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Getting the Bible Wright

Pryomaniacs Frank and Dan are halfway towards a 1000 comment quest with a provocative blog post against emerging church and other movements that threaten the Fundamentalist claim to supreme power and a uniquely correct view of Scripture.


Its called . . Emerging Church: bad as Gutless Grace Girliemen? Worse than Wrongheaded Wrightophiles? Sillier than Leaky Canoneers? and it will probably break the record of 1000 posts, although the only people who will have the time to plummet its depths will be those without gainful employment.

[update: Mike Morrell has the skinny on the Pyro site and this current controversy]

As a blog post, I think it is enticing, artistic, bold, and I appreciate how it invites criticism from foe as well as friend. And although I appreciate the post, as I said on my comment which helped them progress toward their goal by one degree, I do beg to differ from Frank and Dan on a number of points . . .
Hinn002as well as being lumped in with Benny Hinn who drives a much nicer car than I, who tends to his hair far more than I and whose stage-led ministry looks ENTIRELY different than mine and the non-celebrity type people i hang with in the emerging-misisonal church scene.

First off, I really think Frank and Dan's definition of "missional" does no justice to the word. None. Whatsoever. Rather than describing the grand initiative of the Triune God, our framework to understand the Scriptures and our example in Christ for being obediently sent into the world, Frank and Dan downgrade the word with relativism and syncretism.

". . . This is what the people want—verbal meat-chubbery—and frankly, from what we understand, giving people what they really want is called missional these days." Frank and Dan, Pyromaniacs.

Giving people what they want? OK - don't get me started. I have already posted about the importance of missio dei, where the word missional comes from, and why I prefer to talk about the "emerging-misisonal church".

Let me tackle the issue from another angle - something i think is more inherently problematic in this ongoing debate. It has to do with the way we approach, interpret and apply the Scriptures in our world. Let me quote from Frank and Dan in their provocation:

"And if the most central issue of the Bible—how can man be just before God?—has been misunderstood by basically every one of the holiest, godliest, most consecrated and devoted men of God for centuries; if, that is, our most elder brothers in the faith have, every one of them, answered that question wrongly, and only a specialist engaging in specialized sub-category studies can unearth the true answer to this basic question...

...it makes you wonder not only why God wrote the Book, but why He made such a poor job of it. Why couldn't He manage to g
et it Wright...er, right, the first time? Why didn't He make it plain enough for non-specialists to "get" what He was saying?"
Frank and Dan, Pyromaniacs)

The first thing that grabs me here is what is presented as the "central issue" of the Bible - how man can be just before God? Now that may have been clearly adequate for Martin Luther and others but it seems suspiciously too small to me. Too small, too humanistic, too individualist, too man-centered.

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At this point, you are probably expecting me to reach into my Wright pocket and bring out a a new perspective on Paul. But I think John Cowell, another Brit and a Tutor at Spurgeon's College, does a great job in highlighting the plurality of perspectives on Paul's letter to the Romans.

"Following Martin Luther's cataclysmic change of understanding and direction, Protestant theology . . has become accustomed to reading the Epistle as a treatise on the means of salvation: we are "justified" (declared to be righteous in a legal sense) by our "faith" (in the sense of believing the gospel) rather than through the "works" of the "Law" . . ."
"There are new perspectives on Romans rather than a single and agreed new perspective . . . The first possibility is that chapters 12 through to 16 identify the reason for the letter and its preceding arguement: that Paul's concern is not primarily with the means of salvation but rather with the need for Jewish and Gentile Christians to accept one another within a single undivided church"
(John Colwell,
The Rhythm of Doctrine, page 54-55)

Such a perspective of Pauls intentions for the Romans, although not the only possibility offered by Colwell, would not sit well in fundamentalist circles or on a blog post by Pyromaniacs. And although I am tempted to point out why I think this new (post-Reformation) perspective offered by Colwell seems more contextually appropriate, and to enrich it further with a stronger missiological basis for ecclesiastic harmony within this multi-cultural Roman church - alas, here I stand in the middle of this frightfully long sentence, seeking to hop out into another paragraph, because, although there might be some weight to an alternative argument in showing that not all those who disagree with Frank and Dan are heretics [hello John MacArthur), this is not what i want to pursue in this blog post.

Funny that Mr. Wright gets a mention here because I want to appeal to Wright wisdom in putting forward what I hope is a biblical issue with more centrality than just people trying to get into heaven. Something more deeply embedded is wrong and so I must appeal to Mr Wright.
But not N.T. Wright . . . I am talking about the OTHER Wright.

Yes, there are two Wrights in the British emerging-missional landscape, and please don't suggest that they might be the Wright brothers [because they are not related] nor tell me that two Wrights dont make a wrong [because everyone knows that]. But two Wrights there are and those who want to be conversant with the emerging-missional church should know this. A friend of mine is currently writing a synthesis on the two Wrights and their great contribution to the British church and mission.

There is N.T. Wright who is a New Testament theologian and Bishop of Durham - whose books are popular with a wide section of the church, and Christopher J. H. Wright Director of International Ministries for Langham Partnership International (known in USA as John Stott Ministries) and previously Principal of All Nations College in England.

I have read more of Chris Wright than N.T. Wright, but then thats probably because N.T. comes out of a theological background and Chris comes from one more missiological. And since my background and current interest is mission, I naturally groove along with Chris's way of thinking and the words he chooses. But my take on the emerging church movement is that it has been brought forth primarily from missiological loins and to treat it as a solely theological movement is a foundational mistake.

Chris's most recent book, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative" is set to become a classic mission textbook in many training institutions but it will probably never appear on the required reading list at Masters College or others of a Fundamentalist persuasion. Which is a shame because its an excellent book and it presents a strong case for a robust missional reading of the Scriptures and the mission of God in Christ as a hermeneutical key.

In his book, Chris's draws from the gains of contextual hermeneutics . . . "As against the rather blinkered view of theology that developed in the West since the Enlightenment, which liked to claim it was scientific, objective, rational and free from either confessional presuppostions or theological interests, theologies that declare such disinterested objectivity to be a myth - and a dangerous one in that it concealed hegemonic claims." (The Mission of God, page 42) . . to become an "interested" missiology that goes beyond contextual [and liberationist] hermeneutics by offering to subsume both readings into itself. Chris puts forward a missional hermeneutic as a contextual, holistic, coherent framework that finds its center in Christ himself who opened the minds of his disciples so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45)
"In other words, Jesus himself provided the hermeneutical coherence within which all disciples must read these texts, that is, in the light of the story that leads up to Christ (messianic reading) and the story that leads on from Christ (missional reading). That is the story that flows from the mind and purpose of God in all the Scriptures for all the nations. That is a missional hermeneutic of the whole Bible." (The Mission of God, page 41)

Another reason Chris Wright impresses me and and yet my fundamentalist friends may not appreciate that impression is because Chris sees postmodernity as an opportunity and not a threat. Chris believes that "postmodernity's celebration of cultural diversity is a lot closer to the Bible's own affirmation of "every tribe and nation and language" than is the homogenizing anti-culture of modernity" (Chris Wright, Christ and the Mosaic of Pluralisms, Global Missiology for the 21st Century, ed, Taylor, 2000). He agrees with Martha Franks in her assessment of Leslie Newbiggin's understanding of missiology as something that long preceded the concerns of postmodernity and that we should respond to postmodernity not with revulsion but with counsel. Chris understands the Bible, which preceded postmodernity, as one which

"glories in
diversity and celebrates multiple cultures, the Bible which builds its most elevated theological claims on utterly particular and sometimes very local events, the Bible which sees everything in relational, not abstract, terms, and the Bible which does the bulk of its work through the medium of stories.
All of these features of the Bible - cultural, local, relational, narrative - are welcome to the postmodern mind"

(The Mission of God, page 46-47)

That's not to say that Chris buys into pluralism, because he doesn't. Rather, he suggests a "plurality in interpretation", acknowledging the cultural pluralities in mission contexts today in our move away from Western domination (see Chris Wright on CT with "An Upside Down World") as well as the "multiple cultural contexts" that the early church wrestled with. It is a plurality without relativism. Its an answer to postmodern questions without becoming prisoner to a radical postmodern postition. And its a damn good presentation of the missional hermeneutic that I see undergirding much of what happens in the emerging church movement and in my own ministry.

So I have to disagree gently and respectfully with Frank and Dan and side with Mr Right.
" . . . It is in Christ crucified and risen that we find the focal point of the whole Bible's grand narrative, and therein the focal point of the whole mission of God." says Chis Wright in his conclusion. And I don't need to be a specialist to "get" that.

Which causes me to ask two questions for those who would Wright a comment on this post [yes, i see that hand typing . . ]:

1. Does thinking this way make me Wright?
2. Is that Wrong?