The Coworkers Podcast

Descriptive or Prescriptive: The Role of Acts in Missions

Episode Summary

Jesus gave the church the Great Commission before ascending to the Father. Did He tell us HOW to fulfill it? Is the book of Acts, the story of the Holy Spirit-empowered spread of the early church, meant to be mainly a historical narrative, or an instruction guide for missions?

Episode Notes

In this episode, we discuss how to interpret the book of Acts. Did Luke intend for Acts to be mainly "descriptive" (a description of historical events) or "prescriptive" (a practical model to be followed)? 

Jesse shares good reasons to believe Luke intended for Acts to be more than descriptive, but to be an instructive guide for missions. He also shares three interpretive principles to help us know how to apply Acts.

3 principles to apply:
1. Recurrence: 
The Spirit of God in Paul and his coworkers produced a pattern of work they followed across the different contexts in which they ministered. There is a regularity to their way working that transcends the particularities of a given locality or people. This regularity points to the interpretive principle of recurrence, and it will be guiding light for us as we look for the missionary pattern in Scripture. Basically, the idea of recurrence is that when we see the first missionaries consistently repeating a practice across different contexts, we are seeing evidence of the Spirit-led pattern of missionary “work.” Those repeatable patterns are what we are looking for in determining the “work.” 

2. Coherence:
Beyond the pattern we find in Acts, we also see Paul write about “the work” in different parts of his epistles. Paul’s statements and elaborations on his work highlight the other interpretive principle we’ll use—coherence. The idea here is that certain missionary practices from Acts take on more weight—more potentiality as a part of the missionary pattern—when they cohere with what Paul wrote elsewhere about his work. In several places throughout his writings Paul gives a defense of his missionary work or a summary account of what he had done up to that point (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3, 4, 9; Romans 15). These passages are significant because they reveal the rationale behind Paul’s way of working. When a practice we see in Acts coheres with Paul’s statements elsewhere, then we can be reasonably sure that the practice in question forms a part of the missionary pattern of work. 

3. Transference: 
The final principle is the principle of transference. This is where we look for ways of working that others besides just Paul took part in. A common response when we talk of a missionary “pattern” is for people to say, “Well that was for Paul, and he was an apostle, so it’s not necessarily applicable to us.” With the principle of transference we’re looking for the work that others besides just Paul were involved in. 

These three interpretive principles—recurrence, coherence, and transference—will serve as our guides in revealing the “work” in the Scriptures. They will help us guard against reckless or unwise application of the narratives by steering us back toward the intent of the Biblical author. As we’ll see, they’ll help us navigate through the myriad events in the book of Acts to get to the core of what types of things are applicable to us today.  

In our next episode, we will walk through a Bible study of Paul's missionary journeys.

Books Mentioned:
Missionary Methods: St. Paul's Or Ours?- Roland Allen
The Masterplan of Evangelism- Robert Coleman
Spontaneous Expansion of the Church- Roland Allen
Masterlife- Avery Willis