thoughts in response to “Brian McLaren’s Contextualization of the Bible”, by David Hesselgrave, in Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ), January, 2007
in part 1 of this series, i give the background for why i’m posting this series. and in part 2, address hesselgrave’s opening thesis that approaches like being provocative, mischievous and unclear, or messages that embody or precipitate shock, obscurity, playfulness and intrigue have no place in the communication of ‘divine truth’. this, i contended, was dismissive of the vast majority of jesus’ teaching, and certainly of jesus’ communication style and methodology. and in part 3, i briefly looked at hesselgrave’s concern about mclaren’s definition/theology of mission, as well as my frustrations with hesselgrave’s definition/theology of mission.
and now, pointing out a massive perspective difference…
at the end of the “mission” section, hesselgrave, summing everything up, writes this:
but the fundamental problem with mclaren’s view of mission and his missiology is not just hermeneutical; it is epistemological. because he does not begin with biblical theology, mclaren’s “reflections on mission” turn out to be “refractions of mission.” given this approach to mission/missiology, how do we really know what the christian mission actually is? or even that we christians have a mission at all?
i found this fascinating. i suppose it could be due to the shortness of the article, which, if i’m trying to be fair to hesselgrave, doesn’t allow him much space to elaborate on some of these time-release grenades he’s dropping. but it’s fascinating to me that hesselgrave (as learned as he is) doesn’t even hint that these few little sentences are at the very heart of the shift we’ve been experiencing for a few decades (a shift hesselgrave seems dead-set against). it really makes me wonder if hesselgrave is even aware of his own perspective on this. i’m thinking not: he seems to see his argument as objective biblical truth, and mclaren’s as subjective opinion.
but let’s start here: hesselgrave is correct that the issue is epistemological; but he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s put his finger on the carotid artery of the modern/pomo debate. his assumptions are that we can know objective truth (more pointedly, his assumption is that he is writing objective truth, or at least naming it). if that assumption is/were true, his conclusions would be logical.
in other words: he assumes it is possible to start with pure, objective, taint-free biblical theology, which has nothing to do with culture, or the interpretive lenses we bring to scripture or the development of that theology. if this were possible, it makes sense — logically, naturally — that our missiology would flow out of that unchanging, unadulterated Truth. missiology becomes the ‘practical theology’ that flows out of objective ‘biblical theology’.
for those in the emerging church (again, i have no ‘right’ to speak for the entire emerging church, and it is somewhat ludicrous to do so, since there is no centralized repository of ec theology. but in general…), epistemology starts with the assumption that we automatically and unequivocally bring our own lenses (perspectives, experiences, cultural norms and expectations, biases, hopes, technology, psychology) to scripture. As such, we don’t have access to truly and completely objective Truth. there is still plenty of truth, but there is a realization that there’s a subjective element to it. (while this completely freaks out many who almost see it as heresy, it really does nothing to undermine my faith one bit. just the opposite: it bolsters my faith. because my faith is not built on logical arguments, it is built on the revelation of god in scripture, in my life, and in other places and people.) with this assumption, we go to creation as a critical starting point for our narrative, which becomes an anchor point of doing theology (and really, an anchor point for living). we form a ‘biblical theology’ of identity (who i am in relationship to god) based on our understanding of creation. this, in turn, informs our mission (and missiology), which, in turn, informs our understanding of truth, and/or our biblical theology. and, to take it a step further, postmodern theologians would argue that hesselgrave is doing the same thing – he just doesn’t realize it or want to admit it.
n.t. wright, in the christianity today interview with him (in the jan07 issue of ct), says, “it is possible to say more or less all the orthodox christian affirmations, but to join them up in the wrong story. it’s possible to tick the boxes that say trinity, incarnation, atonement, resurrection, spirit, second coming, and yet it’s like a child’s follow-the-dots. the great story — and after all the bible is fundamentally a story — we’ve got to pay attention to that, rather than abstracting dogmatic points from it. the dogmas matter, they are true, but you have to join them up in the right way.”
later in the interview he says, “what happened with the enlightenment is the denarrativization of the bible.”
mission, then, requires starting with the narrative, not the dogmas.