Tuesday, November 21, 2006

book review: "Bible and Mission..."

this was over at the (now defunct) "ashram books blog." though i wrote it over a year ago i thought it could do with another posting...

Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World
This is a brilliant book about missiology for those of us laboring in the globalizing Western context. It is brilliant because it is concise, humble, and hopeful. It is just 4 chapters (112 pages) in length and deals with the themes of globalization, universality and particularity, narrative theology, and hermeneutics. I think the inclusion of the tired clause 'postmodern' in the title is off-putting and serves to understate the broader scope of the book which is to identify the ways in which Scripture might be contextualized in our time.
(click 'full post' to read the rest...)
One of the most helpful frameworks Bauckam describes is his "three dimensions of the biblical narrative (pp.13-16):
Temporal (movement into the ever-new future)
Spacial (movement towards ever-new horizons)
Social (movement always being joined by others, an ever-new people)

He suggests these three dimensions give us clues as to how mission flows from Scripture and how we might also imagine our engagement with the world around us. He takes the time to urge us not to confuse the Modern myth of progress with biblical eschatology (p.20), and to remind us that our life together as God's people is the story of "permanent openness" while we also anticipate closure with hope for wholeness. But even this closure is not some bland overarching sameness...it is, rather, particularized expressions of the Kingdom coming in all kinds of places and ways.

Another very helpful part of the book is Baukham's reflections on 'biblical geography' (ch.3). This is an especially important dimension of missiology in a world where we can access so much of the globe with such (relatively) little effort. The story of God has always entailed crossing cultural boundaries into unknown places. With the western missiology conversation increasingly employing descriptive terms like "empire", "center", and "margins" to orient our missional movement (especially among people identifying themselves with new monasticism and the emerging missional church) I am grateful for Baukham's articulate exploration of geography and its implications for ecclesiology. He uses the twin terms centrifugal and centripetal to describe the comings and goings of the church, reminding us that these movements are not tied to any particular geographical location though they will always have geographical contexts. The new center, John (12:32) tells us is Jesus, and Jesus is always taking us (sometimes kicking and screaming) outside our comfort zones. At the end of his chapter on geography, Baukham adds another metaphor - the diaspora or exiled people. I would have liked a little more discussion on this as it seems to be an especially useful paradigm for a highly mobile subculture like the "cultural creatives."

In the last chapter, Baukham suggests some reasons why the Christian story is not a totalizing, metanarrative (ala Lyotard). In short, he argues that Christianity is not modern (post-enlightenment), not based on cumulative progress, and not a story of human mastery (God is the primary actor in history). The Christian story offers "a plurality of angles on the same subject matter", making it inherently untidy and complex - hardly the blueprint for finality. Having dodged the post-modern silver bullet accusation, Baukham moves on to offer a brief reflection on the supreme ideology of the west - economic prosperity (p.103).

While coercive power is the modus operandi for the increasingly omnivorous consumerist-economy, Baukham's summary point is to offer witness as the alternative way of the Good News. The Kingdom will be coming in unlikely places in unlikely ways and at the 'edges' of our experiences. We can be encouraged, says Baukham, because "much that is happening" has "some real correspondence" with the ways of God in Scripture.

Here are some helpful quotes:

"So the church's mission is not a steady cumulative process in which we move even further away from the biblical narratives. We are always beginning again from the biblical narratives, which still open up unexpected possibilities for our own future within the future of Jesus Christ. We are always figuratively starting again from Jerusalem on our way to the ends of the earth. We are always starting again from Jesus who is the one human for all others, and we are always starting again from Pentecost, the event that gives birth to the new community on its way to the new future." (p.21)

"God's presence is now among the people in the metaphorical Temple they themselves compose. This new center is everywhere and nowhere, just as with the advent of modern geography and postmodern globalization the ends of the earth are now everywhere and nowhere. To substitute another physical center for Jerusalem...was always a mistake, however understandable. God's people move from place to place, but not from a geographical center to a geographical periphery. Mission, to borrow the title of Mishop Nazir-Ali'a book, is 'from everywhere to everywhere'." (pp.76-77)

"The church is never far from the insignificance of Jesus and his band of unimpressive followers. It is always setting out from the particular in the direction of God's incalculable gift of everything." (p.18)

"So to witness to the kingdom of God as far as the edges of the earth, as Jesus commissioned his apostles to do, was to expose Rome's aspiration to limitless dominion as blasphemous." (p.107)

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