Posts Tagged ‘Books’

The Mission of God: Christianity and Post-Modernism

Wednesday 3 February 2010

After meaning to for several months, I’ve finally started my way through Chris Wright’s mammoth book, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. As it’s 500 or so pages long there’s no way I’m going to remember all the good quotes when I get to the end, so I thought I might post a few as I go along, if nothing else to provide myself with a summary of what stood out to me in the book.

The first section is about the Bible and Mission. Wright says that he used to teach a course on the biblical basis of mission, but became increasingly convinced that the western evangelical method of listing out a few proof texts to prove what we’d already decided was true, just didn’t do justice to the missional nature of the whole Bible, including the Old Testament.

But before we can gain a fuller understanding of such a foundational theme we need to become aware of the cultural glasses* through which we view the Bible, and the world in general, and take a step back to see the bigger meta-narrative that runs through scripture. Wright suggests that reading the Bible together with people from all nations can give us a much broader and richer view of God, and shed light on the missional theme running through every page of scripture.

Even when we affirm (as I do) that the historical and salvation-historical context of biblical texts and their authors is of primary and objective importance in discerning their meaning and their significance, the plurality of perspectives from which readers read them is also a vital factor in the hermeneutical richness of the global church. What persons of one culture bring from that culture to their reading of a text may illuminate dimensions or implications of the text itself that persons of another culture may not have seen so clearly. (p39)

And on the previous page:

There is a great irony that the Western Protestant theological academy, which has its roots precisely in a hermeneutical revolution (the reformation), led by people who claimed the right to read scripture independently from the prevailing hegemony of medieval Catholic scholasticism, has been slow to give ear to those of other cultures who choose to read scriptures through their own eyes, though the situation is undoubtedly improving. (p38)

In many ways the acceptance that different cultures will read the same scriptures in different ways reflects the trend of post-modern thinking. But Wright says firstly that Christianity in effect got there a couple of millenia before post-modernism as we know it came into existence, and secondly that the church has something unique to contribute to the post-modern way of thinking:

What we [the church] have to offer, I contend, is a missional hermeneutic of the Bible. The Bible got there before postmodernity was dreamed of – the Bible which glories in diversity and celebrates multiple human cultures, the Bible which builds its most elevated theological claims on utterly particular and sometimes very local events, the Bible which seems everything in relational, not abstract, terms, and the Bible which does the bulk of its work through the medium of stories.

All these features of the Bible – cultural, local, relational, narrative – are welcome to the postmodern mind. Where the missional hermeneutic will part company with radical postmodernity, is in its insistence that through all the variety, locality, particularity and diversity, the Bible is nevertheless actually the story. This is the way it is. (p47)

If I can get my mind around it I’ll try to continue to post some thoughts from the rest of the book as Wright explores how God’s mission to his world is an/the overarching theme of the entire scripture narrative. It might take a few months however…!

*Someone once told me he was going to Kenya for a couple of weeks to give some Bible teaching to Pastors because “they always read the Bible through their own cultural glasses”. While agreeing with his statement, I don’t think he had appreciated the irony that he also had his own cultural glasses through which he read the Bible… it’s just that our glasses are a lot more obvious to those around us than they are to ourselves.


Same Kind of Different as Me

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Same Kind of Different as Me is actually the best book I’ve read in a long time. OK that’s not saying much because I don’t read many books, but it was good.

It’s the story of two men in America – one a rich white art dealer who calls himself a Christian, and the other a black man who starts off life in virtual slavery and has a very tough existence on the streets.

The book is written by the two men, in roughly alternating short chapters, and is a fascinating spiritual journey for both of them. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but it is amazing to see God working in and through both of them, through suffering, joy and heartbreak.

I think one of the reasons the book really resonated with me was because of the parallels with what I have experienced in cross-cultural mission. The rich man starts off by thinking he is doing God and the homeless people a favour by giving a few hours a week to help out at a shelter. He has many struggles about the material difference between himself and the homeless people, while they have a hard time trusting someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to live on the streets.

But gradually a friendship is formed, and as it continues the rich man realises that in fact those he is ministering to, and his friend in particular, have spiritual insights that leave him feeling like he’s really the one who is poor.

I have to say the story did make me cry (happy and sad crying in roughly equal amounts), which doesn’t happen very often! And it made me realise once again that God involves us in mission to people who are very different from ourselves not just to bless them, but even more than that to teach us more about who he is.

words to inspire

Friday 4 April 2008

Alexander McCall Smith‘s The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has captured my fancy – and routed my thoughts toward Africa, most delightfully, once again. I have laughed aloud at Smith’s permeable wit and authentic characters in this story set in the African country of Botswana. One line brought very welcome feelings of home, liberty and peace, as it reads,

I am just a tiny person in Africa, but there is a place for me, and for everybody, to sit down on this earth and touch it and call it their own.

It spoke to me also of freedom and space. No constraint, nor barriers. The words inspired my imagination and my creativity – and below resides the byproduct. Because I am not a trained artist, it may not be so pleasing to your eyes as the process of bringing the colours and shapes alive with my fingers was to me. But alas, here it is…

Botswana mama in open bush, in Oil Pastels

Which book would I save from our burning house?

Thursday 3 April 2008

Eddie Arthur has tagged me to name one book that I would save from our (hypothetical… at least I hope it’s hypothetical, although it is one of the few houses in England to be made of wood. Sorry, I think I’ve got ahead of myself…) burning house. The Bible isn’t allowed, which is a shame because it’s pretty much the only book I read. Oh well…

Having said that, over the past few months I have been reading one or two. My problem with reading is that it requires a lot of effort and, being lazy, I don’t like putting in a lot of effort when the book might be rubbish. But when someone who I know has the same interests as me recommends a good book, I can be tempted – as has happened with Surprised by Hope (recommended by Eddie) and The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (recommended by Kent Anderson). I’m half way through both of these and they’re both very thought provoking.

Eddie’s choice of The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearley is tempting and may find itself being exchanged for my birthday Amazon gift voucher. Unlike Eddie I can’t say I remember Brearley playing though…

Laura always laughs at me because I can’t stand fiction books. They go in the same category as boring books – I hate the thought of putting so much effort into reading a whole book, and then remembering that it’s not even true! Whenever we watch a movie, my first question at the end is “was that a true story?”

But I digress. I think from our small selection of books, the one that I have found to be the most interesting and to have had the most practical impact on me, is probably The Story of David: After God’s Heart by Ian Coffey.

It’s a very easy book to read (which is one of the reasons I got to the end) and goes through the life of David, as in Shepherd David, King David, David and Goliath David. Each of the 22 short chapters retells the story of a part of David’s life, going from Samuel anointing him as a young man to his last instructions to Solomon before he dies, and looks at what we can learn from the story.

I think the book resonates with me because it takes a (true…!) narrative and makes some simple but quite profound points (as far as I can remember from when I read it 4 or 5 years ago). I like that, probably because I’m simple.

The only drawback is that it’s bright red, so might be difficult to spot in a hurry amongst the flames.

Here’s a quote from the chapter where Nabal insults David (1 Samuel 25:1-44):

“At this point, David has a respite from his long-term struggles with Saul. The throne is inching nearer, his influence is continuing to grow. These are dangerous moments, when he is perhaps tempted to rely on himself rather than God.

David’s strength of character is seen in two ways: first, he was prepared to take advice. Nabal’s ears were closed to any opinion but his own: David showed openness. Second, David was willing to take advice from an unlikely source. In his culture, Abigail was ‘a mere woman’ – her status was low. And she was married to the man who had insulted his honour. But David’s teachability meant he would listen to advice from a most unlikely source.

Being prepared to listen and learn is the mark of a mature follower of Christ.”

Simple but true. Always a good combination in my (rescued from a burning house) book.

I tag Paul Merrill, Andrew Simpson (if he’s reading this) and Matt and Liz Wisbey (if they have internet connection and haven’t been eaten by lions in the middle of Tanzania).