The Use of the New Testament in Mission: Methodological and Hermeneutical Reflections







This paper is an attempt to carry on my reflections on New Testament and mission from a methodological and hermeneutical perspective. This means that part of the material can be found in my book New Testament and Mission: Historical and Hermeneutical Reflections (1999; 2nd. ed. 2002) as well as in some recent articles. The hermeneutical problem, however, is presented in a new way, and a number of new insights have been added.


My contribution has three parts. In an introductory part I am giving some preliminary discussion of motivation and methods. Part II is a survey of various ways of motivating mission. Part III will focus on some hermeneutical problems.


It should be noticed that my reflections are provisional and tentative. References are usually put in the brackets with a list of literature at the end. In some case, however, I have not given the full bibliographical information (in order to reduce the length of the bibliography at the end).



I. Introduction


Motivation and methods

The hermeneutical task can be described in different ways. Some would speak of "biblical foundations" or ¬°¬įbiblical basis¬°¬Ī; others of "point of orientation", or "biblically inspired perspective". ¬°¬įBiblical groundings¬°¬Ī is another term which is used particularly by evangelicals. By contrast, some catholic missiologists would rather operate with a systematic philosophy of religion or theology alongside the Bible. The latter might criticize the former for using the Bible improperly as just such a book of doctrine containing a system of truths (Spindler 1995: 126).


Following Spindler (1995: 126) one can distinguish between three kinds of questions that must be asked:


              (1) Why mission. That is, the reasons that make mission possible and necessary.


              (2) How must the church carry out mission? That is, the methods of missionary activity in and according to the Bible.


              (3) What is mission? That is the essence of mission.


All of these questions are relevant for this study. The motivation, the method and the essence of mission will all be considered in what follows.



Definitions of mission

Biblical scholars and missiologists tend to define ¬°¬įmission¬°¬Ī in different ways. This might be illustrated by the following¬† points:


a. It is often argued by historians that a definition of a missionary religion must include the factors of both intentionality and activity. In an article dealing with the understanding of Jewish mission R. Riesner claims that one has to make a clear difference between the active mission of a religion and its passive attraction. He therefore proposes to define mission as an activity intended to win converts (Riesner 2002: 221-223). Such a narrowly construed use of the term mission¬† has its advantages. However, a broader definition is needed. Most missiologist would argue that mission or attraction is not an ¬°¬įeither-or¬°¬Ī (cf. below on the comprehensive understanding of mission).¬†¬†


b. Biblical scholarship has tended to focus on the issue of¬† Gentile mission. It is evident that this issue is of great importance from a historical point of view (cf. the recent collection edited by J. √Ödna & H. Kvalbein 2000). But what is its hermeneutical relevance ‚Äď apart from the question of Christian mission to the Jews? One aspect of the answer might be what has been called ¬°¬įthe cultural mandate¬°¬Ī: it means ¬°¬įto make the principle of ¬°¬įneither Jew nor Gentile¬°¬Ī the touchstone for our thought and to make the apostolic practice the paradigm for our action as we seek to apply the Good News of new life in Christ Jesus to the various cultural issues of life today¬°¬Ī (Longenecker 1984: 44).


c. Other scholars are asking more broadly than just the Jew-Gentile issue. Their starting point for reflection is the universal gospel. So, for instance, D. Senior & C. Stuhlmueller emphasize ¬°¬įthe universal mission of the church¬°¬Ī (1983: 315). ¬°¬įTo be universal, capable of embracing and being expressed by all cultures and all peoples, is essential to the gospel. The god-given mission of the church is to all nations¬Ę¬•¬°¬Ī (1983: 2). No wonder that this approach is confirmed by many systematic theologians, e.g. C.E. Braaten: ¬°¬įMission is the process of exploring the universal significance of the gospel in history¬°¬Ī (Braaten 1977: 2). ¬°¬įNothing less than the universal gospel will meet the needs of the human condition we experience today¬°¬Ī (p. 2). These examples indicate that the focus on the universal gospel is important in both a historical and hermeneutical perspective. The main problem here is how to combine the universal perspective with the local or contextual expression of the gospel (cf. Nissen 2002b, on the problem of Christology in relation to the global and the local see Nissen 2000).


d. A number of scholars have taken as their starting point the issue of ¬°¬įsending¬°¬Ī. This includes a recent collection of articles edited by W.J. Larkins & J.F. Williams. "In the Bible, "mission" is the divine activity of sending intermediaries whether supernatural or human to speak or do God¬Ę¬•s will so that God¬Ę¬•s purposes for judgment or redemption are furthered" (Larkin/Williams 1998: 3).


As to methodology three steps are proposed: a) investigation of historical background, 2) analysis of the New Testament documents, 3) synthesis of findings. This book seeks evidence for the writer¬Ę¬•s view of the theme of mission. Word studies of apostello, pempo, erchomai, poreuomai, kerysso, euangelion, ethnos, basileia, and cognates are considered to be the starting point (Larkin/Williams 1998:4).


The missiologist DuBose in a similar way have taken the issue of ¬°¬įsending¬°¬Ī as his starting point. He pleads for ¬°¬įa hermeneutic built around one central idea, such as the concept of the sending¬°¬Ī (DuBose 1983: 150). In effect, however, he declares one verb to be the key verb in the Bible, at the expense of other verbs which ‚Äď given the same methodological approach ‚Äď could with equal justification claim to be key verbs. The results are twofold: there is at tendency to see ¬°¬įsending¬°¬Ī everywhere in Scripture, and to harmonize the meaning of the verb ¬°¬įsend¬°¬Ī as though it means the same in every book of the Bible (Bosch 1986: 68).


The perspective in the work of Larkin & Williams is broader than that of DuBose. Nevertheless their focus is also restricted to one aspect of mission. Furthermore, their approach seems to presuppose the traditional historical approach to the text: it is the task of biblical scholars to establish the exact original meaning(s) of the term ¬°¬įsending¬°¬Ī and then ¬°¬įapply¬°¬Ī these to our understanding of mission or use them as a checklist to ascertain whether or not our missionary enterprises are ¬°¬įbiblical¬°¬Ī. This approach, however, should be replaced by a more dialectical conversation between the interpreter and the text (see part III).


Furthermore, a more comprehensive definition is needed. To be sure, a distinction should be made between mission and the related term ¬°¬įevangelism¬°¬Ī Although mission and evangelism are linked together and inextricably interwoven in theology and praxis, mission has a broader meaning (Bosch 1991: 409-419; Klaiber 1997: 24-27). Mission is the church sent into the world, to love, to serve, to preach, to teach, to heal, to liberate. This comprehensive understanding of mission is often defined by the threefold task of the church: witness (martyria), the service (diakonia) and communion (koinonia). At least four aspects of mission can be discerned (Nissen 2002: 18):


1)        mission as being sent out (especially John),

2)        mission as making disciples of all nations (Matthew),

3)        mission as deliverance and emancipatory action (Luke),

4)        mission as witness (Acts; John).


If we chose only one of these concepts (the list is not exhaustive; see below), our focus is bound to lead to reduction, since the New Testament comprises a variety of missionary approaches. We should avoid what I would call a genre-reductionism, and not only use "sending" texts in our understanding of mission.





II. Different ways of using the New Testament in mission


In this part I shall try to categorize different types of using the New Testament in mission. The different categories need not be exclusive of each other. Thus, there might be an overlapping between different types of motivation. 



A. Ethical motivations for mission


1. Mission as a command

The mission command of the resurrected Christ is known in four different versions. In addition, there is a reference to a missionary mandate in the pre-Easter material of the synoptic gospels (e.g. Matth 10:5-16). In these texts mission is conceived of as obedience. The so-called ¬°¬įGreat Commission¬°¬Ī of Matth 28:16-20 remains to this day the most important element of motivating missionary paraenesis. However, to label it the ¬°¬įGreat Commission¬°¬Ī is a value judgment. This designation is not part of the biblical text. It might be more appropriate to call it "the final commission", "the last mandate¬°¬Ī or ¬°¬įthe mission charge¬°¬Ī (Arias 1992: 16).


Matth 28 is sometimes seen as an isolated proof-text - answering the question "Why Christian mission?" This idea must be challenged for several reasons. First, as pointed out by many scholars (e.g. D.J.Bosch, L. Newbigin, H. Boer) it was not until the 18th century that Matth 28:16-20 became the primary mission text.


Second, the text has been misused and/or used out of context. The text is mostly understood to be about sending people out in order to bring people into the community of faith. But the accent of the command is not on going out. ¬°¬įMake disciples¬°¬Ī is the imperative and carries the main emphasis (Kasting 1969: 36). The commandment bears on the formation of the disciples, not on their departure.


Third, it is pointed out by scholars (e.g. Boer 1961: 109-110) that nowhere in the New Testament does the Great Commission play a role concominant to the role it played in modern Western mission. The decisive initiating factor for mission in the early church was not obedience to a command, but the activity of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost (Boer 1961: 109-110). Formally Matth 28 is a command, but Protestant mission has often emphasized in a one-sided manner obedience as a motive for mission (Bosch 1983: 219-220; Soares-Prabhu 1994: 272-273). If the last commission is interpreted in this way, it is easily placed in the context of legalism. Mission is then depersonalized and the "command" becomes a marching order of Christian militia, engaged in a holy war.


This critique of the use of Matth 28 has been voiced in particular by scholars from the South. In the past ‚Äď it is said -¬† Matth 28:16-20 has been understood as mandate to an aggressive militant mission, as a ¬°¬įcrusade¬°¬Ī. It was imaged as a ¬°¬įconquest¬°¬Ī ‚Äď winning ¬°¬įsouls¬°¬Ī for Christ (Soares-Prabhu 1993: 85-86). Moreover, it is claimed that¬† ¬°¬įmilitary imagery and language has not yet fully been exorcized out of the vocabulary of Christian mission. Hymns, writings and speeches continue to use militaristic imagery, which promotes the idea of mission in subtle ways¬°¬Ī (Thangaraj 1999: 10). Such a militant understanding should be replaced by a cruciform responsibility which will not allow us to see others as simply enemies of the gospel who must be conquered and subdued. Evangelism is ¬°¬įa rightful and legitimate activity of the local church. But it has to be a cruciform activity¬°¬¶ to be done in a spirit of vulnerability and humility¬°¬Ī (Thangaraj 1999: 82).


Acts 1:8 does not belong to the category of a missionary charge in the strict sense of the word. But it has often been considered in this way. Jesus¬Ę¬• words - ¬°¬įYou shall be my witnesses to the end of the earth¬°¬¶¬°¬Ī) ‚Äď have commonly been read as an imperative. But both in Acts 1:8 and in Luke 24:48 there is an ambiguity between promise and task. In the future tense of Acts 1:8 the main emphasis is on promise. It is not primarily a ¬°¬įcommand¬°¬Ī. As Schneider notes: ¬°¬įDas dritte Evangelium und die Apostelgeschichte stellen indessen nicht ein Missionsbefehl in den Vordergrund, sondern die Gottgewolltheit der Weltmission und die Zuversicht, dass das Christuszeugnis alle Welt erreichen wird¬°¬į (Schneider 1982: 74). Bosch in a similar way states: ‚ÄěLuke¬Ę¬•s pneumatology excludes the possibility of a missionary command; it implies, rather, a promise that the disciples will get involved in mission¬°¬Ī (Bosch 1991: 114).


Acts 1:8 reminds us that ¬°¬įwitness (one can say: mission) will simply be ¬°¬įa matter of being¬°¬Ī. And one does not have to be obedient in order to be, as being precedes obeying. Our being as Christians is therefore a being as witnesses in mission; there is no need to take a decision first to be obedient to the Great Commission¬°¬Ī (Kritzinger & Saayman 1994: 2).


To speak of mission as a mandate or a command is certainly an important aspect of the New Testament. However, if mission is interpreted in that way, it will easily be become a legalistic obedience.



At this point we might learn from Paul¬Ę¬•s hermeneutic. It is interesting to see how he interprets a saying of the Lord in 1 Cor 9:14: ¬°¬įIn the same way the Lord gave instruction that those who preach the Gospel should earn their living by the Gospel¬°¬Ī (cf. Matth 10:10).


In the chapter as a whole Paul defends his working to support himself in spite of his right as an apostle to be supported by the communities (9:1-5). Now the point is that he renounced this right. Strictly speaking it was not only a right, but a duty. The important thing, however, is that Paul interpreted it as a privilege which he did not take advantage of. In other words, he did not interpret the words of the Lord in a literal sense. But he did capture their essence, their spirit: the missionary should not be a hindrance to the gospel (Nissen 1984: 47-49).




2. Mission as an inner necessity

A distinction must be made between external and internal compulsion (e.g. Klaiber 1997: 193ff.). The deepest root of the missionary calling is gratitude, wonder at the miracle of God¬Ę¬•s grace (Kritzinger/Saayman 1994: 1-2).


Perhaps the most beautiful expression for the inner necessity for missionary proclamation is found in Peter¬Ę¬•s words in Acts 4:20: "We cannot keep from speaking what we have seen and heard". One¬°¬Įs own experience provides the unavoidable urge to communicate the message of God¬Ę¬•s salvific action in Christ. Many who were healed by Jesus behaved accordingly. They made public - often despite explicit prohibition to do so - what Jesus had done for them (Mark 1:45; 5:19-20; 7:36). It is the same with the content of Paul¬Ę¬•s justification of his missionary activity in Rom 1:14-17: He is under obligation to share with all people the message of salvation which has touched him personally in his encounter with Christ. So it is that for him the urgent command of the Lord Jesus (the ananke of 1 Cor 9:16) and his inner urge to preach are one (Klaiber 1997: 194-195).¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†


It is worthwhile noticing that a similar idea can be found in the orthodox tradition. Here God¬Ę¬•s love for humankind is a foundational motive of the missionary enterprise (Stamoolis 1986: 81). Furthermore, particular emphasis is laid on the motive of inner necessity. This differs somewhat from the Great Commission motive in that the obligation is internalized by the missionary and becomes part of one¬Ę¬•s very being. The question of the motive of mission can be studied from several angles: love for God and men, obedience to the Great Command of the Lord, desire for the salvation of souls, longing for God¬Ę¬•s glory. All these, surely, are serious motives. However according to Stamoolis the real motive of mission, for both the individual and the church, is something deeper. It is inner necessity. ¬°¬įNecessity is laid upon me¬°¬Ī¬°¬¶¬°¬įWoe to me if I do not preach the gospel¬°¬Ī (1 Cor 9:16). All other motives are aspects of this need, derivative motives (Stamoolis 1986: 84).


Paul¬°¬ßs understanding of mission can be seen under the headline of ¬°¬įConstrained by the love of God¬°¬Ī (Nissen 2002: 99ff.) A sense of gratitude constitutes the deepest level of Paul¬Ę¬•s missionary motivation. ¬°¬įIn his letter to the Romans he¬† establishes an intimate relationship between ¬°¬įgrace¬°¬Ī or ¬°¬įgratitude¬°¬Ī and ¬°¬įduty¬°¬Ī; put differently, Paul¬Ę¬•s acknowledgement of indebtness is immediately translated into a sense of gratitude. The debt or obligation he feels does not represent a burden which inhibits him; rather, recognition of debt is synonomous with giving thanks. The way Paul gives thanks is to be a missionary to Jew and Gentile (Bosch 1991: 138; cf. Kritzinger/Saayman 1994: 2).



3. Missionary discipleship

Discipleship as an important aspect of mission is underlined by all gospels. The gospels of Matthew and Mark may serve as examples.  


Matthew: The content and conditions of discipleship in the lifetime of Jesus are illustrated most clearly in the mission discourse in Matth 10:1-42. The mandate given to the disciples in this chapter includes a call for poverty and simple lifestyle. What is demanded from Jesus is an attitude: freedom from acquisitiveness and a trust in providence so absolutely that it can wholly dispense with even the minimum of material resources. Poverty and powerlessness are for Matthew an absolutely indispensable part of Christian Mission (Soares-Prabhu 1993: 80-81).


The church is called to follow Christ¬Ę¬•s example. Mission in Christ¬Ę¬•s way means that we must read Matth 28:18-20 together with such texts as Matth 27:41-42 (the temptation on the cross) and with Matth 16:24-25 ‚Äď where Jesus tells his disciples: ¬°¬įIf any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me¬°¬Ī. It means that the ¬°¬įcrusading mind¬°¬Ī has to be replaced by the ¬°¬įcrucified mind¬°¬Ī (Koyama 1979: 54; cf. Nissen 2002: 31).


Mark: The call to discipleship is also an important aspect of Mark¬Ę¬•s gospel. ¬°¬įThe way of Jesus is the way of the disciples, and discipleship consists in walking the way of Jesus. This is the meaning of akolouthein, to follow, in the gospel of Mark¬°¬Ī (Blount 1998: 128). ¬°¬įThe members of Mark¬Ę¬•s community would easily read themselves into his portrait of the disciples on their way up to Jerusalem¬°¬Ī (Marcus) (Blount 1998: 141).


Discipleship is a learning process: The call to discipleship is a call to open oneself to a model of learning. This model is based on simply ¬°¬įbeing with Jesus (Mark 3:14), accompanying him, experiencing his authority, receiving his teaching and sharing his way to the cross (Klaiber). In that sense ¬°¬įthe story of Jesus is also to be the story of his followers¬°¬Ī (Donahue). His way was flowed into their way. And their way has become the way of discipleship (Pesch; see Nissen 2002: 43).


The hermeneutical question is: To what degree can this radical ethos of discipleship inform and inspire later Christian missionaries. This question was already addressed in the Pauline communities. As I have indicated above there seems to be a conflict between two types of missionaries in 1 Corinthians 9.


The different ways of understanding the missionary have been elaborated by G. Theissen (1975). He considers the Hellenistic urban churches as reflecting a less radical, more middle-class society over against the wandering prophets from Palestine. Thus, according to Theissen the radical ethos is replaced by a more moderate ethic that appears above all in the Deutero-Paulines as a conservative ¬°¬įpatriarchalism of love¬°¬Ī. Does that mean that in the long run the radical discipleship had to be limited to a small group of Christian missionaries?



The issue of itinerant missionaries has recently been discussed by H. Marshall. His question is: Was evangelism a responsibility for every Christian, for the local churches, or only for individuals with a special commission from Christ, as for example the apostle Paul? A consideration of the New Testament evidence confirms the collective responsibility of the church for evangelism (in my terminology: ¬°¬įmission¬°¬Ī). According to Marshall itinerant evangelism and local evangelism were carried on side by side. ¬°¬įAll this means, finally, that the church today can learn from the Pauline pattern without being tied to it, that it needs to recover the charisma of the evangelist but that the witness of the local church remains an obligation that cannot be avoided simply because it is present in somewhat rudimentary form in Paul¬°¬Ī (Marshall 2000: 263).




B. Theological motivations for mission



1. Mission as GOD`s mission

Instead of highlighting the imperative (command, commission, mandate, obligation) one can turn to the indicative. In this case the main focus will be on God¬Ę¬•s action ‚Äď not on the action of the church or the disciples. This way of thinking is underlined in modern theology by means of the missio Dei. Mission is considered to be a movement from God to the world; the church is seen as an instrument for that mission. There is church, because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God¬Ę¬•s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love (Bosch 1991: 390). Here I shall point to three aspects of this insistence on God¬Ę¬•s mission.


First, one of the most important aspects of Johannine mission is its emphasis on the theological or even trinitarian aspect of mission (Nissen 2002: 90-91). ¬°¬įIf the missiological idea of missio Dei as the foundation of all mission applies anywhere, then it is in the Johannine writings¬°¬Ī (Klaiber 1997: 61). According to the orthodox theologian Mar Osthatios mission is the ontological nature of God which is love. Hence God Himself is Love or Mission. It is the outreach of his love that prompted God to create all things visible and invisible and also prompted Him to send His only begotten Son for the salvation of the world and to send the Holy Spirit for the consummation of salvation (Mar Osthatios 1995: 87).


Secondly, another example is the Book of Acts ¬†which insists on the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in mission. In Acts mission is not just church extension. It is the action of the Holy Spirit who in sovereign freedom both convicts the world and leads the church toward the fullness of truth which it has not yet grasped (cf. John 16:8-15). ¬°¬įMission is not essentially an action by which the church puts forth its own power and wisdom to conquer the world around it; it is rather, an action of God, putting forth the power of the Spirit to bring the universal work of Christ for the salvation of the world nearer to its completion¬°¬Ī (Newbigin, quoted in Nissen 2002: 69).


Thirdly, one can also accentuate Jesus¬Ę¬• ministry as depicted in the synoptic gospels. One of the most characteristic aspects of Jesus¬Ę¬• mission is his compassion with the needy. It is this compassion that constitutes the basis of his mission (e.g. Matth 9:36). No wonder, then, that ¬°¬įcompassion¬°¬Ī has become a key word in missiological thinking, in particular among theologians from the Third World (see also Nissen 1984: 153-167 on ¬°¬įSpirituality as sharing in God¬Ę¬•s compassion¬°¬Ī). Sugirtharajah indicates that Jesus¬Ę¬• disagreement with his contemporaries was about how one interprets the Torah ‚Äď whether it has to be interpreted from the perspective of holiness or from the perspective of compassion. Their propagation of a holy and righteous God resulted in the separation and isolation of the community. For Jesus, holiness meant reaching out and accepting people, not segregating them and erecting boundaries. Jesus opened up a fresh aspect of the God of Israel ‚Äď God as merciful (Sugirtharajah 1992: 4-5).


The hermeneutics of Jesus is a hermeneutics of compassionate solidarity with the disadvantaged. The uniqueness of Jesus was his boundless compassion. It was this that distinguished him from all other Jews. And it was this that constituted the real basis for his mission (Bosch 1980) ‚Äď If this compassionate solidarity with the needy can be seen as the clue to understanding the mission of Jesus, the same should be valid in relation to his followers.



2. The gospel as narrative

Another type of arguing is to draw attention to the gospel genre. It is well-known that the earliest version of Mark¬Ę¬•s gospel has no mission command. This however, does not mean, that it is without mission perspectives. The Gospel itself can be seen as a "Great Commission". It is a creation of a new literary genre the aim of which is to communicate the good news of Jesus in narrative form. Jesus and his message are dynamic, not static. Mark tells a story which is ongoing. It is a communication, involving invitation and response. "The basic story Mark offers his readers is the account of a man driven to communicate a message to others and excersing power on their behalf even in and through his death" (Senior 1983: 214; cf. Arias 1992: 38).¬†¬†


From its very beginning the gospel of Mark has a ¬°¬įmissionary¬°¬Ī character: It is a story about of a great spreading of the gospel and a great effect (Stock 1984: 131). ¬°¬įDas Markusevangelium ist in seinem Gesamtcharakter missionarisch, und zwar universal-missionarisch ausgerichtet¬°¬Ī (Stock 1984: 143).




3. Visions as motivation for mission

Closely related to the previous point one could argue that the reflections on the missionary task must take as it starting point a vision: The Kingdom of God.


D. Senior argues that one of the most vital functions of the Scriptures is to suffuse the mind and heart of the church with a vision. ¬°¬įThe biblical stories and metaphors become the language of Christian hope. We long for "the new Jerusalem", a home "without tears", a people who are "neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free, but all are one in Christ¬°¬Ī (Senior 1983: 343).


Scholars from the South in particular focus on the Kingdom of God as the crucial motivation for mission. Thus, M. Arias describes the Jubilee and the proclamation of the Kingdom as the essence of Luke¬Ę¬•s paradigm for mission. This is considered to be a holistic approach (Arias 1992: 56ff.). E. Castro argues that ¬°¬įin the perspective of the kingdom the church is called to be and to go. To be an anticipation of the kingdom; to show in its internal life the values of justice and supportive love; to develop a priestly servant vocation in interceding, in Abrahamic tradition, for the whole human community; ¬°¬¶ and then to be the missionary people of God, called and sent all over the world to proclaim and serve, announcing and manifesting the coming of the kingdom of God¬°¬Ī (Castro 1985: 69).


According to J. Ukpong, the goal and vision of the Church¬Ę¬•s mission is the renewal of the earth. Jesus inaugurated a new age of God¬Ę¬•s kingly rule on earth and has called the Christian Church to participate in the actualization of that kingdom¬† until its eschatological realization. The challenge the church faces in its mission then is how to proclaim this kingly rule of God in a world full of oppression, violence and disregard for creation. Its message, just as Jesus¬Ę¬• message must be liberating, life-affirming and prophetic (Ukpong 1992: 146).


In a similar way W. Saayman says that the biblical story provides us with a powerful vision of new heavens and a new earth (Is 66:17-25; Rev 21). Our expectation of new heavens and a new earth should inspire us to proclaim the good news that the old has passed away and that the new has come. Proclamation in this sense should be understood as the announcement of a deed, not a doctrine; the deed performed by Jesus Christ in his incarnation, death, resurrection and exaltation. In the light of the certainty as well as the expectation of new creation, Christian mission can only be properly understood if it is understood as hope in action (Saayman 1993: 89).




III. Mission as witness in words and deeds


The concept of witness may be seen as another way of using the New Testament in mission. This category has the advantage of combining the two aspects that has been considered so far: It is a testimony to what God is doing (the theological motivation for mission). But at the same time it underlines what we should do. 



1. Mission as bearing witness

There is no doubt that the witness was an important mode of mission in the early church. This is evidence by a number of writings, e.g. 1 Peter (witness of hope), Revelation (prophetic witness), Colossians and Ephesians (witness to powers and authorities). The testimony was not merely one of words, but demanded a total engagement of speech and action. ¬°¬įThe testimony of citizenship lived with integrity (1 Peter) or even of prophetic refusal to compromise by withdrawing from certain societal functions (Revelation) were considered genuine testimony to the good news of universal salvation¬°¬Ī (Senior 1982: 310).


It is worthwhile noticing that witness in word and deeds also played a significant role in the second and third century. The love of neighbours was a distinctive factor of the church as a whole; such behaviour was noticed by the gentiles. It had an effect of recruitment (Hvalvik 2000 284-285). One of the most probing stories from the early church about a community living in ¬°¬įtwo worlds¬°¬Ī is a famous passage from the letter to Diognetus, e.g. 5:5: ¬°¬įThey reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens; they take part in everything as citizens, and put up with everything as foreigners; every foreign land is their home; and every home a foreign land¬°¬Ī.


The passage gives us a picture which is highly¬† idealistic. But it is most helpful in the sense that it reminds churches and Christians to their commitment to witness in context, while it at the same time suggests that the source of their witness is from beyond. As pointed out by Holtrop e. al. (1996: 59): ¬°¬įTo witness is to proclaim a different reality, God¬Ę¬•s reality, that is: this reality turned upside-down as the outcome of God¬Ę¬•s rule. Today as in the past, it opens up new ways of understanding¬°¬Ī


Genuine Christian witness is witness in context. This is also accentuated in the passage of 1 Pet 3:15, the importance of which could not be overestimated (cf. the section ¬°¬įThe mission of hope¬°¬Ī in Nissen 2002: 153-154). It is interesting to notice that this passage has been chosen as background for the coming IAMS-conference: ¬°¬įThe integrity of Mission in the Light of the Gospel: Bearing the Witness of the Spirit¬°¬Ī. The importance of this theme is underlined by S. Bevans. On the one hand, this means the witness that we bear cannot be compromised by any allegiance to a particular context or ideology, whether that be local culture, or social location, or philosophical presuppositions. On the other hand, however, the integrity of the Gospel means that mission cannot be limited to one kind of activity (Bevans 2002: 4-5).


The significance of witness in modern missiology is also illustrated by the concept of the missional church . D. Guder speaks of being the witness, doing the witness, and saying the witness. Being the witness is representing the reign of God as its community. Doing the witness is representing the reign of God as its servant. Saying the witness is representing the Reign of God as its messenger (Guder 1998: 102-109).



2. Mission as invitation

The centrifugal aspect of mission should be supplemented by a centripetal aspect. The Christian community lives in gathering and scattering, in being called together and being sent forth.  This double aspect of gathering and sending is reflected in several New Testament writings.


The gospel of Matthew is one example. As H.-R. Weber points out, Matthew conceived world mission not as a course of indoctrination but as an incorporation of ever new members into the learning community. The main point is to bring people into discipleship, with all that this implies: vicarious poverty, a greater righteousness, and the way to the cross by acknowledging and following he one who lives and interprets the will of God. In short: mission is to issue to all the invitation to discipleship (Weber 1971: 98). The centripetal mission is by definition mission as invitation. It is ¬°¬įevangelization by hospitality¬°¬Ī (Arias). It is an invitation to share the blessings of Christ and it is for all. ¬°¬įCome to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest¬°¬Ī (11:28).


Matthey has pointed out how the focus on the magi¬Ę¬•s pilgrimage (2:1-12) can shape our understanding of Matthew¬Ę¬•s concept of mission. He argues that Matthew¬Ę¬•s specific theses on Christian mission are much more subtle than is usually presupposed on basis of Matth 28. The Gospel of Matthew¬† ¬°¬įgives arguments, directly as well as indirectly, for a balanced understanding of mission and the relation between Jesus¬Ę¬• disciples and people of other religious convictions¬°¬Ī (Matthey 2002: 120).


The Gospel of John is another example of this double aspect. It is well known that this gospel has a strong emphasis on the sending aspect. Sometimes the other aspect is overlooked. However, the Fourth Gospel is centripetal in its call to "come and see", a call made not only to the initial disciples (1:39.46), to the Samaritans (4,29), and to Jesus contemporary addresses (5:40; 6:35.37), but to all the potential readers as well. This centripetal emphasis of the evangelistic invitation is intimately related to an incarnational revelation that is located and "to be seen". This revelation is a center of universal attraction, cf 12:32. One might speak of a ‚Äěhospitality Christology¬°¬Ī (Nissen 2002: 84).


Throughout centuries mission has been understood almost exclusively in the centrifugal sense. However, today we should realize that the ¬°¬įChristian¬°¬Ī countries have become ¬°¬įmission areas¬°¬Ī themselves. Thus, there is a strong need that the centrifugal aspect of mission is supplemented by a centripetal understanding. ¬°¬įEs geht um ¬°¬įGrenz√ľberschreitung¬°¬į und Pr√§senz der Christen in der Welt¬°¬į (Schneider 1984: 92). At this point Protestants have much to learn from the Orthodox tradition with its insistence on the doxological motive for mission (cf. Stamoolis 1986; see also Thangaraj 1999).¬†




3. Community as witness

Mission can be defined also as community witness. Evidence of this concept can be found in various New Testament genres. 


a. The gospels. In keeping with this understanding Matth 5:13-16 has been taken as starting point for missiological reflections on Matthew¬Ę¬•s gospel. According to G.M. Soares-Prabhu this passage can be sees as a corrective to a widespread reading of the great commission. Mission is not just Christocentric (making disciples of the risen Lord) but theocentric (giving glory by building up God¬Ę¬•s kingdom), and the way to this mission is not so much individual proclamation as community witness (Soares-Prabhu 1994).


While the alternative Christocentric-theocentric is questionable, the other part of this suggestion should be accepted. The church ought to see itself as Matthew saw it: as a distinct and appealing counter-culture, a city set on a hill that makes visible the reality of God¬Ę¬•s reign in the midst of the old order: a community concerned not so much to root out the weeds in its midst as to cultivate wheat of such quality that others will see it ¬°¬įand give glory to your Father in heaven¬°¬Ī, cf. 5:16 (Donaldson; see Nissen 2002: 32).¬†¬†


Community witness plays a significant role in John¬Ę¬•s Gospel. As Jesus has loved them until the last second of his life, so the disciples are to love one another (13:34-35; 15:12). In and through their love for each other they are called to give public witness to the life-giving power of God¬Ę¬•s love in Jesus. By this praxis of agape all people will know that they are Jesus¬Ę¬• disciples (Fiorenza; cf. Nissen 2002: 81). ¬°¬įThe life of love in the community of disciples becomes the trademark and the credential of the missionary community: ¬°¬ģIf you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples`(13:35)¬°¬Ī(Arias 1992: 93).



b. The Book of Acts. The missionary character of the community is evidenced also by Luke¬Ę¬•s description of the first Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-47; 4:31-37). The basic characteristics of this community were the close relationship between the unity in heart and soul, the sharing of goods, and the witness to the resurrection (4:32-33). It is obvious that the transformed economical relationships among the first believers is closely related to ¬°¬įthe phenomenal evangelistic outreach¬°¬Ī (Sider; cf. Nissen 1984: 88).


M.T Tangaraj speaks of mission as kerygmatic presence. ¬°¬įThis is one of the earliest models of mission in the history of the church. The church in the New Testament saw itself as just being a community of faith at a given place. Look at the account of the early church at the end of Acts 2. The life of the church is described as the prophetic way. ¬°¬įBeing sent¬°¬Ī ‚Äď the meaning of the term ¬°¬įmission¬°¬Ī ‚Äď was practiced more as ¬°¬įbeing¬°¬Ī than by ¬°¬įbeing sent¬°¬Ī After all, the first few chapters of Acts do not describe much going at all. The disciples were where they were in intentional and specific ways. As one notices, the marks of this community were kerygma, koinonia, diaconia, and martyria. ¬°¬¶Thus I call the mission of the early Christians ¬°¬įkerygmatic presence¬°¬Ī because it was their way of living out the kerygma they announced¬°¬Ī (Tangaraj 1999: 1o2-1o3).



c. The letters of the New Testament contain practically no explicit missionary teaching. Nowhere do we find admonishment to the congregation and their members to actively carry forth the good news. However, the congregation was missionary in its effect simply by virtue of its existence. The congregation is to be "a letter of Christ...acknowledged and read by all people (2 Cor 3:2f.). This corresponds to Matt 5:13-16. Even here the talk is at first strongly indicative: "The city built on a hill cannot remain hidden" (Klaiber 1997: 194).


It should be noticed that the missionary effectiveness of the congregation does not derive from a simple accomodation to the society in which it finds itself, but from a creative nonconformity which lets the alternative possibility for living which grows out of the gospel become visible to the outside world; cf. Rom 12:1-2 and especially 1 Peter (Klaiber 1997: 198).




D. Analogies and precedents


1. Analogical thinking

One of the most widespread use of the Bible in mission is that of using analogies. Biblical stories and events are considered to be precedents to later use. Here are three examples:


1 Cor 8-10: The first example is Paul¬Ę¬•s discussion of the issue of idol meat in 1 Cor 8-10. From our viewpoint the questions raised in 1 Cor 8-10 might seem strange. But in other parts of the world Christians are facing similar problems. So, for instance, in Madagascar where Christians must decide whether they can participate in special forms of funeral celebration (turning the corpse). It is considered to be a social obligation, but also has a religious meaning. It is a question of how to behave towards social norms and kinship rules. Similar problems are known from Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist contexts. There are three ways of relating to this problem (Nissen 2002: 121):


(a)        Rejecting: Following the weak in Corinth one adopts position characterized by strong group boundaries.

(b)        Inclusion: Following the strong in Corinth one adopts position characterized by weak boundaries vis-a-vis non-Christians.

(c)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Points of contact ‚Äď reinterpretation ‚Äď replacement. This is a middle position. On the one hand there is an emphasis on the uniqueness of salvation in Jesus Christ. Other ways to salvation are refused. This means that there is no compromise with paganism, cf. the first position. On the other hand, God is seen as Creator. The implication of this is the accept of contact to the non-Christian culture. But a reinterpretation is needed, and pagan symbols and rituals must be replaced by Christian concepts.¬†¬†


1 Cor 8-10 is just one example of the manner in which early Christians addressed the problem of Church and cultures. A different perspective is offered in the Book of Revelation (Rev 2-3). The strategy adopted by the author differs substantially from Paul¬Ę¬•s position. Here it is question of ¬°¬įeither-or¬°¬Ī. There is no possibility of a compromise. Today most Christians would probably tend to follow Paul rather the Apocalypse. But why is it that we find his model most relevant? In which way do we argue analogously?



Colossians: Most scholars would agree that the readers of this letter are living in a syncretistic milieu. It is also argued that there are many similarities with our modern situation. In my book New Testament and Mission I have argued that Colossians as well as Ephesians are important letters in that they contribute to a biblical cosmology which is relevant in today¬Ę¬•s religious and cultural situation. God¬Ę¬•s economy of salvation reaches out far beyond the world of Christians, even beyond the human world (Nissen 2002: 137).


In a similar way, T. Okure, argues that the contemporary situation makes a missiological reading of the letter to the Colossians, especially 1:15-20, necessary. Missiological reading here refers primarily to how the letter can be read ¬°¬įto promote an atmosphere where Christians and peoples of other faiths can live and work together as God¬Ę¬•s children and members of one human family, respecting the religious freedom of each, and yet, for Christians, without ceasing to proclaim Jesus as God¬Ę¬•s gospel or Saviour of humanity. The letter of Colossians addresses in its own context, though in different terms, the questions of the uniqueness, unicity and salvific universality of Jesus¬°¬Ī (Okure 2002: 62).


Moreover, as T. Okure asks, what did it mean in the first century to proclaim Jesus as the sole Saviour of the world? How did the Colossians experience this problem, and what solutions does Paul offer them? How do Christians today understand this message in their multicultural and accepted pluralistic religious contexts? What actions full of love do committed Christians, children of the day for whom the night of religious discrimination or triumphalism is far gone, undertake to address our situaiton with a christological truth, as Paul did his? These are some of the questions which guide the current reading of Col 1:15-20 (Okure 2002: 63).



Acts 17:17-34: The speech at Areopagus is one of the most famous missionary texts in the New Testament. In recent years the question has often been raised: Can this text serve as a model for our relationship with people of other faiths?


The strategy of this address is remarkable. The choice of Stoic principles as a point of entry and the quotation of familiar Greek writers virtually guarantees attention and a sympathetic hearing ‚Äď at least initially. The degree of overlap between the concepts of this popular philosophy and what the author regards as the basic Christian worldview is striking, and serves the reader as a demonstration of what can be done in approaching with the gospel those who have no familiarity with the teachings of the Jewish scriptures (Nissen 2002: 70).


Many scholars have underlined the importance of the Areopagus speech for a contemporary approach to non-Christian religions and cultures. So, for instance, Legrand claims that in the encounter between the gospel and Greece, Greek thought grows in breadth and depth, but Christian thought takes on new dimensions as well. ¬°¬įThe gospel no longer responds only to the expectation of the prohets and their Israel. Now it is thrust into the heart of a cosmological and metaphysical search and dons new mystical aspects¬°¬¶ The Word finds new echoes in this larger context: it encounters the fundamental question of Being and the One, and takes on a universal value, for the West immediately, and for other metaphysical civilizations, such as India, indirectly¬°¬Ī (Legrand 1990: 110).


J. Dupuis in a similar way argues that the speech reflects a recognizing in the Greek tradition a genuine ¬°¬įfeeling after God¬°¬Ī (17:27-28). That the conversation breaks down when Paul speaks of Jesus¬Ę¬• resurrection changes nothing (17:32); nor does it mean that Paul¬Ę¬•s approach ends up in failure, for Paul adds that some people joined him (17:34). ¬°¬įHowever limited Paul¬Ę¬•s success at Athens may have been, the Areopagus speech inaugurates a missionary strategy based on a positive approach to the religiosity of the Greeks¬°¬Ī (Dupuis 1997: 50).



The analogical model has played an important role in the use of the Bible in mission. However, there are some deficits which must be faced. First, it is difficult to see how the analogies between biblical situations and our own are to be controlled. Second, what is to be done when no biblical analogy is apparent? Are Christians bereft of guidance in the face of radically new challenges?


To avoid the risks of a simple analogical model, one must argue that patterns and paradigms exercise a normative role through analogical imagination, which seeks to act in new situations in ways that are faithful to the original pattern. In order to be both free and faithful, modern believers reason by analogy from the earlier interaction which is witnessed in the biblical text to a similar response to the challenges of their own time. Analogical thinking relies on imagination and the ability to discern similarities and differences between one situation and another (Spohn 1999).


Two historical situations are never totally analogous. But perhaps one can speak of a ¬°¬įdynamic analogy¬°¬Ī between the text and the contemporary situation (Sanders; quoted in Long 1989: 128). This means that no historical situation is repeated exactly, but a dynamic analogy results when we identify in some ways with characterics or circumstances in the text and thus participate in the tensions and resolutions of the text.



2. Biblical figures as source of missionary spirituality

The Bible yields not only theological bases but also practical guidelines for missionary activity. It is assumed that actions of the first apostles and evangelists are worthy of imitation and can be imitated, that they posses a high measure of normativity (Spindler 1995: 136).


This approach applies particularly to the apostle Paul; cf. his exhortation in 1 Cor 11:1. There are many instances of Paul¬Ę¬•s great significance for modern missionary thinking. One example of an earlier date is R. Allen¬Ę¬•s work (1908) which has had much influence on missionary thinking (further references in Nissen 2002: 116). A more recent example is J.A. Grassi who analysed Paul¬Ę¬•s great missionary plan, his concrete methods, and the Pauline church in action. According to Grassi (1965) Paul is both a herald of the word and a man of dialogue.


Paul was a man of great flexibility. He was alert to the "signs of the times" (Grassi 1965: 119-120), open and critical towards other religions and cultures. The modern missionary in a similar way must be flexible, alert to the "signs of the times", open and critical - open to other people, but critical to their religious beliefs and thought-forms (Nissen 1989: 79).


In some sense the person of Jesus can also be seen as a figure to be imitated. He has been called the ¬°¬įUrmissionar¬°¬Ī¬† (Hengel; cf. Pesch 1984: 28). In all the gospels we find material which might illustrate this point. Two stories from the Fourth Gospel are of special interest. The first is the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). The second one is the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4). Both stories can be seen as models for later dialogues. (Nissen 2002: 85-87 and 87-89). The dialogical character between Jesus and the woman is obvious (Chappuis 1982). This story functions as a Johannine paradigm for mission.




E. A multidimensional approach


Even though this survey of various ways of using the New Testament in mission is not exhaustive it discloses some tendencies. On the one hand are those modes (or ¬°¬įmodels¬°¬Ī) that tend to emphasize the missionary paraenesis. Advocates of this approach take Scripture to be the source of a norm that is authoritative for discernment and judgment. They often insist on the apocalyptic urgency. On the other hand are those modes that focus mainly on God¬Ę¬•s mission. Advocates of this theological take Scripture to be the source of knowledge of God who shapes and guides our response to him. They tend to argue in favour of greater patience towards the outcome of the missionary efforts.¬†



The risk of a double reductionism

We must realize that both ways of arguing have their limits. Therefore, one should avoid an unconscious reduction of mission to one single type (Legrand 1990: 6). The Bible is not a single book with a single understanding of mission. The Bible offers a variety of perspectives on what mission might look like.


Furthermore, these different perspectives should be seen as a challenge. As I have put it in my book: ¬°¬įGiven this variey of types of mission (e.g. in the NT) we might be tempted to assign priority to one of these forms. But any choice we might make would have to proceed from an a priori judgment of our own of what mission ought to be. Instead we should be willing to be challenged by the rich variety of biblical data, including above all its unexpected elements. If there are biblical forms of mission that fail to correspond to our own idea of mission, then it is precisely were we should pause. In this way we can be forced to transcend our ready-made schemata and review our way of understanding mission in the Bible¬°¬Ī (Nissen 2002: 159).


This variety of ¬°¬įmodels¬°¬Ī for using the New Testament in mission runs to some extent parallel to what might be found in a related area, that of Scripture and ethics. J. Gustafson has proposed a helpful classification of various approaches to the Bible by Christian ethicists (Gustafson 1970).


He makes a basic distinction between a ¬°¬įmoral use¬°¬Ī and a ¬°¬įtheological use¬°¬Ī of Scripture in Christian ethics. The first category covers what is called ¬°¬įrevealed morality¬°¬Ī, the second category is characterized as ¬°¬įrevealed reality¬°¬Ī. Within the ¬°¬įrevealed morality¬°¬Ī approach Gustafson further distinguishes between a moral law model, a moral ideal model, an analogical model, and a great variety model.


The moral law takes Scripture to be the revelation of a moral law of certain rules and principles to be obeyed. The moral ideal model takes Scripture to be the source of moral ideals of certain goals to be striven for. The analogical model takes Scripture to be the source of moral precedents. One can discern God¬Ę¬•s judgment for a contemporary situation in the precedent by his recorded judgment in some similar biblical situations. The great variety model takes Scripture to be a witness to a great variety of values and norms through a great variety of literary forms. This model refuses to reduce the forms of moral instruction in the Bible to a single theme. The Bible ¬°¬įinforms¬°¬Ī the agent or ¬°¬įilluminates¬°¬Ī the situation, but it is not sufficient to authorize any particular judgment.


Parallel to this proposal one might say that the use of the Bible in mission has often been limited to the first approach. This means that the Bible can be seen as a set of moral recipe. In this case there is a risk of a double reductionism. The first reductionism can be labelled ¬°¬įgenre reductionism¬°¬Ī. This is the effective selection, whether deliberate or not, of only certain kinds of biblical materials as the materials pertinent to mission. The second reductionism can be characterized as ¬°¬įnorm reductionism¬°¬Ī. It is methodologically erroneous to proceed with the assumption of a single biblical norm for Christian mission. This means that norm reductionism should be avoided as well as genre reductionism.



The formative role of Scripture

The question of an adequate biblical foundation is more complex than just a lavish use of biblical illustrations and proof texts. The Bible is not to be treated as a storehouse of truths on which we can draw at random (Bosch 1991: 9), rather: "one must consider the very structure of the whole biblical message" (Verkuyl 1978: 90).


In this connection, one of the most interesting models is that of the Bible shaping the identity of the Christian and the church. What is meant by ¬Ę¬•formation¬Ę¬•? Formation is a nurturing process in which a certain sense of identity, a certain recognition of community, and a certain pattern of motivation evolve. Any community of which we are members ¬°¬įforms¬°¬Ī us in the sense of orienting us to the world in a certain way, encouraging kinds of behaviour and discouraging others.


It is suggested by B.C. Birch and L. Rasmussen that the role of the scriptures in the nurturing of a basic orientation and in the generating of particular attitudes and intentions is a central one. Furthermore, they argue that ¬°¬įour ¬°¬ģbeing¬°¬Į shapes our ¬°¬ģseeing¬°¬Į and the way we see things gives us a paricular outlook and orientation toward life¬°¬Ī. ¬°¬įWho we are and are becoming as a result of faith we hold detemines in large part what we see¬°¬Ī (Birch & Rasmussen 1976: 89 and 88).


The story of Jesus plays a significant role for formation of the Christians. This story shapes or informs Christian action which conforms to, corresponds to, or embodies aspects of his life (Spohn 1995: 100).  All these verbs express the activity of patterning, of extending to new material the shape which was inherent in an original. Th response is guided by the original. The original serves as paradigm, prototype, and precedent to guide the actions, and dispositions of Christians in new situations. Because biblical patterns combine a stable core with an indeterminate, open-ended dimension, the missionary response can be both creative and faithful. We extend a pattern by analogy since we move from the recognizable shape in the first instance to new situations within certain limitations.




III. Hermeneutical reflections


The third part of this paper will contain a few hermeneutical remarks. These remarks have a more general character. They are not restricted to the area of Bible and mission, but certainly they are also relevant in relation to this area.


From a ¬°¬įlinear¬°¬Ī hermeneutics to a hermeneutics of conversation

In the past mission has tended to follow a ¬Ę¬•linear¬Ę¬• hermeneutic, which began with the authority of the Bible and then applied it universally (Jensen 1998: 79). The starting point was the mandate to ¬°¬įGo and make disciples¬°¬Ī and the end point was building churches, often on the pattern of the sending culture. This is hermeneutic of progression. It does not take into consideration the experience or context of the people that are the objects of mission.


This ¬°¬įlinear¬°¬Ī hermeneutic must be replaced by another which presupposes a living dialogue between the Bible and the interpreter. The model should be one of interaction that is a mutual challenge between text and interpreter (Nissen 2000). On the one hand, ¬°¬įWhen we read the Bible, we are not so much interpreting the Bible as interpreting our own lives and life of our community, in the light of the Bible¬°¬Ī. On the other hand, the biblical texts have a transformative role¬°¬Ī (Holtrop.a.o 1996: 60). ¬°¬įThe authority and interpretation of scripture has to be considered from a perspective that asks the question of the capacity of scripture to bring about transformation¬°¬Ī (Holtrop a.o. 1996: 62).


Such a hermeneutic will promote a dialectic ¬°¬įconversation¬°¬Ī between the interpreter and the text which will respect both the questions of the interpreter and the claims of the text. The meaning of the text (a ¬°¬įtext-meaning¬°¬Ī which will be continuous with but not exhausted by its ¬°¬įauthor-meaning¬°¬Ī) will emerge from this ongoing dialogue between the interpreter¬Ę¬•s pre-understanding and the open-ended message of text. (Soares-Prabhu 1986: 87).


Text and experience are two points of departure that must be kept together (Poitras 1999: 44). If, on the one hand, we begin theological reflection from the traditional perspective of revelation, Scripture and tradition, we are in danger of a theological imperialism that overlooks the crucial importance of every local human situation. If, on the other hand, we begin with local experience and culture, we are in danger of reducing Christian faith to a human creation designed to solve problems humanly defined.


The dialogue between text and interpreter demands a two-fold critical reading. The first step is a critical reading of the Bible; the second step is a critical appropriation and ¬°¬įreading¬°¬Ī of our own context. This means that there is no simple correspondence between the Bible and our context. We cannot simply move from our biblical reading to a present application. The move from text to context is a critical, complex and cautious exercise.



The hermeneutics of correspondence

At different times in our lives different texts of the Bible speak more clearly to us. When the images, metaphors and concepts of the biblical text somehow correspond to our own context then the text comes alive. Such an experience is not to deny the truth of all God¬Ę¬•s word for us. Rather, it is the entering of God¬Ę¬•s word into the reality of our daily life. Such experiences carry both a value and a danger. The value is that the text comes alive. It speaks to us. It becomes ¬°¬įgood news¬°¬Ī. The danger is that we are sometimes wont to exaggerate the experience so much that we may exclude other aspects of the richness of Gods world (Bate 2000).


As human beings we are subject to particular influences from our culture and history. We tend to read the Bible selectively. None of us can fully overcome this problem, but we can correct wrong notions by a serious study of the biblical text and by following a method which helps us to hear the text on its own terms.


Our tendency to read the texts selectively is related to the whole process of understanding. Scholars speak of the method of correlation, of the ¬°¬įhermeneutic of correspondence¬°¬Ī (Schillebeeckx). Correlation or ¬°¬įcorrespondence of relationships¬°¬Ī is a key factor in interpretation. Imperfect correlation is almost bound to be tendentious, as in the modernizing of Jesus and the domestication of the Bible. A proper correlation is dependent on ¬°¬įdistantiation¬°¬Ī, the differentiation of the worlds (our world and the world of the text) so that each of them is treated with integrity, but correlation also involves the participation of the interpreter in the dynamics of the text, and the theological reflection on issues arising from it (Nissen 2002c: 81).



Towards a cross-cultural missiological hermeneutics

To counteract the absolutizing of our own situation and experiences it is necessary to stimulate a cross-cultural hermeneutics of the gospel, that is a dialogue between different confessional and contextual readings of the Bible (cf. Nissen 2000: 189-190). Coming from different church traditions and from different cultural situations we can mutually challenge and correct each other¬Ę¬•s enterprise. This will enhance our task, but also widen our horizons to other hermeneutical possibilities. We need each other ‚Äď Protestant and Catholics, evangelicals and liberations theologians, rich and poor, black and white etc. ‚Äď as conversation partners in the hermeneutical task. These hermeneutical partners will assist us in hearing countermelodies for which previously we had no ear.¬†


The situation in which we are has aptly been described as ¬°¬įOne Bible and Many Interpretive Contexts¬°¬Ī. The implication of a global hermeneutic process is that ¬°¬įinterpretation of the Bible is no longer just a matter of a community dealing with the Word in its own context. It is now a matter of deliberation among communities listening to one another and correcting one another. More than ever before, hearing the Word and listening to each other is intertwined¬°¬Ī (de Groot 1995: 154-155, my emphasis).


There is a risk that our contexts can develop a life of their own, divorced from the biblical text and its critical challenge. ¬°¬įWe can create such powerful contexts in which to place Scriptural texts that these texts can be muted and distorted¬°¬Ī (Schreiter). ¬°¬įThe only safeguard we have against this (and even that safeguard is no guarantee) is the ecumenical, intercultural fellowship of brothers and sisters in the faith, where we learn to listen to each other and begin to see the relativity of our own contexts¬°¬Ī (Bosch 1986: 77-78).¬†


It is to be welcomed that the World Council of Churches has initiated a study on ecumenical and cross-cultural hermeneutic. As R. von Sinner has put it. ¬°¬įWe need a hermeneutic that takes both tradition and context in consideration in its quest for visible unity¬°¬¶ In fact, there is a hermeneutical circle; it is through our perception of the context that we read the Bible, and it is through our reading that the Bible reads us (and our context) to take up a formulation used by Hans-Ruedi Weber. And on this way of mutual reading, ¬°¬¶, we need the critique from others. These ¬°¬įothers¬°¬Ī include other Christians and other churches living in our time, as well as our forefathers and foremothers in the faith. It is there that an ecumenical hermeneutic could help us to see whether we are giving enough attention to Scripture, Tradition, context and our hermeneutic community¬°¬Ī (von Sinner 2001: 117).



Final Remarks


Christians from all confessions and cultures must contribute together towards an understanding of what the Bible means for mission today. My own contribution to this mutual reading might be formulated as follows (Nissen 2002b: 32):


Mission is the affirmation of the love of God in Jesus Christ. It is a proclamation of how God loved the whole of humanity in Jesus Christ. Mission is an invitation to come and see how God¬Ę¬•s fullness, the abundance of his kingdom, is realized. And it is a challenge to go out to tell people about this abundance ‚Äď in words and actions.


In this paper I have not intended to discuss the future challenges to Christian mission. Yet, as a kind of conclusion I shall add a few words on where I see the most burning task¬†¬† (more in detail in Nissen 2002b). There is a need for seeing reconciliation as paradigm for Christian mission. Overcoming violence and building peace will be an important issue on the missiological agenda in the next years. A theology of reconciliation is deeply rooted in the New Testament. Th. Ahrens rightly notes that amid the missions of others, Christians remain committed to a mission of love and service in the Spirit of Christ. Missiology will work at a post-colonial understanding of mission. ¬°¬įIt is no longer acceptable to visualize Christian mission as a kind of spiritual warfare. Such forms of religious violence should be excluded in the light of the very roots of Christian faith. Maybe we are entering a new phase of mission in which we do not place our own visions and hopes above those of others, but alongside them. We will not exploit the weakness of others and try to conquer them in their vulnerability¬°¬Ī (Ahrens 1998: 68).


When the expansion of Christianity is seen as the goal of Christian mission there is a danger of choosing a model that makes mission into something like ¬°¬įmarketing, ¬°¬įa product¬°¬Ī. In it mission would resemble the export sales branch of a global corporation, and the prime goal would be like international institutional growth, in which a western model of religion replaces a local model. However, ¬°¬įMission in Christ¬Ę¬•s way¬°¬Ī is different. It is about a praxis of faith which points to Jesus as ¬°¬įthe Way¬°¬Ī and ¬°¬įthe Life¬°¬Ī in a mission of love and service.






Ahrens, Th. ¬°¬įTheology: A Tool for Mission¬°¬Ī, in Into the Third Millenium: Together in God¬Ę¬•s Mission, Geneva: LWF 1998, 57-72.


Arias, M. The Great Commission: Biblical Models for Evangelism, Nashville: Abingdon Press 1992.


Bate, S.C. ¬°¬įMatthew 10: A Mission Mandate for the Global Context in T. Okure (ed.), To Cast Fire Upon the Earth. Bible and mission collaborating in today¬Ę¬•s multicultural global context, Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publ. 2000, 42-56.


Bevans, S. ¬°¬įEditorial¬°¬Ī, Mission Studies vol. 19/1, no. 37, (2002), 4-5.


Birch, B.C & Rasmussen, L. Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publ. House 1976.


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