MT520 Book Review – New Testament and Mission by Nissen

22Sep08

Nissen, Johannes.  New Testament and Mission: Historical and Hermeneutical Perspectives.  2nd ed.  (New York: Peter Lang, 2002)

Johannes Nissen is an Associate Professor of New Testament Exegesis at University of Aarhus in Denmark.  This work on New Testament and Mission was written in Danish and was initially released in 1996, it is now it its fourth printing in English.  Nissen writes to bridge the common gulf between missiological studies and biblical scholarship.  He notes that there are inherent errors within both camps and the proposed division of labor that results.  “No interpreter can understand any text without prejudgments formed from his or her own context” (13).  The solution to this problem is an interdisciplinary theological process that includes missiologists as well as biblical scholars.  It is out of this new understanding of interpretation and application that Nissen’s thesis emerges.

The relationship between text and context can be understood as the fusion of two horizons….  The ultimate goal of this model of interpretation as conversation is to fuse these horizons in a way that is true to the past and relevant to the present (13).

In particular, the issue that Nissen addresses relates to biblical scholarship and mission.  It is the fusing of these two horizons that generate the scope of his work.  The book is structured, not surprisingly, around the canon of the New Testament.  Nissen addresses each gospel writer in turn, as well as Paul’s praxis, the books of Colossians and Ephesians, I Peter, and Revelation.  He notes that at least four aspects of mission can be discerned in the New Testament:

Mission is being sent out (especially the Fourth Gospel).
Mission is making disciples of all nations (cf. The Gospel of Matthew).
Mission is deliverance and emancipatory action (cf. The Gospel of Luke).
Mission is witness (especially the Acts of the Apostles and the Fourth Gospel) (18).

He concludes the book with a chapter addressing issues of our modern encounters of mission and the New Testament texts.  My reaction to Nissen’s thesis and development is very positive.  I appreciate his approach to scripture and the challenges of contemporary mission.  The openness with which he writes and deals with scripture and mission is helpful.  He definitely models the methodology that he is advocating.  As I approach ministry on a secular university in 21st century America, I am challenged by vastly different contexts in which students live as compared to what they read in scripture.  Contending with an open conversation between our missiological movement and our desire to allow the Bible to be a normative document is always a challenge.  Being content with the creative tension between the two, as Nissen implies, is important – certainly not easy – but important.

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