Christianity and Islam

Islam: A Christian Encounter

Introduction ~ Preparations and Entering the Mosque

muslim-communityOut of the three planned visitations, this was perhaps the one I most looked forward too. I have developed a number of relationships in my community with Muslims and while through conversations I have learned much, this was an opportunity to speak with an Imam and experience a place of worship in their community. Sadly, out of the three, this became rather one of the most disappointing experiences.

I spoke several weeks ago with my barber and friend Mo, who is a Muslim, about visiting a mosque and he was able to get me a phone number to the Islamic school here in Calgary where they have prayer services every Friday between 1 pm and 2 pm. Phoning ahead, I contacted them this past week and arranged to attend their prayer service this past Friday. They were open to me being there and even expressed an invitation to stay and experience a funeral that was planned for after the service but, they seemed apprehensive on the phone and so I questioned them if it was still ok to visit. They confirmed and I prepared to attend.

Arriving at the mosque, it became apparent that their parking lot was rather full and there were not really any accessible spots. As a result, I ended up parking two and a half blocks away at a government building while wheeling there and “j-walking/wheeling” across the street to get to the mosque.

There really weren’t a lot of directions to the ramp and those around didn’t really offer much help but, I was able to soon access the ramp up to the doors and as I entered the foyer, there was an elderly gentleman standing in front of me dressed in a suit. He wasn’t really a tall man and he was obviously Middle Eastern in ethnicity. I don’t think he really expected me and may have been wondering if I was lost as he just stood there looking at me for a moment. Finally he approached me and spoke something in Arabic. “I’m sorry sir,” I explained, “I don’t speak Arabic.” He smiled and nodded saying, “It’s ok, I speak.”

I explained who I was and why I was there and he offered to help me into the prayer hall. With the crowd of shoes around, I asked if I should take my shoes off. He said yes and bent over to help me take them off but, the Imam had come over and interjected while asking me who I was again. I explained and he said not to worry about my shoes and I could just go right in. After saying something in Arabic to the older man again, the gentleman took me into the hall and found me a place along the far south side wall.

Becoming Familiar With the Environment

The hall was really not all that big. It was obviously used as a gym space for the school as you could see a set of facing basketball nets on the north and south sides. Thin prayer rugs had been rolled out over the entire floor space however and with an archway in the center front of the eastern wall and what looked like a pulpit with a banister beside it, this space looked very much like a place of prayer and devotion. On the eastern wall was three Arabic symbols of calligraphy which I could not understand but imagine they are referring to Allah in some form of way. There was also a number of banners around the room depicting more Arabic writing and words which resembled values such as ‘Honesty’, ‘Cooperation’, and others.

There were no chairs and as only men were allowed in this space, the floor was quickly filling in with congregants in age of 6 years old and up. Most sat on the floor while some of the elder group would take up chairs along the wall. Some would just be sitting on the floor with their cell phones while others were praying and bowing their heads to the floor.

This is when it began to get uncomfortable. While there was probably close to 400 people now filling in the space, a middle eastern man wearing a medical mask over his beard (his mouth was still exposed) came and sat right next too me. He was praying quietly to himself, rocking in the chair next to me while clicking on an electronic device that was wrapped around his finger and resembled an “attendance counter”, all while checking his watch every 5 to 10 minutes and rubbing his chest.

Now I was trying very hard not to profile this gentleman but, with the events that are going on in the world today, Calgary being known as one of the environments in which “home grown terrorists” and ISIS militants have been developed, and the thoughts of this mosque lacking Nathan’s police security, I began to feel rather exposed and uncomfortable. I lowered my head and began to try and breath meditatively while praying for God’s peace and attention to why I was there. Slowly, I was able to put this distraction to the background of my thoughts.

Service Begins and the Imam’s Message

Soon a man stood up at the front and everyone else stood up in rows. The gentleman at the front began to melodically shout in Arabic what I interpreted as a liturgical Islamic prayer. Everyone followed in response and bowed. This continued for a few minutes with the bowing and kneeling to a prone position with their heads to the ground until everyone sat back down and the Imam step up into the pulpit looking stand.

Much of the Imam’s message was in Arabic but he did share a degree of points in English so that I could understand some of it. What I really noticed however was that his tone and shouting made the communication seem more like a rebuke or scolding upon the congregants. I thought to myself that I don’t think this is just a Islamic experience as I compared it to a “fire and brimstone” message within a Christian church. Still, as a new comer, it felt rather uncomfortable while also my fellow seat mate continued his prayers, time checks, chest rubbing, and “number clicking”.

Domes of WorshipFrom the English I gathered that the Imam began by exclaiming we are to not be concerned of the events of the past, but rather see the present as a time to prepare for the future. From there he touched on “not taking what was not ours to take”, nor stealing, and story of an Imam or Islamic leader that was only paid 72 cents a day, and that although “we” might not agree with Shi’ite leadership, we might learn from their position.

Looking about the congregation, there seemed to be a few who had their cell phones out videoing the Imam speaking. I wondered if this was a regular practice or if the Imam’s rather abrasive preaching tone was receiving a congregational reaction and response.

Closing Prayers and Leaving

When he had finished his message, everyone stood again while in rows. There was more melodic prayers that were chanted from the front with the communal response and bows. Then everyone began to file out the western doors. With the crowds, I thought I would wait in the hall and see if anyone might speak with me. Sadly, no one came up to me or seemed interested in talking while I also sensed what seemed like a communal tension “in the air”.

Reflecting on the afternoon and what seemed like an obvious labeling of myself as an “outsider”, I thought it best just to leave at that point. Slowly making my way out the doors, no one really stopped me or spoke to me and I made my way back to my vehicle and left.

Mo and an Uplifting Conversation

After the events of the Friday prayer service at the mosque, I was eager to visit with my Muslim barber and friend. So the next day I stopped by the barber shop and Mo was in. Over the course of the next hour and a half, Mo cut my hair while we conversed over the experience and the questions that I was left with. I’ve known the guys in this shop for some time and over the years they have shared their stories with me from immigrating from Iraq and Lebanon, to there faith and Islamic backgrounds, and the health and family. It was really great to be able to share openly with them as a group of community friends.

Mo admits that he does not attend the mosque frequently and often puts more time towards his family then the mosque. Yet he is wise in the Islamic faith as he shares often with me regarding Quran writing and Islamic beliefs. This day would be perhaps the greatest depth of conversation we’ve had to date in those regards.

We spoke about the Islamic understanding of the Holy Spirit – that Allah/God is one and no other being, particularly created being, can be God. Yet the Holy Spirit is more like an angel that is a servant of God. This left us comparing the similarity to the Jews understanding of Shekhinah.

Touching on the Abrahamic traditions, we spoke about whether he believed Christians and Muslims worshiped the same God. He shared that he felt we do and that as a Muslim he needs to see Allah’s love for all people regardless of their belief. I compared it to the Christian understanding of the imago Dei.

Mo and I chatted for so long that I didn’t even realize the time and Bonnie was messaging me to return as our tribe was coming over that evening to watch the movie ‘Spotlight’ and talk about it. Still, I felt greatly uplifted by Mo’s willingness to talk and he encouraged me to contact the Imam again. I told him about the fact that as a Christian my deepest desire is to reflect the imago Christi and while I’m not sure he recognizes it this way but, perhaps he was reflecting a form of the imago Mohammad and if he was an example, I’d really like to get to know this man named Mohammed more!


Christ and Buddha

Jodo Shinshu Buddhism: A Christian Encounter

The Comforts of Home ~ Entering the Temple

Buddhist TempleDriving over to the Calgary Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temple[1] I wasn’t quite sure what I would encounter. I knew that Buddhism has many different expressions and I wasn’t sure whether this community would be a full cultural emersion into eastern practices or if it would be a blend of eastern and western philosophies.

Arriving, I quickly noticed that it had recently been renovated and was very architecturally appealing. Later I would get to speak with one of the elder members of the temple who explained that the house was actually 100 years old and had only recently been renovated into the temple that it now is. There was a ramp that allowed access as I wheeled up to a wooden covered front entrance way and a wide front door which a kind lady greeted me at and held open for me to enter.

With a small front foyer entrance, there was a place to hang our coats with a staircase off to the right. It was explained to me that they often host lunches and community events in the lower basement. They had an elevator off to the other side but, I didn’t go down as the service was about to begin.

Inside the worship area at the back was a partitioned area where you could place your shoes and grab a “liturgical” book with chants and teachings. At the center of the patrician was about a 3’ high statue of Buddha wearing a rather bowl shaped hat that covered his eyes. While access was challenging due to the restrictions of my chair, I began to clearly recognize the Japanese influences on the interior decorations. Having spent many years training in a Japanese Aikido Dojo, it was an environment very familiar to me and I felt comfortable knowing my way around.

Ken, the assistant sensei, greeted me and guided my way around to a side entrance while he pulled a chair away to make space for me to sit in the main worship area. Looking to the front I could see an altar with another standing gold Buddha that had its hand extended out. Above it was hanging a golden chandelier of sorts that later was explained to me to be symbolic of a “heaven” of sorts or “nirvana” to which Buddha resides just beneath. Before the Buddha on the altar were two candles and a red apple that was placed on a gold stand (later I’ll share more on the apple). There were then two chairs and knee high Japanese tables in front of them to which the sensei’s James and Ken would sit following their entrance.

It was a cozy space and with about 20 of us in the hall, we could easily see and hear everything that was going on and enter the discussions during Ken’s teaching time. Without the formalities and pomp, you might say it was a Buddhist House Church!

Meditation, Chanting, and Teachings ~ The Harmonization of Communal Homage

Buddhist AltarWith the ringing of a bell, the two sensei’s (James and Ken) entered from behind the altar and briefly bowed towards the east side of the altar. Sitting down facing each other from either side of the altar they had us sit in silence for a few minutes for meditative reflection and then clasped their hands together in a prayerful manner and bowed again to the Buddha on the altar reciting a liturgy of respect along with the same actions by the rest of the congregation.

Ken stood up and introduced himself as James’s assistant and welcomed everyone. To be honest, I found it hard to find the authenticity in some of this experience as in my past practices of the Aikido Hombu Dojo, I was used to being around Japanese senseis that also spoke in Japanese as well. As James and Ken were not ethnically from Japan and were white westerners, it felt odd to me. In any case, Ken then had us turn the liturgy book to the homage for the ‘Three Treasure’.[2] It was all written in English and the congregation read the homage aloud.

Following the first homage, the congregation then read through the ‘Noble Eight-fold Path’ together.[3] These were predominantly a set of living principles one is committed to in remaining noble and virtuous to themselves and others. Comparatively I thought of them as being simpler forms of the virtues in Budo[4] or the Ten Commandments[5] in Judaism and the Beatitudes[6] in Jesus’ teachings on the Mount of Olives.

Over the next half hour the congregation followed several chants[7] much like the singing of hymns in the church. While Ken and James would lead the congregation into the chant, the rest would join in further into the practice. Notes and the pronunciations were in the liturgy book and once you settled into it, it was easy to follow along. At first it seemed to be rather broken in rhythm and synchronization but the further into the chanting, it seemed to begin to harmonize amidst all the congregations’ vocalizations. There seemed to be much like a unification that took place between each of the practitioners that eventually felt rather calming to me as an observer.

Ken also took a short amount of time to give a sort of conversational lesson. It wasn’t so much a sermon as it was an exploration of questions to the congregation into the proposed subject of “self” and how we find meaning in it. It felt a little disjointed as though he was having troubles articulating what he wanted to share but, in essence, Ken was addressing issues of understanding the self through levels of confidence, values for ourselves and others opinions, and the implications of having to much self which then becomes selfishness.

Remaining quiet out of respect, I felt the gospel leading my thoughts into the social understanding that we are known to ourselves only because we are first known by another. Particularly, it felt as though it would have been easy to enter the conversation with a question of “who first knew us?”

There were so many great conversations I remember having in my Aikido dojo in similar fashions; still, I remained quiet and following his teaching, Ken had everyone crowd together for a communal selfie picture before dismissing them.

Beautiful People and the Intertwining of the Communal Self

Rolling PinAfter the service, an older gentleman who was extremely friendly greeted me. We had a fantastic conversation as he shared a bit about the history of the temple and that the Buddhist community had been meeting in this house since 1980. He also shared a bit about the history of Buddhism here in Calgary as there has been a community of practitioners here since 1905. He stated that it was the first organized religion in the area although I found that hard to believe. I will most definitely need to look into this however as a narrative to YYC!

James and I also spoke for a while as he shared about the significance of the apple in front of the Buddha. He shared how it was customary to have an offering before the Buddha and traditionally it was a bowl of cooked rice. However, being that he didn’t cook rice all the time, he chose to westernize the expression with an apple. James also rationalized the gesture as that Buddha was a sensei (teacher) and as such, you bring an apple to your teacher in the hopes of good grades. All I could hear in the back of my mind was the irony of the image of the “forbidden fruit” being used as an offering and Paul’s words in Acts 17:25 that God does not need the service of human hands.

Leaving the temple everyone seemed enthusiastic for me to return. Although carefully making sure to have accessibility in their new building, it seems I was the first person in a wheelchair to come there. I was very grateful for their well wishes and while exiting was greeted by a young man named Chris.

Chris overheard me talking with James about my past in the martial arts and was intrigued. We spent the next 20 minutes on the way to the parking lot chatting and it turned out he knew an old friend from my Aikido dojo. We shared our experiences in the arts and said our good bye’s.

There was much I felt lacking spiritually in the morning’s events but there was also something about the thematic understandings of being known and the intertwining of both relationships and common desires for purpose, significance, virtue, and respect. I can’t say that I feel compelled to return to the temple for the reasons that I feel it wrong to have an image of creation before me in worship and I found myself restrained to bow to an idol.

Still, I feel compelled to bring the gospel and the conversation of the Kingdom into the realities of the virtues spoken of and I know that it is only going to happen through relational presence and the practice of proximity. As I have written and shared before, “How close or how far we find ourselves from any one person, place, or time is not as important as how we engage the possibility of movement towards or further away from them.[8] If it is not noticed yet, let me be open in saying, I have a heart for this culture and a love for these beautiful people. I do not yet know how God may bring this to be but, this experience has reminded me that I must seek and find a way to reengage with this community. To not do so would mean to have too much focus on my… self!










Judaism: A Christian Encounter

Entering the Gate ~ Finding a Common Beauty in the Temple

Entering the GateI can’t honestly say what I expected to find when I drove to the Temple B’nai Tivah building. From past books that I have read, it seemed I understood Jewish synagogues to be rather stark and bare when it came to artistic expression, as it was an effort of their community to not have any “graven image” be upon their walls. That said, what I found in the temple was a rich environment of artistic work and cultural expression!

Moving my way through the hallways I found beautiful paintings and artwork on the walls depicting different storylines from the Torah. One particular painting grabbed my attention with what looked like a tree that was on fire and a man standing next to it. My mind instantly gravitated to the story of Moses and the burning bush while reminding me of the words. “You are standing on Holy Ground!

There was a smaller kind of foyer room to which I entered that had cheese and wine for those coming to the Friday evening Shabbat. Jenny was quite hospitable and offered to get some wine for my wife and I. We politely declined and moved towards the synagogue itself.

After Jenny gave us a liturgy book and traditional yamakas to place upon our heads in respect, we entered the synagogue. To the far north end was a giant cloth curtain that had patches sown into it depicting a Israeli or middle eastern town of the early centuries. On the south wall, to which the door was, there were rows and rows of liturgy books and Torah’s. The back west wall was a number of plaques and engraved names. It was later when Jenny would explain; family would place the names of loved ones who have since past away on the wall and on the anniversary of there passing, they would have a small light that would come on by their names. On the front eastern wall was a beautifully textured and artistically colored brick wall, meant to be reflective to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Set in the middle of this prayerful wall was what Jenny called “the ark”; a wooden cabinet like structure that had frosted glass doors on it and the Hebrew engravings of the Ten Commandments. I was puzzled why it wouldn’t be the Shema and later questioned the Rabbi about it. There was also an alter set in front of it.

Overhead was a number of giant tent like structures with pictures of the Davidic Star and half moons. Jenny explained they were not so much umbrellas as they were giant yamakas. It was a beautiful setting to worship in!

Shabbat Shirah and the Celebration of the Fruits of the Vine

Much of the liturgy that the evening Shabbat worshiped in was sung as apposed to just recited. It was absolutely enchanting to listen to the Hebrew chorus as I followed along in the liturgy. They would have the Hebrew written on each page, starting from the back cover and moving towards the front. Beside the Hebrew though, would be the pronunciation of the Hebrew as well as the English translation. It reminded me much of my Anglican upbringing.

At the end of the evening service, they passed around a number of cups with grape juice in them (I suppose the wine from earlier ran out! – Where is Jesus when you need him?!😉 ). They gave a blessing and we all drank them. Jenny would explain that the significance was in the gratitude of the good fruits we receive from the vine. They closed the service in a communal blessing as everyone joined hands and we recited the Hebrew chorus.

As I had learned earlier in the week, I was eager to return in the Saturday morning so as to hear the Torah reading with the Rabbi’s “Interpretation” of the text. The Shabbat was much the same but, as they brought the Torah out, I was amazed how they paraded it around the synagogue and after everyone (including me as the old man carrying it instructed) had touched the “dressings” of the scroll and kissed their hands, they returned it to the front where they ceremonially undressed the scroll and placed it on the alter.

This Shabbat’s reading came from Exodus 15 and focused on the Israelites complaining in the dessert for the lack of water. Following in the Torah that was given to me (written in Hebrew with the pronunciation and English on the sides of the page), they would afterwards all sit and to my excitement, the Rabbi lead a time of discussion around the text.

With questions of redemption, the forgetfulness of God’s past miracles, and human self-responsibility, it was extremely difficult to keep myself composed and not interject. Out of respect, I chose to remain silent. Reflecting back, I think of the silence Jesus gave before his accusers. Still, I was enthralled as this was reflective to the same experiences I practiced in leading our House Church through scriptural discipleship!

Similar to the Friday evening Shabbat, the service would close with a loaf of bread being passed around and torn from. A blessing for the fruits of the vine was given and we took part in eating the bread.

Conversations with the Rabbi and a Divine Appointment with the Torah Essays

The conversations my wife and I had with the congregation on the Friday evening was very hospitable. Jenny and others were more then helpful, friendly, and open to questioning. I knew how nervous my wife Bonnie was however, and so I chose not to prod too much.

Following the morning Shabbat, I decided to be a little more inquisitive in my conversations. I learned a great deal from Jenny and the others, including the reasons for remembering the dead, the beliefs around “no resurrection” and after life (I’m imagining a remaining mark from the Pharisees), and a little around Jewish hermeneutics even! I didn’t get completely bold until I spoke with the Rabbi.

Meeting the Rabbi, I think it is important to point out that the Rabbi was a woman. As Reformed Jews, she explained some of the history to the first female Bar mitzvah in the 1940’s to the recent acceptance of woman as Rabbi’s in the Reformed temples. Still, there is few of them.

There is many other points I could discuss in our conversation however, I think I’d like to just point out the dialogue we had on Jesus. By this point I figured the worst that would happen is they would throw me out so, I asked the Rabbi, with the morning’s conversation centering on the miracles God performed in the Exodus, how do they recognize the identity of Jesus considering the miracles he had done? (Now you know why my wife elbows me in the side when I start getting anxious in such gatherings and says to me “Shut Up!!”😉 ) Her reply was I quote, “Ah yes, Jesus the good little Jewish boy.” I think she said it that way to see if she could get a reaction out of me because she paused for a moment afterwards and just looked at me.

After a moment she openly discussed the viewpoint that Christianity was a religion that was created by people who wanted to follow a Messiah of their own beliefs and they used Jesus for this but, Jesus himself never wanted to create a religion. She also pointed out that it has only been in recent years that this question would even be discussed and in the older congregants of the temple, this would not even be open for discussion. I respectfully thanked her and left the temple.

I would be remised not to mention something I see as a divine appointment that occurred in the Saturday morning Shabbat. Arriving early, I decided to look through the Torah while sitting in the synagogue. Flipping it open I found a number of “essays” that were interspaced into the text. They were somewhat of a commentary to the writings. Anyways, it was only in a few page uncalculated page flips that I landed on an essay titled ‘The Muslim Traditions’. While the title being in the Jewish Torah was enough to grab my attention, it was the beginning of the essay that truly intrigued me. It started by giving a commentary to the life of Paul and how out of a disillusion with the Jews being able to fulfill the law, he created Christianity out of a Jewish interpretation of grace!

It would go on to discuss Mohammad and the rise of Islam but this belief in Paul starting Christianity completely perplexed me. I did ask the Rabbi about it in the form of “Why not Matthew, John, or even Peter?”; and she squeamishly admitted she did not know about this essay and avoided the conversation. Still, I am amazed by God’s leading to this understanding of the Reformed Jews and perplexed at the same time by the justification of such an interpretation.

Conclusion ~ Revelations to All Authority and Power Given Unto the Messiah

This was truly an amazing experience and a beautiful weekend of worship to our awesome and powerful… Adonai!! With a rich and articulate culture, I recognize a deeply spiritual people in the Reformed Judeo community of the Temple B’nai Tikvah.

At the same time, I cannot help but see and recognize the deeply imprinted markers of Jesus being the Messiah to which they seek. From the liturgy singing of redemptions work and the crying of Isaiah in the deaf hearing, the blind seeing, and the captives being set free; truly the Messiah has come!! In the conversations of the Torah in seeking “living water” and the miracles of past that point to a trusted future founded in the resurrection of Christ!! And perhaps in the greatest of emphasis, the communal blessings of the provided good fruits of the vine, I see the body broken before me and the blood poured out for the many… in the forgiveness of sin!! Praise Adonai!!

Jesus stood, resurrected from the dead, tall before his disciples and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” (Matt. 28:18) Truly I witnessed this in the community of Temple B’nai Tikvah! May they be blessed by the revelation of his authority as Adonai brings them sight. May they be blessed by the present touch and holy kiss of the Word made flesh as Adonai brings them its hearing. And may they eternally experience the goodness of the fruits of the Spirit as Adonai dwells amidst them.

A Missional Hermeneutic Pt. #4 ~ Conclusion ~ Discovering a Communal Hermeneutic

Hearing the SpiritIt is by engaging in the mission of the church that we discover a hermeneutical understanding of Ecclesiology and the way we practice community. God’s word was not meant to be confined to the single interpretation of just one person but rather meant to speak through the communal practices of a community seeking understanding and living in the diversity of expression.

Bob Goudzwaard in his book Hope in Troubled Times describes the diversity of leadership through the image of a satellite. He writes,

Globalization is like a satellite launched into space by certain booster rockets, such as the emancipation of world trade, the information technology revolution, and the existence of a coherent international monetary system. Once it has reached its appropriate height, however, the satellite turns and circles the world autonomously under its own power or dynamic. It follows only its own orbit. And from that circuit, it exerts its increasingly powerful influence on the world.[1]

God’s Word catalyzes itself through all space and time, the meaning of which is found hermeneutically through the practice of communal sharing and interpretation. As Mark Love sees this diversity,

Biblical diversity is in part the product of faithful communities reflecting on the presence of God in a variety of circumstances. In turn, this means that these circumstances are not just cultural trappings to be shed for the sake of timeless truths. Rather, these circumstances are necessary aspects of the spectrum that comprises the biblical testimonies about God.[2]

The purpose to any hermeneutic is the seeking out and understanding of God’s Word as we live within the guides of the ancient text of scripture found in the Bible. As Paul pointed out to the people of Athens so many years ago, humanity’s greatest desire is in seeking, “God, [so that they might] perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.[3]

In another phrase, Mark Love puts it as; “The point of interpretation is not simply to uncover the “message” of a text, but to discern God’s identity and the particular shape of the call of God on our life together.[4]

God deeply desires to be a part of our life and it is through his word that each of us can find ourselves being drawn into the proximity of His movement in and through us. Through the practice of a missional hermeneutic we can find not just ink written on pages but rather a living, breathing, word of life that will forever change us and bring us new meaning.

[1] Bob Goudzwaard, Mark Vennen, and David Heemst, Hope in Troubled Times: A New Vision for Confronting Global Crises (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 140.

[2] Mark Love, “Missional Interpretation: The Encounter of a Holy God through a Living Text,” (Paper presented at Rochester College, Rochester, MI., 5.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ac 17:27). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] Mark Love, “Missional Interpretation: The Encounter of a Holy God through a Living Text,” (Paper presented at Rochester College, Rochester, MI., 6.

A Missional Hermeneutic Pt. #3 ~ Three Worlds Converging: Finding a Hermeneutical Practice in Context, Cultures, and the Gospel

Upside Down WorldOver the course of reading and taking into the accounts of the strengths in each of the past approaches, I recognized a convergence of viewing scripture within the worlds of Context, Culture, and the Gospel as their movements interacted with one another. Finding a hermeneutical understanding to the scriptures could not be separated from any of these elements and through them, God would speak timelessly to all people.


As Miroslav Volf recognizes, “In addition to having been written in the past, the Bible, to a great extent, tells stories about concrete events from the past.[1] We cannot dismiss the importance of recognizing the historical placement of these great narratives as well as the characters involved, the environments they take place in, the larger text to which they are a part of, and the time to which they take place.

Mark Love describes its importance as it, “bears the potentiality of bringing deeper and richer theological understanding, and, in turn, broadening our understanding of what God is doing in the world.[2]

Of course this understanding cannot dismiss the contextual account of relational placement today. Nor the reality that contexts are diverse and uniquely coexistent with a multitude of axis points to which the text speaks. Still, as James Brownson writes, “All of humanity is called to glorify God, not by suppressing diversity and particularity, but by sanctifying it.[3]

We are all uniquely part of a grand metanarrative to which God speaks. In this way we can take into account the context of scripture and find relational markers that build relevance to our understandings today.


Brownson points us in the direction that, “Each culture’s apprehension of God in scripture may be accurate but is always provisional, and that God is most fully known and glorified through a diversity of cultures and cultural perspectives.[4] It is in the understanding of traditions, rituals, politics, metaphors, anthropology, and language that the Biblical text can share a rich voice of God’s meaning and desire to communicate with his creation both in history and today.

Yet as Michael Gogheen points out, there is a danger in not taking into account the Biblical context of culture first before relationally tying it to today’s. He writes, “In the West, it is our culture’s story and its images, which have too often dominated the church’s sense of itself and informed its life. If the church is to recover its God-given identity and role in the world, it needs to be intentional about recovering the biblical story and its images.[5] If we solely base our understanding of scripture through the eyes of our cultural practices today, we run the risk of placing these images into an ideological pattern which eventually could lead to a idolatrous perpetuation, dismissing the role of God at the blinded arrogance of human religious control.

Taking into account the Biblical understanding of culture can lead us to an understanding of the root meaning and therefore allow God to speak diversely and creatively throughout all cultures. In James Brownson’s words, “The reality of God’s presence is at least potentially available within the symbolic world projected by any specific culture.[6]


Bridging the first two worlds into a paradigmatic relationship within itself, the gospel allows God’s Word to speak through first a Christological framework of authority as Hunsberger states, “It summons to allegiance and decision. (It makes a claim.) It presupposes a public horizon and universal scope. (It presents itself as world news.) It regards death and resurrection as paradigmatic. (It opens up a way.)[7]

Paul’s words in Philippians 2 come to mind as he writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.[8] We must ask ourselves where we see the text as a whole being enfleshed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By this understanding we can move towards an understanding of Missiology.

Missiology is a recognition to the “sentness” each community and person has as being part of the mission of God in a particular place and a particular time. Brownson articulates that, “the gospel functions to bring about a fundamental transformation in a way people in a specific situation interpret the Christian tradition, understand themselves, and situate themselves in the world as a whole.[9] We must be drawn to action by the scripture as we see God’s desire for His people and world. As Jesus calls us, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.[10]

[1] Miroslav Volf, Captive to the Word: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 16.

[2] Mark Love, “Missional Interpretation: The Encounter of a Holy God through a Living Text,” (Paper presented at Rochester College, Rochester, MI., 5.

[3] James V. Brownson, Speaking the Truth in Love: New Testament Resources for a Missional Hermeneutic (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1998), 21.

[4] Ibid., 23.

[5] Michael W. Goheen, A Light To The Nations: The Missional Church And The Biblical Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 6.

[6] James V. Brownson, Speaking the Truth in Love: New Testament Resources for a Missional Hermeneutic (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1998), 22-23.

[7] George R. Hunsberger, “Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation,”, 317.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Php 2:5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9] James V. Brownson, Speaking the Truth in Love: New Testament Resources for a Missional Hermeneutic (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1998), 54.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 6:33). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

A Missional Hermeneutic Pt. #2 ~ Foundations of Missional Artistry: Four Approaches to a Hermeneutical Practice

Keys to UnderstandingIn his ‘Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic’ George Hunsberger present four streams of thought in a missional approach to hermeneutics. Each one holds to a vital emphases or point to finding meaning in the scriptures but may fall short in other areas of interpretation.

The first approach to defining a hermeneutic focuses on the writing of scripture as a whole collected work, while finding the central understanding on the story or mission of God throughout the completed text. Speaking from Christopher Wright’s approach, Hunsberger states that, “taken as a canonical whole, the Bible, he says, tells the story of God’s mission in and for the whole world, and with it the story of the people of God whom God has called and sent to be implicated in that mission.[1]

In this view, the biblical text as a whole is viewed as a narrative, which does not seem to leave much room for the expression of cultural metaphorical expression. Historically we know also that many of the first century Christians and their community’s did not have access to the whole of Christian scriptures as we find today in the canonized Bible. Do we then assume that they did not know or truly understand the Word of God? I do not think we can make that assessment.

Still, this view points us to the importance of recognizing the metanarrative voice to which scripture can speak to us. This of course extends into the greater picture of today as we call in our own narratives and ask where is God in the bigger picture.

The second approach Hunsberger identifies is the missional purpose of the writings of scripture. This is an approach that no doubt focuses out of Paul’s words to Timothy in saying, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.[2] Quoting Darrell Guder as one of the main proponents, Hunsberger states, “The New Testament writings have as their purpose to equip the churches for witness.[3]

I would agree that the scriptures were written for equipping in service and mission however, we cannot dismiss their intrinsic value in the workings of the redemption and sanctification of the inner self we all are in search of. The power of transformation to which God speaks through the scriptures is one not just for the non-believer but for the believer taking part in it’s reading also!

Thirdly, Hunsberger distinguishes a hermeneutic stream in the missional locatedness of the reader. Speaking from the viewpoint of Michael Barram he describes it as, “the claim that ‘Christian congregations caught up in the missio Dei read the Bible from a social location characterized by mission’”[4]

Without a doubt, we must allow the scriptures to speak to us through the practice of community. The ecclesia in which the gospel speaks, shapes the enfleshing acts to which God’s Word molds people into the mission to which he has called them. And yet, we cannot dismiss the individual relationship each person has with his Word also. Just as God calls community to be in mission, he also calls each individual to be on mission and as such the scriptures continue to have a validity in the missional locatedness of every believer. As Alan Hirsch has pointed out, “Every church is a church planting church. Every believer is a church planter.[5]

The forth and last hermeneutic that Hunsberger identifies is in the missional engagement with cultures. This is largely reflected in James Brownson’s work as Hunsberger describes, “his model focuses on what is taking place in the missional moment as biblical writers address the people of their own times and places in terms of the received religious tradition.[6]

Mark Love sees this approach as offering a,

hermeneutical shift that does not begin with the relationship of the reader and the text, but that begins instead with the relationship between God and the biblical texts as we find them.[7] This is a shift that, “does not begin with the relationship of the reader and the text, but that begins instead with the relationship between God and the biblical texts as we find them… It’s not just the case that we read these texts. It is possible that these active texts can read us and re-describe our worlds.[8]

With this understanding, in approaching our own practice of reading scripture we should always begin with the question of, “In what way does this reveal the identity and character of God?” Followed by the secondary reflection of, “How does this revelation of God’s identity shape our understanding and call us into the creation of the world around us?

It is from these approaches that I have reflected on my own approach to hermeneutics and seen how the three worlds of Context, Culture, and the Gospel have converged to allow God’s Word to speak into life. It is these thoughts to which I will turn to in my next post.

“So, now we have a holy God and a living text, and these features should determine how the text performs among us. It would be a violation of both a holy God and a living text to treat the text as a lifeless object, or simply as a container for meanings that we can excise through the surgical use of critical approaches. Missional hermeneutics, or biblical hermeneutics in general, should proceed on the notion that these living texts generate meanings. It is not just that we read these texts. It is possible that these active texts can read us and re-describe our worlds” ~ Mark Love in ‘Missional Interpretation: The Encounter of a Holy God through a Living Text

[1] George R. Hunsberger, “Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation,”, 311.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (2 Ti 3:16–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] George R. Hunsberger, “Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation,”, 313.

[4] Ibid., 314.

[5] Alan Hirsch, “Alan Hirsch: Every Believer a Church Planter”, Verge Network, Web, (, 2011).

[6] George R. Hunsberger, “Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation,”, 316-317.

[7] Mark Love, “Missional Interpretation: The Encounter of a Holy God through a Living Text,” (Paper presented at Rochester College, Rochester, MI., 3.

[8] Ibid., 3-4.

A Missional Hermeneutic Pt. #1 – Hearing and Understanding the Voice of God

Listening to GodIn the very deepest parts of our human nature, it is our desire to know, hear, and understand the voice of our creator. After all, we were created in his image and in that reflection he spoke to us and blessed us saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.[1] But fruitfulness and dominion need meaning and understanding and this is why hermeneutics are so important as without them, we are left in a pit of noise, deafened by our own ignorance and arrogant pride.

For this reason I am reflecting on the importance of understanding a missional hermeneutic to the Christian Holy scriptures, the different approaches taken, and how I might see my hermeneutic taking shape in understanding the Word of God.

As George Hunsberger describes, a hermeneutical understanding has for a long time been discussed and yet no formal practice or consensus has been agreed upon. He states that,

On the one hand, there seemed to be some sharp differences emerging between the various proposals being made about what a missional hermeneutic is. As both participant and observer, it seemed to me that we had not achieved a uniform definition, and perhaps not even a uniform way to pose the question.[2]

Of course if we are to truly understand the question of hermeneutics, we must be willing to ask who the inquisitor is. For what reason was scripture written? And in what way do we understand God’s existence in writing such texts?

Perhaps in a similar way, this is the same approach Mark Love was purposing in his Paper ‘Missional Interpretations’ as he writes:

“It is my contention that anything that passes for a missional hermeneutic should focus on the use of the text in communities pursuing the questions, “To what is God calling us?” and “With whom are we to share in God’s mission?” These questions are properly framed when hermeneutics is defined less around the relationship between reader and text, and more around the relationship between God and text. By this, I mean that both the biblical testimonies concerning the identity of God and the actual phenomenon of Scripture must be brought into meaningful relationship. In other words, “who is God?” and “how can this particular collection of texts correspond to God’s identity?” are the orienting questions that frame a missional hermeneutic.”[3]

It is because of these questions that it is so important to understand and define a missional hermeneutic so that through there exploration, we might know greater how to hear the Words of our creator through the text of Christian scripture and how they speak amidst our own daily lives.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ge 1:28). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] George R. Hunsberger, “Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation,”, 309-310.

[3] Mark Love, “Missional Interpretation: The Encounter of a Holy God through a Living Text,” (Paper presented at Rochester College, Rochester, MI., 1.