All posts by timjdavy

I teach and research on Bible and Mission at Redcliffe College and lead the 'Bible and Mission' and 'Scripture Engagement' streams of our MA in Contemporary Missiology. I am the Director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission, and also lead Redcliffe's 'Fostering, Adoption and the Church' research project, .

biblefilmstheology

What Does it Mean to be Human? Blade Runner, Babylon, and the Bible

Thirty-five years ago the Sci-Fi Classic, Blade Runner, hit our screens and probed the question of what it means to be human. In Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve’s mesmerising sequel, we are confronted again with the ‘human’ question, albeit in new ways.

Impressive though Villeneuve’s vision may be, Hollywood’s exploration of human nature and identity is, of course, nothing new. For the Church, though, films like Blade Runner 2049 provide us with a ready opportunity to tell a different story about what it means to be human.

The other day, I was teaching on the Bible as a source for missiological reflection on Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology programme. We were talking about how the Bible presents a series of encounters between the biblical worldview and the worldviews of neighbouring peoples. And asking what it means to be human is one of those worldview-defining questions.

In the first pages of the Bible we see the writer of Genesis wrestling, among other questions, exactly this issue. In contrast to neighbouring cultures’ origin stories (like those of Babylon and Egypt), the biblical account of creation offers something different – subversive and polemical even. Rather than an afterthought, put on earth to serve the needs of the gods, the biblical story depicts human beings as the completion point of the active part of creation. More than this, we bear the very ‘image of God’ (Gen. 1:26-27).

Scholars differ over what exactly this phrase means. In his latest book, Being Human in God’s World: An Old Testament Theology of Humanity, Prof. Gordon McConville makes a compelling – exciting! – observation about the relational nature of this imaging (pp. 26-27):

Godlikeness is not a status that has been achieved and now merely needs to be enjoyed. Rather, it commits both God and humans to a life together, the story of which will occupy the pages of the Old Testament and the New. It includes the narratives about worship, in which God chooses to dwell among his people Israel and to seek their love and devotion. And it includes those strands of the Old Testament that call the human partner to imitate God in his fundamental orientation toward the world­—that is, in his justice and righteousness, faithfulness, holiness, compassion, and truth.

Being made in God’s image, then, is not a ‘static’ thing to be merely enjoyed or exploited. It is a dynamic to humanity that draws us into life with God and his purposes for creation. It is not merely a sign of our intrinsic worth (though it is that!) but is also a commissioning to take part in God’s mission in the world.

Whatever Blade Runner’s questions and conclusions concerning being human (and I don’t want to give anything away here!), the biblical narrative affords the ‘human question’ the most profound and satisfying answer imaginable. What a remarkable vision of what it means to be human: inherent value, life with our Creator, dignity, purpose, hope. What a tragedy that this relational imaging has been marred by our rebellion. But what a wonderful and glorious thing it is that, in and through Jesus, God is about the work of restoration and reconciliation!

Whether explored by Babylon or Blade Runner, what it means to be human is a fundamental question relevant to everybody and at every time. But when the world is asking it, are we the Church ready with an answer?

biblemissiology

Making our Bible Studies Missional

Let me ask you a question: how important has reading and studying the Bible with others been in your discipleship journey? If you’re anything like me you have sat together in a small group to study the Bible on numerous occasions, grappling with the text’s meaning and its implications for your lives.

Let me ask you another question: how overtly ‘missional’ have those studies been? What I mean by this is: how explicitly do we relate our engagement with the biblical text to mission, throughout the study and not just as an addition as part of the application at the end? How can we make our Bible Studies more missional at a fundamental level?

I suppose I am asking “what difference do the developments in our understanding of the missional nature of the Bible make to a mid-week Bible Study group?” This question was addressed by George Hunsberger in an article entitled, Missional Bible Study: Discerning and Following God’s Call.

In it, he declares that

“we will need to learn a new way of placing ourselves in front of the text. Bible study guides and methods that focus on each individual’s relationship to God will not be enough. We will need to learn to read the Bible together as a community that is called and sent by God.” (p.7, my emphasis)

I like the assumption of the ‘sentness’ of the Church in what he says. I also like his point about reading with others. Often we think of approaching the Bible as solely an individual exercise. Perhaps we also think of our involvement in mission as an individual exercise. We need a shift in our approach to studying the Bible that asks ‘us’ questions rather than ‘me’ questions. Otherwise, we are in danger of being a group of sent individuals rather than a sent community.

Asking good questions

The ability to ask good questions is a monumentally underrated skill. Consider the reflections of Isidor Rabi, a Nobel laureate in physics:

“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions – made me become a scientist!”

A good question is a beautiful and powerful thing. But what kind of questions could we ask in our ‘missional’ Bible Studies? Hunsberger suggests five:

Mission – How does this text send us and equip our witness?

Context – How does this text read us and our world?

Gospel – How does this text evangelise us with good news?

Change – How does this text convert us in personal and corporate life?

Future – How does this text orient us to the coming reign of God?

This isn’t a definitive list, but it is at least a beginning of a journey we could make to ensure that when we study the Bible together we are being more intentionally missional.

If Hunsberger’s five questions seem like a big step, how about this one:

‘In what ways does this passage make a claim for the rule of God in our lives, our churches, our communities and our world?’

Such a question recognises the reign of God (whether we frame it in terms of the Kingship of Yahweh or the Lordship of Christ) and asks us to consider what this reign means for us. It is not just a call to consider the extent to which our lives are aligned with that reign, though it certainly requires that. It is also a challenge to take our contexts seriously and to consider creatively how the reign of God can be discerned and embodied in the world, and how we might participate in that.

What questions would you ask to make your Bible Studies more missional? And which (if any) of the above suggestions might you try to pose the next time your group meets to study the Scriptures?

 


Tim is the Bible and Mission stream leader, on Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology. This course is designed for you if you’re interested in reading the Bible as a missional ‘document’, and using it to transform your mission, ministry or day-to-day discipleship.

missiology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Are we taking orality seriously?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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