hesselgrave and mclaren and mission, part 2

ok, here we go. here’s part 1 of this series, which gives a bit of the background as to why i’m doing this. at this point, it looks to be a 5-part series.

thoughts in response to “Brian McLaren’s Contextualization of the Bible”, by David Hesselgrave, in Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ), January, 2007

Initial thought: it seems clear the author is trying to be fair (or at least thinks he is trying to be fair). he actually structures the article in a way i found fairly generous, that is: he uses brian’s terminology of ‘believing, belonging, and becoming’ as three of the four major sections. after the intro, for each section, he attempts to fairly present brian’s position (and has widely mixed results with his attempts), then presents the position of the IFMA (interdenominational foreign missions association — if i remember correctly; oddly enough, their website ONLY has the initials, and never lists — that i can find — the words it stands for!), citing the ifma’s rather lengthy statement of belief. finally, each section has a “toward an analysis” section, where hesselgrave says why brian is wrong (i’m simplifying, but it’s basically that). he more generous to brian in the early part of the article, and gets more and more ruthless as it progresses.

the opening section of the article starts with a story of a professor the author had back in the day, who the students (including the author) had a love/hate relationship with. they both loved and hated his strong but oblique flame-thrower comments (my words, not hesselgrave’s). then, hesselgrave writes this:

McLaren himself says, “There are places here where I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity.” Although this may be standard fare in university classrooms, these techniques have much less currency in the communication of divine truth.

I have a HUGE problem with that last sentence (my bold). In this little sentence, the author has just dismissed 90% of Jesus’ teaching, in favor of a modernistic (and likely, Paul-enamored) approach to how truth is revealed or engaged. really, i’m just baffled how someone can make a comment like this, especially a seasoned academic, writing in a journal. most of jesus’ teaching could be characterized as provocative, mischeivous and unclear, full of shock, obscurity, playfulness and intrigue. the disciples didn’t ‘get it’ much of the time. jesus RARELY explained himself (and when he did, it was usually to a few, not to the crowd). jesus clearly speaks in kingdom language, not objective truth language.

next, part 3: brian’s perspective on being missional and incarnational, and what i believe is hesselgrave’s most audacious and troubling sentence.

21 thoughts on “hesselgrave and mclaren and mission, part 2”

  1. I think more sermons need to be presented with intrigue. Following Christ is to live a life full of wonder. When we make to gospel and bible formulaic (to a fault), we take the wonder out of our faith and leave no room for creative (and often effective) thinking.

  2. Communication of divine truth must be provocative in order for learning and self realisation to take place. I agree with the comments about Jesus’ technique of engagement compared with the dry academic presentation of prepositions

  3. You brought up a very interesting issue for me – the difference between Paul & Jesus. At times I feel really confused over this as it seems most ‘evangelical’ churches today worship Paul rather than Jesus in the sense that they model themselves on their perception of his teaching a practice rather than on that of Jesus. The two really are so different, but shouldn’t Jesus be our default, our base upon which we judge everything else? Maybe I am just idealistic?!

  4. I agree with your perspective MarkO. Obscurity and mystery chasens the hunt for truth.
    I also think that it is crucial to be supportive (even defend) the valid and valiant perspectives which are starting to emerge.
    but here is a question that sometimes tugs at the corners of my brain. is it really worth our effort to defend truth against those who choose flimsy rehtoric and straw logic? I mean might it be better for ‘us’ to leave those naysayers behind and carry on with the agenda of pursuing truth?
    maybe this defense and response approach is needed to identify what is legitimate and to define and bolster the morale of those walk these winding paths into the mystery.
    sorry just rambling…

  5. Marko-So if you are ‘Paul enamoured’, as you put it, does that mean you are modernistic? Did the early church not read Paul, or did they just wait for the gospels which we know to be later than Paul’s writing? Why does everybody draw a distinction between Jesus and Paul? Is one part of the canon more important than the other? Are they at cross purposes? And wasn’t Paul, commissioned by Christ to be the apostle to the Gentiles? Didn’t that automatically mean he would (unlike Christ)have to communicate at least to some extent in non-Jewish ways? It seems to me that people who criticise Paul simply have not read him closely enough to understand how similar to Christ’s his thought was. And let’s not forget that his purpose in writing was different and prior to the gospel writings. There is as much kingdom content in the rest of the New Testament if you look closely; in fact it’s really about working out the kingdom in the muck and mire of life in the early church. I am also interested in what you think about the letters of John,Peter and James? I think they would all be unimpressed if they thought people were accusing them of not passing on the teaching of Jesus; what they had to do was explain what it looked like in the complexity of daily life.The trend I see of creating a dichotomy between Jesus’ teaching and the rest of the Scriptures is worrying to me.

  6. craig — i don’t think i would say (and i didn’t say) that being paul-enamoured means one is modernistic. but i have seen a modern-era obsession with paul (over jesus) because his writings are easier to pick apart and use for statements of faith and truth propositions and such. it’s much harder to sound-bite jesus — put it that way!

    to your question about the distinction between paul and jesus… well, yes and no. yes, i think we should draw a distinction — even if only for our understanding. that doesn’t take anything away from paul or his writings, in my thinking. and no, while we draw a distinction, there’s not a whole lot of sense to embracing one and dismissing the other! problem is: so many in the modern era have built their entire theological systems almost exclusively on paul, to the DISMISSAL of jesus. i think i’m saying, and are many in the emerging church, let’s tip the scale the other way a bit. no need to dismiss either — but if we’re gonna err with the scales tipped one way or the other (this ‘scales’ metaphor is horrible, btw, and i shouldn’t be using it, as it sounds like paul and jesus are in opposition, which is not my belief), i’d rather tip to jesus.

  7. mdaele — i sure see your point. and there are days when i fully agree, because it gets wearying. but i think a publication like emq has done (and i would like to think, still will do) such great stuff. i also think hesselgrave needs to have someone call him on the carpet for his poorly reasoned and unfair piece. i’m really not the best one to do that — one of his peers would be. but the piece frustrated me so much, i felt compelled to respond.

  8. Perhaps I’m stirring the pot…But didn’t YS just recently edit someone who used shock, obscurity, playfulness and intrigue (carefully articulated) to stimulate more thought than clarity.

  9. Marko.

    Yeah I am referring to Bart’s article. Not trying to create a diversion from your piece on Hesselgrave. However I’m a bit unclear as to why Hesselgrave is being taken to task for his perceived indictment of A.G.O; when on the surface it appears YS decided to mediate what was important dialogue and what was not.

  10. i don’t mind you asking at all, chris. i pulled the article you’re talking about because i thought it was a weak article. i would take that article to task also! now, i don’t think it was weak in the same way i think hesselgrave’s article is troubling. bart’s article should have either been about universalism or about hermaneutics. but he chose to make it about both (and his editor wrongly — i believe — allowed him to do so). that completely weakened the piece, and made it something that wasn’t helpful. i didn’t want it on our website because i didn’t think it created dialogue.

    i think bart is an absolute gem of a person, a wonderful and godly leader, husband and father. and i love his willingness to push us to think and rethink. i just didn’t think that article served the purpose, and would cause more problems than any helpful discussion it might encourage.

  11. Thanks for the thoughtful response Marko.

    For the record I am enjoying your contribution to the Hesselgrave piece. Looking forward to the future sections.

  12. I can see what you are saying as well marko
    eventually a guy (like myself for instance) starts to feel pretty alone in the theological/methodological world when all of the familiar and (as is in this case) reliable sources of legitmate confirmation seem to only support critical views to your own. i appreciate the discipline of tackling this online like you are and you certainly don’t need to slouch at your abilities in defense of common sense.

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  14. that’s hilarious that you say “Paul-enamored” as if this is a bad thing. let’s just stick with the facts and not make an assumption that whenever one is into clarity and appeasement (the opposite of provocative), they are into Paul. I think Paul did his share of provoking and was rather fond of Jesus if I recall. I don’t think I’d be out on a limb to say that Jesus likes Paul pretty well and endorses his ministry.

  15. sorry you felt that way, matt. hey, i have no interest in diminishing paul. i want to feast on the whole bible. what i meant, by that conjecture — fairly or unfairly — is that there does seem to have been a preponderance of focus on paul’s writings in forming our (evangelical) theology over the past couple hundred years. maybe it was the provocotive nature of jesus’ teaching that caused so many to seeminly ignore it when forming theology. certainly, hesselgrave’s sentence that i quote is — unintentionally, i’m sure — more than merely ignoring jesus teaching, but is downright dismissive of jesus’ teaching style. i don’t see the two (jesus and paul) as opposed to each other in any way.

  16. Jesus states exactly why he was “mischievous and unclear”…to conceal truth from nonbelievers and to reveal truth to believers. He had complete insight into divine truth and the motives of men.

    We do not.

    And since when is being “Paul-enamored” a bad thing. Did Paul disagree with Jesus anywhere? Aren’t Paul’s writings Scripture? What point are you trying to make, Marko?

  17. jay — certainly, believers (including the disciples themselves) were often a bit confused by the meaning of jesus’ teaching! i’m not implying jesus wasn’t a good (clear) teacher — just the opposite: jesus was the best teacher, brilliantly using disequilibration, metaphor, story, unfinished thoughts, and all manner of brilliant teaching methods. yes, sometimes jesus was very direct and clear; but often, he was not. i thought it odd that hesselgrave criticized someone for teaching methods that jesus used. that’s all.

    on the “paul-enamoured” thing: of course, paul is scripture, and paul is in agreement with jesus. my point there is only that i think many of our churches and theological systems are built on pauline teaching exclusively, or at least prioritized above the teaching of jesus. no, they’re not directly at odds with each other; but, certainly, if one built a two theological systems (one exclusively built on paul’s writings, and one exclusively built on jesus’ teachings) one would have different conclusions.

  18. Thanks for the feedback. I agree with you that some systems of theology place Paul above Jesus rather than in harmony with him. I also see others using Jesus’ words and taking them to a place where they are in opposition to Paul’s.

    I haven’t read much of Hesselgrave to know how much I agree with him, but I do think that we as teachers have to use extreme care with God’s Word. Jesus was able to reveal and conceal because he had complete insight into the hearts of men. As I see, our job is to “preach the word” (Paul to Timothy). But, I agree that there’s more than one way to do it. Allowing people to wrestle with the Lord and his Word is a great thing, but we should also guide them to the right conclusions.

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