Missional Questions for Bible Study

Theologian Christopher J. H. Wright is director of international ministries for John Stott Ministries (the Langham Partnership). He is a prolific writer and is passionate that the people of God understand that to know God through Jesus Christ is know God’s mission that is unfolding in history and that we are called to embrace, celebrate, and participate in. In 2006, Dr. Wright published a masterful 535-page study of the Scriptures, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. He is a serious scholar, but his audience is not limited to scholars—this is an accessible work that every follower of Jesus will find helpful in understanding the Bible’s ever expansive and redemptive message from Genesis to Revelation.

Here is Wright in his “Introduction” to The Mission of God:

The writings that now comprise our Bible are themselves the product of and witness to the ultimate mission of God. The Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation. The Bible is the drama of this God of purpose engaged in the mission of achieving that purpose universally, embracing past, present and future, Israel and the nations, “life, the universe and everything,” and with its center, focus, climax, and completion in Jesus Christ. Mission is not just one of a list of things that the Bible happens to talk about, only a bit more urgently than some. Mission is, in that much-abused phrase, “what it’s all about.” [p. 22]

I recommend The Mission of God—it will deepen and broaden your study and comprehension of God’s word, grace, and purpose in the Scriptures, in human history, and in your own history.

Now, in “Questioning Faith: A Missional Reading of Ecclesiastes,” in Presbyterion (Fall 2023, pp. 136-150), the theological journal of Covenant Theological Seminary, my alma mater, Wright provides a helpful list of six questions that can help us in our Bible study. I should note that rather than summarizing the trajectory of the biblical story as Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation, Wright prefers seeing it as a drama in seven acts. Creation-Rebellion-O.T. Promise-Christ-N. T. Mission-Judgment-New Creation. If you have access to Presbyterion, Wright’s entire article is worth reading, since in it he answers the questions in light of the book of Ecclesiastes.

So here are the six excellent questions he suggests we ask of every text as we study the Bible, either alone or in groups.

  1. Where does this text fit within the grand narrative of Scripture as the record of God’s mission?

How and where does this book or text fit within the overall story of the Bible? In which “act” of the “drama” is it set? What comes before it as preparation, and what follows it as consequence? In what ways does it participate in, or contribute to, the forward-moving missional dynamic of the biblical narrative (toward Christ in the Old Testament, or toward the New Creation in the New Testament?

  1. What does this text reveal about the God of the Bible?

What does this text say or imply concerning the uniqueness and universality of the one living God: Yahweh (OT), Jesus Christ (NT)? What does it tell or imply about God’s character, purpose, and sovereignty, or about God’s will to be known to the ends of the earth, and about God’s historical acts of redemption and judgment? How does this text add to our understanding of the missional God of the Bible’s grand narrative?

  1. What aspects of the human condition does this text expose?

What elements of our human problem are exposed, illustrated, and/or addressed, and how does that affect our understanding of mission? How does this text deepen our understanding of the problem that the mission of God addresses?

  1. What truths of the biblical gospel does this text affirm or illustrate?

What elements of the good news are seen in this text—whether in reflection on, or anticipation of the work of Christ and its eschatological consummation? Does the text illustrate how the biblical “good news” (at any stage of its revelation) engages or interacts with surrounding cultures? What is “good” in this text, in any redemptive sense?

  1. How does this text describe and address God’s people?

In what ways does it affirm or illustrate their calling, identity, distinctiveness, faith, failings, mission, ethical shaping, their missional locatedness in context and culture? How did/does this text challenge or reassure God’s people? Or how did/does this text function to shape God’s people for their missionary responsibility in the world?

  1. What dimensions of the universality of God’s mission does this text affirm or illustrate?

What does it show about God’s universal involvement with all nations, or God’s love, care, and intention for all creation? What does this text or book have to say about the nations and God’s intentions for them?

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