Missiological Hermeneutics: Biblical Interpretation for the Global Church

by Shawn B. Redford.

Pickwick Publications, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 9740, 363 pages, 2012, $42.00.

Reviewed by George F. Pickens, professor of theology and missions at Messiah College.

Conventional missiology argues that the missionary movement in Christian history has saved the faith from extinction. If the first Jewish Christians had failed to take the gospel to the Gentiles, then the way of Jesus might well have disappeared after the destruction of the temple in the first century. Likewise, had Christianity not spread among the barbarian peoples of Western Europe, it could have become extinct after the loss of Christian cradle lands to Islam in the Middle Ages. The cross-cultural transmission of the gospel has thus been the very means of Christianity’s survival.

Even so, according to Shawn Redford, cross-cultural missions have the ability to impact the Church more deeply than her mere preservation. Indeed, he argues that intercultural interactions have the potential to enrich and revitalize biblical interpretation. Redford examines the accounts of several biblical characters to demonstrate how greater clarity about the purposes of God resulted from cross-cultural experiences: “(M)issionary experience in the midst (sic) of other cultures provides one of the strongest hermeneutical lenses for biblical interpretation, because this type of missionary activity so closely matches the practice and setting of many biblical writers” (p. 232). Specifically, the opportunity to identify and limit biases, the ability to draw upon the insight of local Christian communities, and the working of the Holy Spirit through the spiritual disciplines are identified as possible hermeneutical tools that emerge from missionary contexts.

Redford organizes his presentation into six chapters, moving from a valuable review of the recent literature of missiological hermeneutics, to a missiological critique of biblical hermeneutics, and finally to the presentation of two case studies in which he illustrates his methods and their products for greater faithfulness in biblical interpretation.

At a time when the Church is becoming more anxious about her global differences, Redford’s work is a rare and much-needed example of how global Christian diversity can actually enrich and revitalize the Church. His presentation is also a necessary reminder of the essential missiological nature of the Christian scriptures. Even though Redford underestimates the lingering power of his own biases, he is to be commended for his thorough and fresh presentation. Unfortunately, the volume suffers from poor editing. Perhaps the most valuable part is the first case study, which examines polygamy in its biblical and cultural contexts. This is the most comprehensive, biblical, and objective study of polygamy I know. I wish it had been available when I served in Africa, and it deserves to be published as a separate volume.


EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 504-505. Copyright  © 2013 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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