A Book Review of Shawn Redford’s Missiological Hermeneutics

I want to take a moment to review a book written by a good friend and fellow CMF missionary, Shawn Redford. During our time in Nairobi, Justine and I have come to deeply appreciate Shawn and Kristin and their delightful family. Shawn specializes in teaching theology of mission as part of the Intercultural Studies faculty at AIU (African International University) or more specifically NEGST (Nairobi Evangelical Graduate booksSchool of Theology) – a constituent school.

With that said, he has not asked me to write a review. I write on my accord primarily because I am inclined to think that all Christians (and cross-cultural missionaries in particular) should grab a copy of his dissertation-book, Missiological Hermeneutics: Biblical Interpretation for the Global Church.

I think I would be truthful in saying that his book is not only an important and energetic work in its own right – but in many ways pushes beyond the borders of just ‘missiology’ (“the area of practical theology that investigates the mandate, message, and mission of the Christian”) or ‘hermeneutics’ (“the art and science of text interpretation”) into the everyday challenge of learning to be attentive to the Word of God in order to allow our cultural assumptions and normative interpretive lenses to be questioned and reshaped by the transformative work of the Spirit and the vocational mandate of Scripture.

The primary force of Shawn’s thought is guided by the truth that the action of God is indeed breaking into this world in a variety of ways, not least of which through the Spirit’s illumination of the text for any given person/group in any given context. Uniquely, Shawn seeks to incorporate the illumination of the Holy Spirit through communal and individual spiritual disciplines coupled with a careful culturally-appropriate contextualization of the text as the primary factors in this new missiological hermeneutic. He then employs his own method in very thorough engagements with ‘polygamy’ and ‘Christian conversations with followers of Islam’.[1]

Of particular interest to me were his initial few chapters in which he sought to understand whether the initial missiologically-shaped-promise of God (Gen 12) was understood and transmitted correctly, “meaning that they [the central biblical figures] put aside their own misconceived theological and missiological baggage and understood God’s missional concerns.”[2]. In other words, are we the only ones who miss God’s concern/plan ‘for the nations’ or did the central Biblical figures in this drama often hermeneutics-header-650x150miss it as well?

He continues, “I will suggest that one of our predominant means of understanding the patriarchs’ interpretation of God’s promise is to examine their retelling or reiterations of God’s promises throughout Genesis, and, specifically, to consider how they repeated God’s promise “to bless all the nations of the earth”.[3]

This is a very interesting interpretive move in my mind – to learn from the biblical figures themselves what a skewed missiological hermeneutic might look like – and the result that follows. In other words, as worded earlier, Shawn seeks to allow scripture to inform us of what a missiological hermeneutic of God’s promises might look like and to subsequently embody for us appropriate attentiveness to – and involvement in – God’s mission to His world.

I would do Shawn a great injustice by trying to summarize the remaining chapters or main points here – so without going much further, I want to point you towards a few other important parts of the book.

After his comprehensive conversation with the issue of polygamy – he continues to show how it is that ‘missional praxis’ coupled with the Spirit’s guidance might be able to shape our understanding of the direction of God’s work in the world in itself.

Bailey photo 4
Kenneth Bailey

In what turns out to be one of the most engaging parts of the book, Shawn dialogues with Kenneth Bailey (a biblical scholar who has studied and lived within Middle Eastern cultures for over 40 years) and J. Dudley Woodberry (a long-term missionary in the Middle East and missiologist at Fuller Theological Seminary). Both of these men are important in their own ways, but Shawn shows how they have learned to understand the meaning of scripture in light of their missionary activity and immersion in cultures very similar to various biblical contexts.

J Dudley Woodberry

I will not discuss his findings here – though I assure you, he provides enough fruitful dialogue to chew on for some time.

With that said, though I have tried my best to engage his book critically and openly – I certainly can’t find any particular aspect to critique, though I might say that there is an area that would help me greatly to see Shawn develop further (after having discussed this issue in person with him). This is the issue of communal or individual interpretation intentionally guided by spiritual disciplines.

As he has noted to me – it is an odd thing that students don’t regard the Holy Spirit as a legitimate ‘helper’ in intentional academic interpretation (though I suppose a number of people find it easy to use the Holy Spirit to back their own personal decisions). And perhaps this is precisely the concern. I have no doubt that a communal discernment process is scriptural (Acts 15) and can be helpful, but who determines which interpretation should be normative for a given context? The local people? The church? Futhermore, within the Free Church movement (which usually has the aspect of no authoritative teaching office) – who gets to decide which interpretation of a text is more truthful than others?

Shawn Redford

Though these questions go beyond the scope of Shawn’s book – I have no doubt that his training and understanding would bring us a long way forwards as missionaries in learning to interpret scripture with/amidst the people with whom we work. Perhaps Shawn will see fit to write another book for us along these lines. 😉

In all, I am deeply grateful for this book. If anything, it has not only strengthened my missiological understandings of Scripture, but has also increased my everyday reading of God’s work in the world in and through others.

[1] Redford, xvi.

[2] Redford, 10.

[3] Redford, 32.

[4] Redford, 246.

Published by Ryan Hayes

Ryan Hayes is a development practitioner, teacher and co-author of his first book of poems, Paralipomenon. Being born in Nairobi, Kenya and living most of his life in Africa, he has a wealth of experience and understanding into the cultural and linguistic factors of South-East Africa. Ryan is happily married to Justine with whom they have begotten three beautiful girls – Amelie, Lily and Rylee. He is a lifelong learner and devoted student of Jesus, mysticism, quantum physics and the human psyche.

One thought on “A Book Review of Shawn Redford’s Missiological Hermeneutics

  1. Cool man. Another good review. Where can we get a copy of the book. That Shawn looks like a cool fellow.

    Ben Hayes

    http://hayesmalawi.wordpress.com http://www.namikangomission.org

    From: “R & J [In Kenya]” Reply-To: “R & J [In Kenya]” Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 6:20 PM To: Ben Hayes Subject: [New post] A Book Review of Shawn Redfords Missiological Hermeneutics

    WordPress.com Ryan posted: “I want to take a moment to review a book written by a good friend and fellow CMF missionary, Shawn Redford. During our time in Nairobi, Justine and I have come to deeply appreciate Shawn and Kristin and their delightful family. Shawn currently works as an”

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