Mapping Philippians Missionally

This paper examines Paul’s letter to the Philippians in light of George Hunsberger’s fourfold “mapping” of recent approaches to missional hermeneutics ( Hunsberger characterizes these approaches under the rubric of four questions: What is the story of the biblical narrative and how does it implicate us? What is the purpose of the biblical writings in the life of its hearers? How shall the church read the Bible faithfully today? What guides our use of the received tradition in the context before us? Like Hunsberger, I do not see these approaches as mutually exclusive. Rather, they represent mutually informative queries into the interplay of divine purposes, ecclesiology and Scripture. How that interplay works out and which questions will come to the fore (or recede) in the interpretive process will depend on the particular biblical writing in focus as well as interpretive context of the interpreters. The paper consists of three parts. First, I briefly summarize both my understanding of the argument Philippians in its social-cultural context as well as our ecclesial location in an increasingly post-Christian West. Secondly, I investigate Philippians using Hunsberger’s four questions heuristically, comparing and contrasting the fruitfulness of each as an interpretive approach for this particular letter. The results illustrate how the nature of Philippians itself foregrounds certain missional emphases yet, at the same time, provides fertile ground for all four approaches. The paper concludes, finally, with brief reflections on socializing students and the church into interpreting Scripture missionally.