One of the recurring issues I encounter as one who teaches biblical interpretation is how to explain in simple terms what a “missional” reading of Scripture entails and how to answer a whole host of important questions that relate to a missional interpretation of the Bible: How do you define a missional hermeneutic? How do you read the Bible missionally? What are the biblical foundations for doing so? What are the implications of a missional reading of the Bible in the everyday life of the church? And how is a missional reading of Scripture different from any other reading?

Although seemingly uncomplicated, these are not necessarily easy questions to answer.  This is because the term missional carries various nuances and meanings that different people emphasize in different ways. For some, the term refers to social ministry; for others, it refers to an interest in missions. Due to the different (and competing) emphases as well as the general ambiguity of the term missional in contemporary discussions, you may reasonably ask whether it is possible to accurately describe what a missional reading of Scripture is. Although there are risks involved in defining the term so concretely, I would like to suggest the following definition: 

A missional interpretation of Scripture reads the Bible as a unified narrative that records God’s intention to reconcile the world to himself. This narrative reveals that God accomplishes this intention by commissioning the nation of Israel to reflect God’s image to the world; by sending God the Son to restore Israel and inaugurate God’s universal blessing to the Gentiles; by sending God the Spirit to form the church into a holy people who embody God’s coming kingdom; and by sending the church into the world to proclaim the gospel and engage the culture..   

This definition, though cumbersome, reflects what I believe to be the most basic features of a missional reading of Scripture, which are: 

  1. The Bible as a unified and coherent narrative
  2. God’s universal mission to reconcile the world to himself
  3. Israel as the nation chosen to bless the world by reflecting God’s image
  4. Jesus as the climax of the biblical narrative who restored Israel and inaugurated God’s blessing to the entire world
  5. The church as an incarnation of God’s coming kingdom, its proclamation of the gospel, and its engagement with the culture

 Is this definition perfect? Certainly not, but it’s a start—and hopefully not a bad one.

Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. His most recent book is entitled Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor: See his faculty page at:

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