “vine and fig tree.” This is a peasants dream,
Every man will sit under his own vine
and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:4)

Thus this text links faith, church and a way of being in society. The text reads as a shopping list, a government vision statement. This model of peace and harmony depends on government spin, promises shalom, and flows from a central system, in which church and state are in harmony. A Constantinian model of church and society is present.

Yet the discerning reader is left with a nagging suspicion. A hint of irony exists. All that glitters is not gold. After all, who pays for the system? And who is doing the forced labour of 1 Kings 4:6 (Ahishar-in charge of the palace; Adoniram son of Abda-in charge of forced labor.)? And why was their revolution in 1 Kings 11-12? The text asks some nagging questions about what funds a seemingly God-happy society.

Deuteronomy 19:1-10
In this text legislation, more specifically, Mosaic legislation, is used to societal reformation. Law in enacted to establish three cities of refugee. This new legal provision is not to provide exemption for murderers, but protection in case of accidents. How marvellous. Social justice for society through societal reformation.

Note that this is not, like 1 Kings, a “successful society vision statement” that glosses up reality. This text acknowledges that mayhem can happen, and that society can be adapted, shaped, and so to see justice.

This text is a foreshadowing of Romans 12. It is an argument for a restorative, rather than retributive justice. It proposes a public hospitality that is an alternative to vigilante vengeance. It attempts to describe a new way of living in which Christian mission has a public, institutional, reformational role.

1 Samuel 2:1-10
The context for this text is a society in transition. Israel is moving from tribe to state, from judge to king, from charismatic to bureaucratic. In this transition, we hear the song of a barren mother, the cry of the mother of the last of these judges. This is a song from below, a Liberationist speech from the margins.
Hannah means “grace, free gift.” And she sings the song of surprise, caught by the unexpected gift of new life.

The song rejoices in a swift transition. This is not the societal reformation of Dueteronomy 19, but the rapid and abrupt inversion of the upside-down Kingdom.

In society, power and food were inequally distributed. The song anticipates the Magnificant in Luke 1, a new social reality, a radical change.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich
He brings low, he also exalts
He raises the poor from the dust
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with princes
And inherit seats of honor.

Such a vision immediately raises a range of questions; How realistic is this dream? How domesticated is the previous Reformation model? Is it enough to work for legal reform? Are there times when a new dream is needed? This is the grit test that must always haunt the song of vision.

But alongside the grit test we must appreciate the role of vision. In this text the literary forms are important. This text is not a memo or a legal document. It is a poetic “song.” It dreams. It steps outside current realities, current bounds of language. This is the power of poetry. Thus for Brueggemann, “In handling such literary form … one should also see liturgy and all artistic acts as crucial for mission.” (p. 405)

1 Sammuel is perhaps a form of liberation theology. In its dreaming, it also challenges the way society is. This is subversive, a rupture of society, that moves toward an alternative social reality. It is the free and energetic construction of a new way of being.

Hosea 2:14-18
This textual fragment is set in the midst of a poem that draws on the metaphors of divorce and remarriage. There is simultaneously both complete loss of relationship and complete gift of relationships.

So life is fragile. In this text, God takes and God gives. This is evident not only in relationships, but also in economics. A society of wealth and prosperity, of grain, wine and oil, is fragile (v 2-13); new life is a surprising gift (v 16-23).
V 2-13 is a court case, a lawsuit of indictment.
2:14-15 is a hinge.
2:16-12 speak of disarmament and environmental hope.
The hinge is unexpected. God intervenes.

And so this text suggests that God is not bound by human constructions of how she/he should act. In a society of security, this text has looked below the surface. It speaks it’s unique vision of social reality, that God is not bound by social constructions.

The church moves, speaks, knows of a different way of viewing society. The church declares a new way of living, in a society of peace, environment health and inter-connectedness with God.

Interactive student learning:
And to aid student learning I gave out Ello and invited groups to use Ello (children’s lego) to depict these mission models. We then discussed how they might be useful in contemporary cultural interaction.

Posted by steve at 11:49 AM


  1. I don’t know the Missiology article, but Brueggemann also has a whole chapter on ‘Rethinking Church models through Scripture’ which is also very helpful from OT analysis. It is to be found in Cadences of Home (Westminster John KNox Press, 1997) Chapter 7.

    Comment by fyfe — February 2, 2006 @ 12:58 pm

  2. Steve, nice to have you back.

    This is good stuff.

    Comment by Pernell — February 2, 2006 @ 6:03 pm

  3. It strikes me that the way the faith of Israel was re-imagined during the exile has remarkable similarities with the emerging/inherited debate.

    There is a fascinating covert debate about the nature that the new community is going to take. The story of inclusion, found in Ruth compared with the story of exclusion in Ezra.

    On a slightly different subject, my BA dissertation used the method I identified in Bruggemann to look at the way communities were re-imagined in the exile, in early Baptist communities and in contemporary British Baptist communities. It would be interesting to re-visit it in the light this.

    Comment by Graham Doel — February 2, 2006 @ 11:42 pm

  4. cheers Fyfe. I glanced at it today and it looks like the brueggemann book takes a more overarching theme based approach, while the article looks at specific texts.

    Comment by steve — February 3, 2006 @ 7:23 am

  5. I just read “Shaping of things to come” over again and thought: Well they shurely got the OT Importance stressed pretty much. Messianic and from a Hebrew Point of view. The OT is often neglected not only in Emerging Churches, but traditionally in the modern church too, because it is not greek Style and therefore harder to understand. I love it, but I wish I worked harder on my Hebrew during Seminary. Thanks for the post! Shows me a good next step!

    Comment by Bjoern Wagner — February 3, 2006 @ 10:07 am

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