“Prophet to the Nations” Missional Reflections on the Book of Jeremiah

Author: Revd Dr Chris Wright is International Director of Langham Partnership International.


Introduction and background
One way or another we are really going to be concentrating on the book of Jeremiah this evening as a case study in what I want to call missional hermeneutics, or missional interpretation of the Bible. But I need to fill in just a little bit more of that personal background that Tim did hint at in his introduction to me, so that you can see a little bit of where I am coming from and how it is that I stand before you trying to talk about mission and the book of Jeremiah which don’t seem to be the most obvious partners. As Tim said, I went to India in the 1980’s and I was teaching on the faculty of the Union Biblical Seminary, teaching Old Testament, having done a degree in Old Testament ethics but teaching in a context in which many of the ethical challenges and mission realities of the church were very close to the surface, in a country where obviously there was a majority people of a different faith and where there are very great ethical challenges in the society. So I began to reflect, even then in my teaching, on the relevance of the Bible to issues of ethics and mission in a very directly relevant way, simply by living in the midst of a different culture, which is always a very good thing to do.
Then I came back in the 1980’s to the UK and, as was also said, I ended up on the faculty of All Nations Christian College, very much a sister college of Redcliffe, committed to training people for cross-cultural mission. I inherited from Martin Goldsmith, whom some of you know, a course called the Biblical Basis of Mission, but for many years I told the students in the opening lecture “I really wish I could change the title of this course, but you don’t get allowed to do those kind of things if you are only the Principal”. But I thought “I want this to be the Missional Basis of the Bible; what I want you to see is not just that mission is something the Bible talks about, but actually mission is what the Bible is all about, that we can see mission as a major hermeneutical key to understanding the Scriptures themselves.
So I then, as a kind of subversive campaign, began to encourage quite a number of students who came to do an MA in Missiology, to consider doing their dissertation with a missiological exploration of some part of the Bible. Of course, many of them wanted to do something on their own particular country, or some area of missionary work, but for those who hadn’t got a specific practical issue I said “Why not look at Deuteronomy, or the Deuteronomic history, or the Book of Proverbs, or the Book of the Twelve, or whatever and just ask “What would it mean to look at this part of the Christian Scriptures from the angle of mission?”. I said “I’d like you to do two questions. One, “What are the issues that this text raises for the theology and practice of mission?” In other words, taking questions out of the text to address our practice. Then secondly, “What questions does our practice of mission and the issues of mission address to this text?” So that you are looking at the thing from both angles.” A number of MA students did that and I found it quite fascinating to supervise their work and to see what they would come up with.

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