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.
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.