The Forum on Missional Hermeneutics is a collaboration among biblical and theological scholars who are interested in exploring mission as a set of lenses for scholarly interpretation of biblical texts by attending to historical questions regarding how mission was understood, fostered, developed, and/or critiqued in and through biblical texts and to contemporary questions regarding reading communities’ participation in mission, understood in terms of communal self-understanding and purposiveness.
The Forum is devoted to critical and constructive biblical interpretation within the context of the missional self-understanding of various Christian communities. By “missional self-understanding” we refer to the lenses of theological purposiveness, community participation, and cross-cultural and interreligious engagement through which biblical texts originally developed and through which we explore biblical interpretation.
Since 2002, the Forum has hosted sessions at the annual meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature.
Originally organized by the Gospel and Our Culture Network, the Forum has grown into an independent scholarly collaboration that is focused on critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines. Interdisciplinarity is at the core of our work, which results in not only a diversity of approaches to missional hermeneutics but also a variety of responses to the historical problematics of Christian mission.
Contemporary mission studies is itself a critical interdisciplinary field, incorporating intercultural studies (including numerous social-scientific schools and methods), postcolonial studies, linguistics and translation studies, the study of world Christianity, and theology. In this context, “mission” in no way denotes a naïve or uncritical notion of “outreach,” evangelism, or proselytism.
Furthermore, mission studies is only one disciplinary conversation partner in the Forum. Critical biblical interpretation (employing a diverse range of historical-critical and hermeneutical approaches to ancient texts) and contextual theology (attending to the contextual nature of all theology) bring further angles of critique to the table, ensuring a highly nuanced and historically conscious understanding of mission—again, understood in terms of communal identity and purposiveness—and facilitating broad and open discussion from a variety of critical perspectives.
At the same time, the Forum exists because of the unique hermeneutical importance of the church’s historically missional self-understanding. (In our usage, the mission or activities and purposes of God [missio Dei] that shapes the identity of the whole church should not be confused with the missions [note the “s”] or activities of so-called missionaries.) Our sessions have especially explored mission as either the compositional context of various biblical documents or the hermeneutical context of various interpretive traditions.
The Forum also explores the contemporary importance of mission for biblical interpretation in view of the rapid growth of world Christianity and the importance of mission for many of its traditions. Accordingly, we consider it important for the future of biblical scholarship to bring the missional self-understanding of these religious communities into dialogue with critical scholarship. This is not simply a matter of critical scholarship arrogantly correcting these diverse global interpretive communities but, rather, of demonstrating openness to change, respect for diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance toward these interlocutors.
The Forum actively and intentionally fosters multi-ethnic and diverse cross-cultural contributions to biblical scholarship. We view our emphasis on the locatedness of interpretive communities as a significant contribution to biblical scholarship in this regard.