A missional hermeneutic seeks to read the Scripture as a map to God’s mission in the world.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins his ministry with the bold and audacious proclamation of the arrival of God’s kingdom. Here, we will focus on Matthew’s recounting of this event in 4:17 (cf. Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:16-21) as well as Jesus’ immediate calling of disciples in 4:18-22 (cf. Mark 1:16-20). In these verses we will discover a starting point for developing a missional hermeneutic.
In Matt 4:17, Jesus announces the appearance of God’s kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is the language used to describe the long-anticipated future age of salvation. The OT prophets looked forward to it and God’s people longed for it. The good news is that this future has arrived in the present through the coming of Jesus the Messiah.
This announcement requires a radical response. It’s no longer business as usual. The future that God promised has arrived. How then does one live in light of this declaration? Jesus offers one word: repent.
Repentance involves a radical revaluation of one’s life and a changing of direction. Jesus is calling those who hear this announcement of the kingdom to (re)align their lives, priorities, and goals with those of God’s kingdom. This is not a once-in-a-lifetime action. The force of Jesus’ imperative indicates that this is a call to (re)align continually.
The power of this statement is that Jesus calls for the same response from everyone — insider and outsider alike. Moreover, part of power and genius of Jesus’ declaration is that it is not specific regarding what a person is to repent of. Instead, the clear implication is that Jesus is offering a broad and programmatic call for his hearers to repent of anything and everything that isn’t in alignment with the values, ethos, and goals of God’s kingdom. Thus, Jesus’ words invite us to reflect on the whole of his subsequent teaching, preaching, and miraculous actions as a means of calling us to a moment-by-moment (re)aligning of ourselves and our communities of faith with the kingdom.
It is also crucial to observe Jesus’ first action after announcing the kingdom (Matt 4:17): he calls disciples (4:18-22). The arrival of the kingdom necessitates the creation of a new missional community. Three broad themes are paradigmatic for understanding the role of God’s people in light of the kingdom: community, mission, and holiness.
- Jesus creates a new community. There is never a moment where there is a solitary Christ follower. Jesus calls two sets of brothers to serve as the first members of a new humanity that exists for the sake of the world. A missional hermeneutic recognizes that authentic community is a kingdom value.
- Jesus doesn’t simply create a community that exists for its own sake. He inaugurates a missional community that exists to extend the good news of the kingdom to the world. From the beginning, Jesus weaves mission into the DNA of his followers. He initiates a community whose purpose is to “fish for people.” A missional hermeneutic is mindful that the gospel always comes to us on its way to someone else.
- Jesus creates a missional community whose ethos embodies the ethic of God’s kingdom modeled by Jesus. Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, that is, to live out their lives in a moment-by-moment imitation of him. Part of the mission is thus to reflect God’s character to, in, and for the world. This is a call to a missional holiness practiced within the community. A missional hermeneutic holds together synergistically the values of mission, holiness, and community.
This paradigmatic statement of Jesus’ proclamation (4:17) and creation of a band of disciples (4:18-22) can serve as a hermeneutical lens by which to read the Bible as a whole. That is, Jesus’ call to (re)align with the kingdom can serve as a guide to reading the rest of the Scriptures. Moreover, observing that Jesus’ first action after announcing the kingdom is to create a missional community that embodies the ethics of the kingdom provides a platform for appropriating Jesus’ message of realignment. Implicitly, Jesus’ words and actions invite us to read the rest of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, from this perspective. As we appropriate biblical texts, then, we can reflect on questions like these:
- How does this text call us to (re)align?
- How must insiders change?
- How does this text invite outsiders to align with God’s purposes?
- What kind of community does this text assume to exist?
- What insights into mission does this text offer us?
- What kind of people does this text call us to become in order to live it out?
Not every text will offer answers to each of these questions, but every text will speak to some of them. Accordingly, we can begin to read the Bible missionally within our own contexts.