‘Silence’ ~ Stepping Onto A Faith Of Kenosis

(Spoiler Alert: This post contains depictions and stories from the film ‘Silence’.)

It has been some time since I was this hungry to see an upcoming film. For the last month I have been excitedly waiting for the movie ‘Silence’ to be released with more then an eager imagination to engage the story and dramatic scenes of cultural and religious reflection. With such an internal build up, it was ironic as we sat in the theatre following the show and I shared with my wife and friends that it was not at all what I had expected.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie was brilliant and it is easily one of my favourites to date. I can’t wait to be able to read the book this summer. But I had expected it to be an emotional rollercoaster for me and instead of pulling out the kleenex box I had tucked in my backpack (all while under the loving mockery of my wife), I found myself engrossed into theological intrigue and intellectual imaginative bliss!

Playing with the cultural dynamics of each of the characters and allowing my thoughts to focus on the themes and ritualistic scenes in the movie, my mind raced with questions, thoughts, imaginative metaphors and life like comparisons. What are sacraments and Holy Relics and what significances do they have in faith? Where does theosis or katharsis meet inner sanctification and authentic transformation? What is the gospel and how does it morph positively and negatively within time, space, and culture? What does it mean to be a “Christian” and how has its meaning changed since Jesus called his first disciples? Perhaps most of all, when and how do you embrace kenosis and the emptying of ones self for the sake of the other and what forms does it embrace?!

Perhaps in an ironic mirroring of characterization, I had become the Inquisitor?!

Sacramental Idolatry and Holy Relic Imagery

It’s really only a formality.” These were the encouraging words the priest Rodrigues heard from his Interpreter, played by Tadanobu Asano, as he was challenged to publicly denounce his Christian faith and step onto the clay tablet bearing the image of Jesus. The internal horror and anguish of such a task was unbearably written on Rodrigues face and yet I found myself questioning, what power or authority does this image have over him?! (Psalm 115:4-8)

Throughout the film the image of the sacraments within priestly duties and the giving of Holy Relics were dramatically highlighted as Christian markers of identity. Perhaps most strikingly we can see it in a scene where Rodrigues narrated his role in bestowing religious elements upon the Japanese villagers and finding himself short of materials, began giving the beads of his Rosary away as though each bead encompassed a redeeming significance to the holder.

Since the early church, images like the cross, the fish, and artistic depictions of Jesus have been used to tell the story of the gospel and create a cultural narrative of belonging through worship. But we cannot allow these depictions and Holy Relics to become graven images and objects of our worship. (Ex. 20:3-5) The story of the gospel internally carries the sacraments and relics of its past, but it can also embrace the reflection of new forms in the cultural narrative it is contextually a part of and being introduced. The sacraments and relics of today can be found in cultural arts and contemporary elements such as shared meals with friends, family members, and strangers. Perhaps instead of a fish signifying a disciple, one might find the other in a holy hug embrace. Or, while the symbolic representation of the cross projects a spirit of forgiveness, a person might find the sharing of a family heirloom while seeking reconciliation just as spiritually impactful.

The Despisal Of The Mokichi In All Of Us

mokichiBless me Father, for I have sinned!” It had to be maddening for Rodrigues as Mokichi repeatedly over and over would come to him smelling of filth, wrecked with the lack of personal care, and begging for a seemingly shallow desire for repentance and restoration. It was probably around the third time he would, in Judas like fashion, betray his friends and family that I felt this burning anger of despisal against him. Why would Rodrigues waste his time with this shallow character and man of seemingly no virtue?!

Wrestling with this disgust of Mokichi and his character I realized something; despite our rejection of his lack of virtue, our anguish over his constant betrayal and life of self serving drunkenness and filth… Isn’t there a little of Mokichi in all of us? This self preserving pride of seeking personal pleasure apart from others? This mind set of, “Well, nobody can be perfect“, and so we give into the little temptations of justified failures? All the while quick to repent and cry out in there public revealing, “Forgive me! I am weak and in need of your grace!

It is a belief that is captured in the early parts of the film that the Japanese people needed the priests so that they could impart the Word of God, present the sacraments of communion, and receive the confessions of the villagers so that forgiveness and restoration could then be given. The early church called this practice theosis or katharsis and while the outer actions of the priests were performed, it was believed the inner transformation would then take place.

Jesus uses a metaphor that dramatically reverses this process. While rebuking the Pharisees and Priests, Jesus tells them that they are cleaning the outside of the cup while leaving the inside still full of greed and self indulgence. Rather, they need to clean the inside of the cup so that the outside may also become clean. (Matt. 23:25-26)

Rodrigues would later not only forgive Mokichi, he would embrace him as part of his life and even thank him for always being there. By recognizing the Mokichi inside each of ourselves I ponder the journey of inner repentance, our wrestling with the self hatred and despisment of constant moral and practical failure, and our reliance for the need of our relationship with the Rodrigues’ in our life who grant mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Ironically you can almost see the reflective imagery that it is Jesus who becomes the priest that lastly embraces us, coarse and rough like the wood of the cross, and thanking us for always being there, always returning in the hopes that we might do better despite our weakness.

A Swampland Of Certain Glory & Kinds of Poisons

war-lordsThe price for your glory is their suffering.” These words seemed to echo as Inquisitor Inoue spoke them to Rodrigues. He would go on to compare Japan to a swampland and Christianity to that of a poison. But what is the Christianity that he is speaking of and who’s glory is he really reflecting upon?

While the character of Inquisitor Inoue is fictional, the times depicted in the movie are not. During the early 1600’s there was a Japanese puritan movement where the War Lord’s of Japan were asking the question, “What is a pure Japanese?” Then, hoping to maintain that ideology, they began persecuting and eradicating anything considered not Japanese, particularly the Christian church. Tens of thousands of Japanese Christians would be killed during this time and it was extremely dangerous  for missionaries to travel in the islands of Japan.

We might reverse the question of the Inquisitor however; what does it mean to be a pure Christian? While Rodrigues and the other Catholic priests that came to Japan brought a gospel proclaimed by the universal Christian church, it seemed rote with dogmatic doctrine and institutional teachings that were far from the words of justice, mercy, love, and forgiveness embodied in the story of Jesus. In many ways, the Christianity Rodrigues and the other priests brought was a movement of conquest driven by the pride of western self-righteousness and with the goal institutional glory.

Perhaps Rodrigues’ mentor and teacher, Father Ferreira, brought this point to the surface of his young protégé’s heart as he spoke the words to him, “I do because you are just like me. You see Jesus in Gethsemane and believe your trial is the same as His. Those five in the pit are suffering too, just like Jesus, but they don’t have your pride. They would never compare themselves to Jesus. Do you have the right to make them suffer? I heard the cries of suffering in this same cell. And I acted.

In the same Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) It is intriguing to think that Jesus used the words of “laying down one’s life” as appose to “death” or “dying”. Far simpler to understand the martyrdom of giving ones self over to death for the sake of those you love then to imagine the complexities of laying down ones life, ones hopes and beliefs, ones very identity, for the sake of those you love!

I wonder, were it you in that cell, what decision might have you made? Or perhaps the better question would be, who would you love most?!

Apostatizing And Stepping Onto A Faith Of Kenosis

Step on your Jesus! Apostatize yourself!” the Inquisitor Inoue challenges the priest Rodrigues. We’ve come full circle and now the words of the Interpreter rings out again, “It is really only a formality.” While the words of the Interpreter had us question the power and authority within the outer images and elements of the stone tablet, the words of the Inquisitor have us question the authority and power found within Rodrigues the individual.

To apostatize himself, Rodrigues would be publicly renouncing everything he stood for; not just his beliefs in Jesus, but his identity as a priest, his recognition of authority in and for the church, his western philosophical world views, and even ultimately, his own name! But just as we asked if the stone tablet that he was challenged to step on would have any authority or power over him, we can also ask, does any of the outer acts of renunciation he makes change the inner authority or power found within him?

The apostle Paul uses a word in Philippians 2 to describe a similar act; it is the word “kenosis“. It means to completely empty one self of all significance and meaning and he uses it in the depiction of the incarnation of Christ. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Phil. 2:1-11) It is as though God’s love for his creation was so great, he apostatized himself so that he might redeem us!

I found it so powerful to contemplate that all the time Rodrigues spent in the outer works of the Christian church he believed in, all the efforts and religious rituals he sacrificed himself too, and all the while in anguish over God’s seemingly silence to his labours; and yet it is in this moment of his public apostasy that the deafening voice of Christ speaks to him, “It is ok. I am here with you. It is for this moment that I died for you.” And then, without a sound Rodrigues seems to not step on the stone, but find himself on top of it.

It seems that the message of the movie ‘Silence‘ becomes heaviest when we are willing to contemplate that the authenticity of the Christian walk is not necessarily in the silence of our outer self serving institutional blind actions but in our willingness to apostatize ones self and step onto the deafening absolute complete submission of Christ’s authority and power through our own inner actions of kenosis for the sake of others!

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ 2 Cor. 12:9

Finding Blood, Fire and Smoky Mist In Today’s Wait For The Big Kahuna

smoky-mistBlood, fire and smoky mist (Joel 2:30), words which as Mark shares are rich in the metaphorical presence of spirituality and biblically spoken to the eminence of God in creation. I can’t dismiss the physicality of these elements in scripture. Was Joel speaking figuratively or literally? Does the timing have to be the same for them all? Are they telling of some real narrative recorded later in God’s story such as the blood and water pouring out from Christ’s chest? I don’t really know and it could also boil down to the semantics of questioning the definition of reality.

Still, I think there is a validity both metaphorically and physically to Joel’s words in the eschatological sense; or end to one world and the beginning of the other. This morning I spoke in my old college around the Wisdom of God revealed through the story of Job while dwelling in Job 38-42. Metaphorically these passages speak eschatologically into the new life Job would be living and I tied it to the point that ‘It’s not about who started it, it’s about who finishes it’. It is Job’s character of submitting everything he has, both the good and the bad (Job 2:10), that allows God to bring him into the newness of a man who, “girds up his loins before” (38:3) all of creation and declares God’s, “things to wonderful” (42:3), to mystifying, to amazing to be more then just about “me“!

Likewise, Jesus on the cross submits himself to God in the work of defeating sin while crying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) The world of brokenness, separation from God, the blindness of the Kingdom being present is removed and a new world is set in its place where we might live in the freedom of God’s promises multiplied through the Spirit’s gifting’s and catalyzing us into a the missio Dei while being in “awe” at the “wonders and signs” (Acts 2:43) manifesting themselves amidst us.

The church then, “moves in the world with humility, knowing that it is always being called to its own conversion as it attempts to embody the coming realities of the Kingdom.” (Mark, Pg. #15) A Kingdom where creation has “all things in common” (Acts 2:44), justice and righteousness is sought for all (2:45), and hospitality is given to everyone without reserve or indifference  (2:46).

I think a good question might be in that as we submit to God through the work of the apostles, how might we define “work“? While the Christian community embodies the metaphorical “Blood, fire and smoky mist” as signs to the presence of Christ’s Spirit through the discipling identity of communal prayer, breaking of bread, and dwelling in God’s Word; these terms must apostolically (Eph. 4) become engrained into all of life’s expressions, both personally and communally, so as not to become a, “self-aggrandizement of the church or individuals“, but shared with all as a, “participation in God’s coming kingdom.” (Mark Pg. #15) With all of creations participation in the coming Kingdom, success is not measured by fulness of the institution or the definition of doctrine, rather it is found in the willingness for embodying a Spirit of, “inclusion, participation, generosity, and attentiveness to the other.” (Mark Pg. #24)

It was in the movie ‘The Big Kahuna’ that the character Larry Mann (played by Kevin Spacey) mistakenly asked his cohorts, “Did you mention what line of industrial lubricants Jesus would have endorsed?” It was a question in search for his own self-aggrandizement or assurance of business success which had little to do with being in service for others. The search, or wait, for the entrance of “The Big Kahuna” had little to do with the “greatness” of Larry Mann or any of the other characters, and was more about their willingness to submit to their own insignificance for the sake of the greatness of others. Or, in the words of Phil Cooper (played by Danny Devito)…

I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret, you just don’t know what they are. It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it do over, but you know you can’t, because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up, and carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will gain character, because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.

I can’t help but reflect back on a thought I had a few weeks ago. Posting it on Facebook I wrote: “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist. The greatest trick that God ever played was convincing the devil that he was winning. Which trick are you playing?”

With the embrace of new life that we find in Christ, I think we often blind ourselves to the on going death that is taking place within ourselves simultaneously. Perhaps we think it as morbid or negative to do so but, we cannot separate the joys and freedoms of a resurrected eternal life from the ongoing cruciform life we live in today as temporal created beings. While the physical cross was embraced by Jesus on the hill of Golgotha in his 33rd year, he metaphorically clung to the cross through his entire life.

Living in this way, I think, is really a continuance of practicing a life of “awe and wonder” in the Spirit’s work. Assumedly, we have confused this practice to the witness to the “good” in life while leaving the “bad” to cast off, marginalize, or exclude from the soul’s journey. Revolutionarily, Jesus diverges this understanding by calling us not to act in judgement between the “good” and the “bad“, clean and unclean, holy and unholy, but allow ourselves to see all things as new. In some sense, we are to be in awe and wonder of sin and brokenness too, not judging it and excluding it from ourselves or the other, but rather submitting it as part of the redemptive process we go through both as personal and communal beings before God in community.

Returning to the question of, “Which trick are you playing?” If we are in the effort of trying to prove the devil’s existence, attempting to judge and articulate every nature of sin in creation by saving that which we think is good and excluding that which we deem as being bad, we will fail and ultimately find little meaning in life. But if we embrace the metaphorical cross of Jesus, loose ourselves to the wonder and awe of all things both good and bad, we will find a life of ultimate significance and deepest meaning. It is a life that gives into the Spirit of all things being, “not my will Father, but yours!”

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!

[1] http://calgary-buddhist.ab.ca/?doing_wp_cron=1456346280.3109951019287109375000

[2] http://www.bcc.ca/readings/three_treasures.html

[3] http://www.bcc.ca/buddhism/fournobletruthsandeightfoldpath.html

[4] http://www.mainlinebudo.com/?p=180

[5] http://lifehopeandtruth.com/bible/10-commandments/the-ten-commandments/10-commandments-list/

[6] http://www.loyolapress.com/the-beatitudes.htm

[7] http://www.bcc.ca/jodoshinshu/chanting.html

[8] https://iamjustwondering.net/2008/02/03/in-proximity-to-spirituality-where-do-you-find-yourself-gravitating-too/

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.

Context

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.

Culture

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]

Gospel

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). http://vimeo.com/14626641

[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.