missiology

Four ‘Scripture Engagement’ questions every UK Church should be asking

I love to find ways of local and global expressions of mission fuelling each other.

As we in the UK church seek to share Jesus with people in our increasingly complex, multi-cultural communities, what can we learn from sisters and brothers around the world who have been communicating the Bible cross-culturally for decades?

The thing I want to highlight in this blog post is that if we (that is, UK churches) are to orient ourselves and our church activities and cultures to a more missional, outward-focused perspective, we’d be crazy not to draw on the rich insights of cross-cultural mission thinking and practice!

One such area is ‘Scripture Engagement’. Over the last couple of decades, more and more people in the global mission community have been discussing, researching and practising Scripture Engagement (SE), which according to one definition,

‘involves accessing, understanding and interacting meaningfully with the life-changing message of the Scriptures.’ (SIL)

Here I want to offer four questions that I am drawing from SE thinking to help local UK churches consider how we can help people to access, understand and interact meaningfully with the life-changing message of the Scriptures.

1. Are we taking biblical illiteracy, suspicion and hostility seriously?

It’s important to ask ourselves whether we are accounting enough for the lack of biblical literacy in UK society. We simply cannot assume anything of our hearers in terms of background knowledge. So, for example, if you are speaking on a psalm of David or an epistle of Paul, do you spend any time giving a brief overview of who these people were and how they fit into the Bible’s big picture? If you ask me this is a great excuse as well to show how that passage fits into the big story of God’s mission. This can be done concisely and creatively. If you are worried about whether this will be a turn off for those who have heard it before, encourage them to see it as a reminder of all those in the community for whom it is news. Doing this can help normalise bringing friends on a Sunday morning because it assumes an expectation that people will be intentional about this.

As well as a lack of background knowledge people may be listening with big questions about the Bible. Is it irrelevant? Does it condone violence? Is it misogynist? Is it incoherent and untrustworthy?

Find ways of listening to the questions and objections to the Bible that are being expressed in your community and face them honestly but confidently to show that the Bible is indeed good news.

2. Are we taking orality seriously?

One of the great strides taken in recent years has been an awareness of and engagement with the phenomenon of orality. Here is how International Orality Network defines oral communicators:

Oral communicators are people from all over the globe, from all walks of life and all levels of education who communicate primarily or exclusively through oral, not textual means. Their lives are therefore more likely to be transformed through stories, songs, drama, proverbs and media.

While some oral communicators learn this way out of necessity because they cannot read or write with understanding, others simply prefer non-print forms of communication. (Link)

It is important to recognise this because (a) there may be people from oral preference learning communities in your congregation; (b) there will certainly be people in your congregation who tend towards a preference for oral communication means; and (c) the way we often communicate the Bible is framed in rather ‘literate’ ways. Oral learning process information differently to literate learners; are we accounting for this in how we preach and teach the Scriptures?

3. Are we taking the transformative power of Scripture seriously?

The whole premise of Scripture Engagement is based on the assumption that Scripture is life-transforming.

I wonder if we in the UK Church have had our confidence in this eroded over time. It is easy to feel confident in the Bible when it is generally accepted in society as an important cultural and moral resource. Have we become complacent, only now waking up with a crisis of nerve as we find ourselves in the minority and not able to confidently articulate and defend biblical perspectives?

SE work around the world reminds us that God’s Word does indeed have power. I wonder if being attentive to how God has used Scripture around the world would give us in the UK a much-needed injection of confidence in God’s powerful Word for us today. Perhaps it would give us confidence and expectancy to see lives changed?

4. Are we taking the consequences of a positive response seriously?

With that renewed confidence in God’s Word, and a re-energised, Bible-confident Church, we may expect to see more people responding positively to the call of faith in Jesus. Of course, everyone needs to ‘count the cost’ of this decision but, for many, a decision to follow Jesus may well have enormous social and familial repercussions. What will your church do, for example, if someone from another faith community comes to faith and is ostracised by their family? Will your church be ready to embrace and walk with them? Will they be prepared to become their family in a fuller sense than we often think about?

There is lots of talk about mission being ‘from everywhere to everywhere’, and the world being on our doorstep here in the UK. Now, more than ever, the thinking and practice of cross-cultural work is of urgent relevance to the UK Church. Will we ignore the decades of insights from those who have gone before us in our attempts to reinvent the wheel, or will we embrace the rich insights on offer from brothers and sisters. Traditionally, the UK Church has been good at sending; will we also be good at receiving?

 


This July, Tim will be teaching an intensive MA module on ‘Scripture Engagement: Approaches and Issues’ at our UK MA Summer School. You can participate in this as a stand-alone module, or as part of the MA in Contemporary Missiology programme.

member care

Father Forgive

A friend of mine was killed by a terrorist. After becoming a Christian, he was abused and beaten by neighbours and family. This settled down, but just before Easter last year, he was killed. 

Terror targeting is not confined to overseas. Last week, Martin McGuinness passed away with many people remembering all the ambiguity of his life and actions. He was almost certainly complicit in violent deaths as well as later working for peace. Then later in the week, we had incidents in London with a shooting, and a motor vehicle used as a weapon.  

In the face of this, what is the role of forgiveness? Is it right to forgive people who haven’t shown any remorse?  Should we join Norman Tebbitt in wishing that such people be “parked in an unpleasant corner of hell?”

To unpack this, we need to look at what forgiveness is, and isn’t. Forgiveness is not forgetting or pretending it didn’t happen. We don’t “forgive and forget.” Forgiveness is not excusing. Forgiveness is not saying “it doesn’t matter.” Nor is forgiveness about giving permission to continue hurtful behaviours nor is it condoning the behaviour in the past or in the future.

Forgiveness, following the Bible’s understanding, means “to let go,” as when a person does not demand payment for a debt. Jesus made this comparison when he taught us to pray:

“Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is in debt to us.” (Luke 11:4)

Similarly, in the parable of the unmerciful worker, Jesus showed forgiveness was like cancelling a debt (Matthew 18:23-35).

We forgive others when we let go of resentment and let go of any claim to be compensated. Forgiveness is a decision to release. It’s letting go of the need for revenge and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment. 

Forgiveness frees a captive. In this, it’s important to note that the main captive is ourselves. Forgiveness frees us from the repetition of anger. If we harbour resentment, then what sets sail from that harbour is polluting to us who harbour it. Holding on to bitterness brews our hearts with bitterness.  Forgiving means that we are released. 

 As the family of Kurt Cochran, killed in London’s recent car attack, have said,

“[Kurt] wouldn’t bear ill feelings towards anyone and we can draw strength as a family from that… His whole life was an example of focusing on the positive. Not pretending that negative things don’t exist but not living our life in the negative – that’s what we choose to do.” — (link)

Forgiveness also releases the perpetrator.  It doesn’t mean that they aren’t challenged and held to account. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t faced up with the evil of their actions, but this is done so that they can change rather than from a desire for revenge. Forgiveness replaces bitterness with the wish that the person be faced up to, and changed for the better.  We wish good upon the person, not a place in hell.

At Easter, we remember Jesus praying “Father forgive.” That is both an example and an imperative. It’s both a model and a command in mission as much as anywhere else. In our mission situations we will see and share in some awful situations. My friend, in recounting the times of persecution, said that his heart was that he joined with Jesus in praying “Father forgive.”  I know that would be his response to those that killed him.  This is both an example and a call as we do mission.


If you want to look deeper into the way theology impacts the way we do mission with one another, why not consider an MA in Contemporary Missiology with Redcliffe? Apply deep reflection to real-life situations, and study as you work with part-time blended learning. What’s more, Colin is the course leader! Contact us today to have an initial conversation.
missiology

Hospitality: When Faiths Meet

Two Cathedrals hit the news this month for interfaith engagement. The first was Glasgow where during a service of worship there was a reading from the Qur’an (Sura Miriam) which includes a fairly docetic picture of Jesus (the baby Jesus speaks out in defence of his mother). An English translation of the passage was available in the order of service. However, the reader went past the section outlined to include verses that specifically deny the Sonship and divinity of Jesus. Whoops. Cue a lot of concerned and upset feedback (and rightly so, in my opinion).


The second was at Gloucester Cathedral where, as part of a multifaith exhibition in the cloister and chapter house, an example of the Muslim call to prayer was given. This was posted on Facebook without much context and the subsequent outcry meant that this too hit the national news. I think this was a different issue from the first. Peter Ould puts it well in this Christian Today article:

Gloucester Cathedral was engaging in a multi-faith education day. This included an example of the Islamic call to prayer, but crucially that was not undertaken during a service and there was no sense of obligation to listen to it – it happened while the participants moved around the cathedral engaging with other forms of spirituality as part of an academic engagement with those cultures. Dean Stephen Lake got it absolutely right…

 Interfaith engagement can be fraught with difficult issues and the potential for upset. In the face of this it was interesting that both Cathedrals used the issue of hospitality to defend their actions. Dean Stephen Lake of Gloucester commented that

Being a place of hospitality is important to us, especially in our local multi-cultural context. This art exhibition and its opening meeting is an important expression of the need to come together with people different from ourselves.” [italics added]

As well as interfaith events, hospitality is increasingly a part of the discussion about mission, begging the question to what degree interfaith events fall under the rubric of mission. So, we have the very real question of the place of hospitality in mission. What is hospitality? Is it unquestioning welcome? What is the role of welcome and hospitality by Christians when ideas, ideologies and theologies that are contrary to Christ and his teaching are also involved? Conversely, is a lack of welcome justified on the grounds of these differences? If mission is doing God’s work, how do we show his welcome, his call, the absurd hospitality of the Prodigal’s father?

Today’s blog has no answers but starts to pose the questions. Indeed, the genius of doing theology well is to first of all find the right questions. We need to articulate the right questions in order to explore fruitful answers. Our theme for this year’s MA summer intensive at Redcliffe College is “Hospitality and Mission” and this is something we want to start exploring in depth. Questions and comments below are very welcome. In the next few weeks we can look to beginning to find some answers.