hesselgrave and mclaren and mission, part 5

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. 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 in part 4, i addressed an enormous perspective difference over epistemology.

moving on…

the perspective differences i’ve discussed in parts 3 and 4 of this series color everything else hesselgrave writes in this article. clearly, his dismissal (rejection; condemnation) of brian’s approach to scripture, in the 3rd of 4 sections, is seen completely through his epistemological lense. in other words: if hesselgrave’s epistemological perspective is true (of course, calling it a “perspective” is… irony? fightin’ words? circular?… because hesselgrave doesn’t see his perspective as a perspective: he sees it as objective big-T-Truth), then his conclusions are logically true also, and his critique of mclaren, while not always fair or well-articulated (in other words, i have a sense brian would say “that’s not what i believe!” to some of hesselgrave’s reductions), are — at least — true to his perspective. so there’s really a sense (a sense that is true!) that going point-by-point through his points is a colossal waste of time. it misses the point of difference.

let me put it another way: the differences in epistemology naturally result in two completely different ways to approach pointing out the differences in the perspectives of hesselgrave (and, he says, the IFMA and EFMA) and mclaren. this entire article — not just the arguments and points and propositions and ideas, but the entire approach and format — is a reflection of hesselgrave’s epistemology. were brian to write an article articulating the differences he perceives between his perspective and hesselgrave’s, we would, i’m sure, read a completely different approach and format, as a reflection on brian’s epistemology (again, see part 4 of this series if you don’t know what i’m talking about).

so… i’m getting bored with my own series, which tells me it’s time to wrap it up! a few more random thoughts and comments…


in hesselgrave’s analysis of the difference between mclaren’s approach to scripture and the ifma’s approach to scripture, he writes this sentence:

there is a strong tendency among even believing emergents to avoid confessional statements and doctrinal discussions.

david! what have you been reading? who have you been listening to? what emerging churches have you attended? what emerging church events have you attended? because, certainly, you must — absolutely MUST — be reading different books and listening to different people and attending different emerging churches and emerging church events than i have in the past 10 years! in fact, the irony of this comment is that, worldwide, much of the non-u.s. emerging church has been critical of emergent village in particular (ev in the u.s., that is) because of their focus on theology. many emerging churches are very credal, and teach doctrine, and LOVE to talk about doctrine. seriously, any time i sit down with a group of peeps from the emerging church, the discussion goes to theology and doctrine, NOT to practice or candles or worship styles. if any segment of the american church could be accused of avoiding confessional statements and doctrinal discussions, it would be the seeker church, contemporary boomer church, movement (and even this isn’t fully accurate, of course).


hesselgrave’s section on the differences on view of scripture are (with the caveat of what i’ve said about perspective) not completely false. again, he’s naming a much-bigger-than-he-seems-to-imply difference of perspective: namely, the role of experience. in the classic evangelical modern mindset, one begins with the engine of fact (objective biblical truth), which is fueled by the coal-car of faith. And the caboose of ‘feelings’ (which can sometimes be almost interchangeable with ‘experience’ in these discussions) is a not-to-be-trusted, unnecessary appendage. The postmodernist asks, ‘then why are there so many who know the facts of scripture, yet, like the pharisees, have no real faith?’ facts DO NOT necessarily translate into spiritual transformation. experience, on the other hand, seems (ironically, from experience) to be indispensable to spiritual formation. sure, our faith isn’t formed on experiences alone. scripture is central. but the ‘facts’ of scripture, without experience… well, they don’t seem to get us very far in the journey of being a follower of jesus.


oh boy. somehow hesselgrave’s analysis of the different views of scripture devolves into the ol’ rhetoric of fear that the EC is new age. ‘perilously close’, he says. please. visit an ec and observe their practices and look at the hearts and lives of the people. tell me if they’re more or less new age than people attending any random orange county mega-church.


i’m not sure i completely understand what hesslegrave is trying to say in the analysis of “belonging.” he seems to want to define who’s “in” and who’s “out”. and to define the church as those who are “in.” I think this is apples to oranges in what brian’s saying about the church, as brian is writing at a more practical level of how our churches should function: that we should welcome those at any place in their spiritual journey into our midst.


realizing this is a bit snarky of me…
the closing sentence of the article, as hesselgrave wrote it, after claiming that brian’s beliefs, and all those of the entire emerging church, will fail:

in the end, the biblical gospel, and only the biblical gospel, will prevail.

what the author really means:

in the end, my view – or perspective – of the gospel, the one i’m claiming to be biblical, i hope it will prevail, because these other views seem to be built in completely different assumptions.

and that would be a fair opinion.

9 thoughts on “hesselgrave and mclaren and mission, part 5”

  1. Watch it buddy…what do you have against “random Orange County mega churches”?

    BTW, you think WAY more than the average middle school youth worker. I think, too, but it’s usually thinking about whose house I’m going to T.P. next or how to get that big 8th grader to join my dodge ball team.

  2. seriously, now you have made the Orange County Mafia mad. We will strike you down or at least start a scandalous website bashing YS, you, and then maybe every other Christian organization on the planet.

  3. Marko great series. Had a great discussion with my high school peer group this week about it. Well sorta…The question was raised about differing opinions on scripture. The consensus of my 15-18 year olds was that we don’t come to scripture as objective students with no experiences to lend to the text. But we come as seasoned travels with our own experiences, ideas, and character that through the holy spirit uses to shape us.

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  5. Wow… OK i hope you appreciate i just spent ages reading all five parts!!

    I’ll be straight with you Marko… you sound pretty post-modern. There’s no point trying to sugar-coat my comments here, there isn’t enough space, but i will endeavour to be “truthing in love” though.

    The question of perspective is not something the EC dreamed up, or something that arrived with postmodernity, it’s been kicking around since before Christ and theologans have discussed it for centuries…

    I recommend James Sire’s ‘Naming the Elephant’ as a brilliant read for anyone interested in questions of worldview or “pre-theoretical suppositions” as he calls them.

    Jesus’ teaching isn’t hidden in some shrouded-misty veil… it’s crystal clear on every front. The explanations Jesus gave to those ‘small groups’ were to his disciples… now surely that is the model we take to our churches? We’re teaching disciples right? Even if that weren’t the case, Jesus is the Lord and saviour of the universe and we can’t simply adopt ‘Moses-is-me syndrome’ and assume we do everything exactly the same way.
    Careful biblical and systematic theological thought is required in understanding the pedagogical role of a teacher in the church and it strikes me that the model McLaren exhibits is distant from the one we are given in scripture.

    You can write that off as ‘my persective’ if you like… but the biblical worldview presented from Genesis to revelation is that objective truth is not only possible, but it’s what Jesus is in the business of revealing to people (then and now).
    If you choose to place yourself outside of the possibility of understanding that objective truth you step away from Christ… or more accurately you choose to remain within the dominant secular world view of the western world in the 21st century and not step towards the light of Christ…

    Please don’t misderstand that to be an attack on your, or anyone elses, salvation… we are saved by grace through the gift of faith in Christ alone and not ‘good theology’.
    I am simply concerned that someone with your influence should be challenged to re-think his own ‘pre-theoretical suppositions’, especially if as leaders we are to be judged more severely (James 3:1)
    I would challenge you to rethink what Jesus really does teach.

    You may rethink and arrive where you are now… that’s between you and your maker.

    In fact on that note i value the challenge the EC brings to us to constantly be challenging the things we assume… but the only place we can go to reassess our thinking is the Bible.

    I am constantly being forced to rethink and to reassess my life and my theology, and i can testfy to the repeatedly clear truth and witness of scripture.

    Humbly yours and a fan of your prose,

    In Christ,


  6. ahem… *misUNderstand…!

    Oh and it’s not 8:40 where i am before you think i’m up crazy early… it’s 12:44 ;-)

  7. andy — thanks for taking the time to read and write!

    i cracked up at “you sound pretty postmodern”! well, whether i am or not, the reality is, we’re living in a postmodern world. so, i like paul, want to enter the culture in which i live in order to re-present the love of jesus to the people who (like me) live in that culture.

    i’m intrigued by your comment: “jesus’ teaching is crystal clear on every front.” i’m not saying this to “acuse” you, because i don’t know you at all, and realize you may have mispoke or misrepresented yourself, but that strikes me as incredibly arrogant. if you believe all of jesus’ teaching to be crystal clear, that means YOU have the correct interpretation of every single thing jesus ever said, even though much of what jesus said has been hotly debated, written about, discussed, and wrestled with for 2000 years, with vast amounts of disagreement amongst serious christ-followers over interpretation of exactly what jesus meant. so, no, i do not agree with you on that point! (and, i’m guessing, you don’t really mean that — i can’t believe you really mean that).

    andy, maybe this will confirm your suspicion that i am postmodern, but i have no real use for adding qualifiers to truth (like “objective truth” or “absolute truth”). something is either true or not true. jesus is true. scripture is true. god is true and sent jesus and gave us scripture to reveal truth. no qualifiers necessary.

    i don’t think you’re attacking my salvation — i appreciate the spirit of your comments.

  8. Ahh… i think i see where i may have slightly misrepresented myself…

    although i fear it is only slightly and you may still not like what i think!!

    I do believe Jesus’ teaching to be crystal clear… but i do not claim to understand all if it.
    I, like everyone else, am a sinner, and that clouds my judgement in everything… like it clouds everyone elses. If i were without sin (let me stress the ‘IF’…!) then i have no doubt everyting Jesus said would always make perfect sense all the time. You could sort of summarise my point… “Jesus is always crystal clear, if we don’t understand him its because we’re sinners”

    That’s not a wildly helpful statement even though i think it is an important one. What i was trying to say revolved around two things…
    The first: Jesus’ teaching to his disciples (Christians) is always to help them understand, to explain, to enlighten, teach, challenge, convict and so on, but never to cause confusion or misunderstanding. Where his teaching is contravercial (which it certainly is in places) then that is because of the sinfulness of the disciple/Christian that the controvercy arises, not because Jesus enjoys controvercy for its own sake.
    The second: We as believers do not simply do everything the exact same way Jesus did things…. i for one am not going to make a judgement call on the fair trade stall lady at the back of our church and start turning her tables over!! we are called to do as we are taught to do by Jesus and the apostles….

    Which all leads to my saying that in principle, the way the Bible teaches us to teach is to be clear and to help people grow in understanding and love of the Lord Jesus. That will never be devoid of controvercy, but we should never intentionally make it unclear.

    There are some things, however that simply are true and you can accuse me of arrogance if you like, but it simply is true that Jesus was raised from the dead. It simply is true that he bore our sins in his body on the cross. It simply is true that he ascended into heaven! To deny these is to disagree with the Bible, to claim the Bible teaches otherwise is… well… just not true! I believe in truth, and Jesus is in the truth business! I’m in his line of work since he saved me, and i’ll stand by those truths even if the postmodern world stands and laughs in my face…

    There are still teachings of Jesus i don’t yet understand, so it is my prayer that the work of the Holy Spirit in my life will open my eyes every day more and more to the clear truth of Jesus.

    As for the postmodern thing… i stand corrected! The essential premise of postmodernism is the denial that truth is possible. “Everything is relative” goes the postmodern way of thinking (See the Manic Street Preachers album “this is my truth tell me yours”) Biblical Christianity clearly claims knowledge of truth and like you, the Bible makes no distictions such as ‘absolute’ or ‘onjective’ (at least not to my knowledge…). I guess that is a way of talking i’ve picked up from the world i live in!
    I hope that i too can be a part of society (which is postmodern) and that i can present the gospel to those around me in a way that they can readily understand…. but i have no desire, and neither did Paul, to become ‘one of them’ by which i mean to share their world-view…. i’m not going to become postmodern, but i will adopt their language and ‘style’ in order to reach them with the gospel… Paul became like a Jew, but he himself was not under the law. On this is think we are in full accord :-)

    Anyway…. once again i find myself thoroughly involved and intruiged by what you say Marko… but i have work to do ;-)

    This is all in love, and know that i’m smiling right now, not frowning!

    In Christ,


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