Posted by: Joel | November 20, 2008

Interesting/Provocative quotes:

My conviction is that ‘mission’ is the ‘place’ or ‘social location’ we must occupy if we are to rightly understand the text.”

Michael Goheen, “Notes Toward a Framework for a Missional Hermeneutic”, with ‘text’ referring to the whole of Scripture, accessed on

There is thus a unity of perspective on mission in the entire Bible. Mission is first and foremost an affair not of words and activities but of presence – the presence of God in the midst of God’s people and the presence of this people in the midst of humanity.

James Chukwuma Okoye, Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament, 6, summarizing the thought of Robert Martin-Achard.

“The job of the critical intellectual is to make hope practical and despair unconvincing.”

Some marxist intellectual/teacher speaking on the role of the critical intellectual (as teacher). This rings similarly to Wendell Berry’s characterization of the Christian life as a ‘difficult hope’ (found I think in an essay or poem within his book What Are People For?).


  1. Great quotes. I especially love the middle one. Is this some of the reading you’ve been doing lately?

  2. I have been dipping into the first two, but the last one was a quote I heard in conversation.

    I am very seriously moving towards an M.A. in Old Testament studies at MacDiv (under Mark Boda – see for details), and I am trying to organize some reading on old testament content and hermeneutics to prepare over the next 9 months, as well as familiarizing myself more closely with the Old Testament itself! Missional hermeneutic/theology stuff is priority. Do you have any advice on that?

    What have you been up to recently?

  3. This is interesting. Goheen adopts one of the basic concepts of critical hermeneutics: social location.

    Biblical mission, I would say, is better understood as a combination of the time and place of the believer. Mission is always understood with some destination in mind, which, as Augustine says in the Confessions, is a journey made with purpose an integrity with some temporal end in mind (in this case, in anticipation of the return of Christ at the end of the present era). It is not a journey made through space from one point to another, but a journey of the restless human heart. But being human, we can live life occupying one place at a time–and mission must be grounded there.

  4. Unfortunately I’m not in much of a position to discuss OT at this point yet, as I haven’t taken any courses in that yet (I will this upcoming year). Very broadly speaking, then, are you looking to compare the missional nature of Israel with the Church or looking more to read the OT through the lens of a missional hermeneutic?

    I myself am just trying to get through this semester…I’m doing three classes and working 30 hours a week, so it’s been rough. I’ve been taking an Apologetics class with John Frame which has been great, as well as two virtual classes. One is the history of the Ancient Church with Rick Gamble, and the other is the Theology of John Owen with Sinclair Ferguson. Both are enjoyable as well, I just wish I had more time to really delve into these things. I’ll be back to school full-time in January, though.

    Keep us updated on what direction your studies are heading. I’m very interested to know.

  5. Rich,

    Would I be safe to assume, though, that critical hermeneutics would have a big problem with Goheen saying that there is a social location we *must* occupy if we are to *rightly* understand the text?

    So to make sure I understand your paragraph on mission, you’re saying that ‘mission’ is best understood as a journey of the heart (from darkness to light?), within a specific time and place, that looks forward to the arrival of the kingdom at the end of the present age? Wouldn’t the idea of ‘presence’ also assume presence in time and at a specific place?

    It seems to me in the contrast between ‘words and activities’ and ‘presence’ that he is dealing not with a basic definition of mission but with how that mission works itself out toward others. He is saying that the most important thing is not our convincing talk or our winsome activities, but our ‘light-on-a-hill’ presence in the specific places of a dark world.

  6. Joel, a journey of the heart I would understand as a journey through time. For the Christian this is a journey made in anticipation of an end that at present remains outstanding: Christ has not yet returned, the kingdom is not yet here in its fullness, but we hold to the promises of God that the present age will come to an end when all things shall be remade anew.

    The book of Genesis places the human being in a rather unique relation to the Creator God, which other creatures do not have. Namely, the human being is created in the image of the Creator God, which I take to mean that the human being is a creature that is also a creator.

    God creating and humanity’s creating, however, should be distinguished such that God creates (and sustains his creation) from eternity while human beings creates in time. By saying so, I can affirm that when I create use must do so by using materials already provided by God, but God creates out of nothing (ex nihilo).

    My creative abilities are subject to the material constraints of the space I presently occupy. For example, this post is one of my creations. Had I not had access to a computer with a connection to the internet, however, I would never have been able to post it to the internet. The same can be said for everything the human does. If the material means are not available, I can create in this or that specific way.

    What bothers me about the term ‘social location’ tends to collapse the distinction between author and text. If I ask myself the question, What is the social location of this or that text? I must confess I am not sure. If you ask me about the location of this or that text, if I have access to the information, i.e. where on the internet? where in a library? where in some collection? I can tell you. If you ask me a question about the social position of the author, I can gather certain clues from the text to come up with an answer. But the text itself, since it is not a living breathing being, cannot be said to occupy a social location.

    One of the disturbing things I find with critical hermeneutics is that the tendency is to either explain away or ignore the relation between author and text. That is what I understand to happen when a person uses the term ‘social location.’

  7. …but Goheen is not talking about the author or the text. He is talking about the social location of the *reader* (mission) as being the ‘place…we must occupy if we are to rightly understand the text’. That said, Goheen would probably say that of the authors as well, but that isn’t the nature of his quote. So do you find his quote disturbing?

    I agree that our nature as human ‘creators’ created in the image of the Creator God means that we are limited to the created resources available to us as we image God in his world. Was that comment meant to be an elaboration of the meaning of ‘mission’ or was it a tangent comment that was sparked by the ‘time and place’ issue?

    You mention that mission is ‘a combination of time and place’ and ‘a journey [of the heart] through time…made in anticipation of an end that at present remains outstanding’. That seems very vague to me, and although you bring up important elements, I don’t think it does justice to the reality of ‘mission’.

    The original quote in question is:
    – “Mission is first and foremost an affair not of words and activities but of presence – the presence of God in the midst of God’s people and the presence of this people in the midst of humanity.”

    Would ‘presence’ not include time and place? (Present when? Present where?) And again, it seems to me that the quote is addressing how the people of God relate to the rest of humanity – on this journey as co-creators with the Creator God in anticipation of an end that at present remains outstanding. Primarily words and activities? No, primarily presence.


  8. Hmmm…you have made me make a second read of the quotation from Goheen. The original quote is very illuminating.

    What do I find so disturbing? His fundamental categories seem to have more in common with Heidegger’s notion of Dasein (being-there, i.e. social location) than with Augustine’s restless heart.

    If you are going to speak about God’s presence–a redemptive presence which is present-at-hand–it would seem to me that you must make the distinction between already/ not yet (which Goheen does). God is already present, but not yet in his fullness–or, as the Apostle Paul says, God is not yet all in all, which is only too obvious given the present reality of sin.

    It would also say that God’s presence is about activities and words: testimony to the Gospel is an activity that requires the use of words. Without the actual use of words, the message of the Gospel is emptied of its content. God, after all, joined himself to humanity in Christ Jesus, who went about preaching and teaching the good news of the Kingdom. Whatever God’s presence is, without activities and words isn’t it simply a meaningless phrase? How are they to believe if they have no heard the good news?

    What does it mean for God to be present among his people? and his people in the midst of humanity? A distinction should be made between God’s creating and sustaining presence and God’s redemptive presence, especially in the person of Christ Jesus, but also in the body of Christ, the Church. So long as we are asking this question, are we not talking about the true form of Christian culture, i.e. the ‘spirit’ the binds a community of people together?

    My own thinking on the matter is that Christian culture is characterized, not primarily by mission (per Goheen’s hermeneutical key), but by confession. The mission of God’s people is to call others to confession: my confession demands, not complacency on my part, but calls me into mission. The preaching of the Gospel itself is meant to elicit a confession from those who hear it.

  9. As per the idea of ‘presence’, I agree wholeheartedly that God, or our, ‘presence’ would be a meaningless thing without words and activities. When I glanced at the quoted in Okoye’s book I thought it was interesting because of the words “first and foremost”. Often the church thinks of its mission in terms of first and foremost ‘word’ or ‘activities’/’deed’ (which basically characterizes the classic fundamentalist/liberal divide, does it not?), but I read the language of ‘first and foremost…presence’ to emphasize that, similar to ancient Israel and the first century life of Christ, the primary thing is that we are to be seeking to acknowledge the Father’s presence (through Christ and now by the Holy Spirit) and live our lives in light of that presence. It made me think of our re-oriented love and desires out of which flow the things of life. The words (speaking to others about Christ) and activities (intentional acts of sacrificial love toward others) only make sense and only have their force coming from a community that acknowledges their Creator and seeks to follow him no matter the cost.

    I hope I am not severing words from activities and both of these from presence. I see them as a synthetic unity. Presence just seemed like a more holistic approach. I appreciate your challenges.

    I am still trying to wrap my head around the whole ‘restless heart’ thing. I am surprised that a history buff would dislike an appeal to social location. I’ll try to get back to you in a bit.

  10. The reason I dislike the concept is that there is a tendency among those who use it to relativize the meaning of human activities to particular social locations and to divide human history up into discrete little segments understood in terms of particular social locations. So it is thoroughly historicistic, i.e. particularizing and relativizing, which I, a history buff, dislike. Historicism, either in Hegelian or Heideggerian variations, so far as I am concerned is the end of human history. Why? Because historians study human activity in time, not the various locations the human being might occupy at any given moment.

    Now Goheen says mission is a place or a social location, which to my mind makes no sense. Mission is an activity, not a place–I confess God in the person of Jesus Christ has inaugurated a mission reconcile humanity to its Creator, and I can choose or choose not to participate. I suspect that the more I seek to participate in the mission of God, the better I will understand the biblical text. I also suspect that this is what Goheen does in fact mean where he says the mission is the social location the reader must occupy in order to understand the biblical text, but his use of the concept social location distorts the meaning. So I have reason to suspect Goheen is a historicist.

    Why Augustine’s restless heart? Because everywhere I read, I encounter authors or other people in books who are all seeking meaning/wisdom in their lives. But I have never encountered a single author or a single person in a book who ever discovered meaning/wisdom that was unshakable. For every book that has ever been written–for every philosophical argument, theological discussion, historical narrative, literary fiction–there will always be some who agree with the author and some who don’t. The whole of human history can be summed up in terms of one generation seeking answers in places the previous generation did not.

    The solution to this problem of the restless search for meaning/wisdom in human life that Augustine provides in On Christian Doctrine is that Wisdom must first come to us, in order for us to come to a knowledge of true Wisdom. That is, God first has to reveal himself, especially in the person of Christ Jesus, if you or I are to know wisdom.

    Your reflection on the meaning of presence made me wonder whether or not what you meant to by presence was what I meant by activity. Where you might say God was present among the people of Israel and was present in the early Church, I would say God was actively working out his redemptive purposes among the people of Isreal and the early Church (and the medieval Church, the modern Church, and the contemporary Church). But in the final instance, we would mean much the same thing…yes/no?

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