hesselgrave and mclaren and mission, part 1

last week, my dad handed me a copy of emq (evangelical missions quarterly) and asked me to read an article by retired missions professor david hesselgrave called, ‘brian mclaren’s contextualization of the bible’ (january, 2007 issue — the article is currently listed on the home page of their website, but only as premium content, requiring a subscription). my dad is a retired missions executive, a conservative presbyterian, and a life-long learner who is always open to ideas and questions and dialogue. i read the article and made four pages of notes for my dad.

then, yesterday, i was skimming the january issue of christianity today, and saw a short book review for a new hesselgrave book called ‘paradigms in conflict’, which sounds (from the review) like it’s along the same lines as the article (i’m guessing here, but the article is probably a subset of the direction of the book). the review starts this way…

david hesselgrave’s thesis: although changes there must and will be, the future of christian missions will depend more on changes that are not made than it will on changes that are made.


i’m vascilating between sad and angry. this kind of entrenchment and self-appointed conclusion that we’re currently more correct than any future generation might be is maddening. let me publicly go on record saying this: if, when i am a retired youth ministry dude in my 70s, i say something like, ‘the future of youth ministry depends more on what we don’t change than on what we do change’, PLEASE point this out to me, remind me to be a gracious old dude who invites younger generations to seek god’s direction, and remind me that i wrote — in january of 2007 — that no one generation in the church ever, EVER, had everything worked out perfectly. and feel free to poke me a little in the chest when you do this, enough to make me say, ‘ow! stop poking me!’

with that, i think i’ll post a series on the emq article. i’m a bit nervous about this, because i expect to be engaged by commenters whose opinions (which they won’t see as opinions) are stronger than mine, and who have likely thought about this a lot more than i have. but, it’s a nice day to toss myself to the wolves… so, consider this part 1, with more to come…

10 thoughts on “hesselgrave and mclaren and mission, part 1”

  1. Just offering a little context…maybe. Perhaps what Hesselgrave is alluding to is not a right or wrong approach to missions but continual refinement is what’s necessary. Keep the good and process the rest. Not having read the “emq” article I’m not entirely certain I can adequately determine his context.

  2. In the midst of all our humility about our ability to know, etc, let’s not forget to entertain the possibility that the guy with decades of experience just might be right.

  3. chrisb: CERTAINLY, anyone with that many decades of thinking and teaching in a field deserves to be listened to – i’m sure he has wisdom and insight. i don’t even mind someone feeling strongly about what they think is being done correctly in the current schema. it’s the “we’ve got it right, and next generations threaten to change that and mess everything up” attitude i have no patience for. and, like i said, that’s an attitude that is so different than my dad’s, and he’s also a 70-something conservative retired missions expert.

  4. You’re certainly jumping into a hot topic there marko. But go for it I say! I agree with your reply to ChrisB…we certainly do need to learn from the past, these people with experience have much to offer us, it’s when they start saying they had it right, they perfected it, that I start to have major problems. I will also look forward to reading the rest of your posts on this issue.

  5. Marko. Thanks for wading into this. I felt downright depressed when I read Hesselgrave’s piece. I was so hopeful that if anyone would give McLaren a fair shake–it would be a guy like Hesselgrave who has pushed the envelope on contextuazliation for so many years. But one page into it, I knew we were in for yet another straw man argument being set up only to be knocked down.

    In my mind, one of the distinctives of Christianity HAS to be that we continue to wrestle with the messy process of changing the message AND methods of the gospel to embody the essence of who Jesus is. I don’t get the “FEAR” element that seems to permeate so much of this debate.

    Thanks for speaking up on this. So many of us (me!!) lack the energy to have one more conversation about this. Will you consider an op-ed to EMQ???

  6. I hestitate to comment on the quote that you took from Hesselgrave’s article without seeing the whole context, but I must say that it seems so ironic to state that the “future” could be based upon “changes that are not made”. What causes the future to come into existence is change.

    I agree with Livermore in that “fear” seems to be a driving factor here. Those who have so much “experience”, as one commenter stated, tend to wan t their experience to become the measuring stick for the future without evening knowing what that future will be like. It’s almost as if they are afraid that what they have done will not be remembered unless it is forged into some norm or paradigm.

    I look forward to reading more of your comments Marko. Saludos de Chile.

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