Thursday, March 08, 2007

Biblical Hermeneutics, Mission and Social Location

Another of the good articles in the January 2007 issue of Intepretation is one by Michael Barram, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Saint Mary's College of California. The article is titled "The Bible, Mission, and Social Location: Toward a Missional Hermeneutic." The abstract reads as follows:

"Despite a long-standing rift between missiology and biblical scholarship, current trends in both disciplines - such as a converging emphasis on the significance of social location in biblical interpretation - suggest that the time may be ripe for a 'missional hermeneutic' that would privilege the missiological 'location' of the Christian community in the world as a key to a critical and faithful approach to Scripture."

The author begins with a recognition of the centrality of the missio Dei throughout the biblical narrative, a feature often recognized in missiology but many lacking many times biblical studies. Barram opts for a refreshingly broader definition of "mission," stating that, "As scholarly missiological discussions have progressed, however, it has become more and more common to view issues of socio-cultural, political, economic, and environmental justice as essentially inseparable from the church's evangelistic outreach to unbelievers." The author then moves to a consideration of mission and the significance of social location to biblical interpretation, stating that "human beings never enter an interpretive process as entirely impartial observers." Barram returns to this notion later as a key insight connected to contemporary missional understandings of the biblical text.

Barram devotes a good portion of his essay with a discussion of the "disciplinary divide," the unfortunate tendency for missiologists and biblical studies scholars (particularly those connected with New Testament studies) to operate in isolation from each other. He challenges missiologists to deal with the issues surrounding biblical exegesis with more care by drawing upon the best academic insights incorporated in missiology through rigorous scholarship, and he encourages biblical scholars "to incorporate 'mission' as a valid and consistent rubric for studying NT documents in their original contexts."

The next major section of Barram's essay is devoted toward the development of a missional hermeneutic, and he puts forward his own exegetical experiment on this that resulted from his 2001 doctoral dissertation for Union Theological Seminary and published as Mission and Moral Reflection in Paul (New York: Peter Lang, 2005).

The author concludes with a return to a discussion of social location as a key to a missional hermeneutic. He concludes by stating, "Ultimately, to read the Bible from a missional perspective is not an eisegetical enterprise but merely an honest acknowledgement of our primary interpretive location as we seek to read the Bible more faithfully today. In that sense, the 'social location' of the people of God is at the very heart of a missional hermeneutic."

Readers will benefit from careful consideration of Barram's thesis as the ideas related to social location and a missional hermeneutic seem to be especially relevant for those living in the post-Christendom West.

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