Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Scholarship Starters: Variations in Missional Hermeneutics

We're about half way through the first online week of an MDIV course called the Missional Church. Dr. Charles Arn is the professor of record and has really invested an incredible amount of time getting ready for this course. He's gone from never having taught an online course to becoming a Jedi master at Blackboard who runs circles around me, not to mention that he must have read every drop of missional literature, online and on book this summer, just to be all over it... and he is.

But I am the designated Bible professor for the course, which means that I will drop in a number of times to facilitate specific Bible discussions. These are really team taught courses. Bud Bence and Chris Bounds will be dropping in similarly to lead church history and theology discussions.

The discussions I'm facilitating this week have to do with Christopher Wright's book, The Mission of God. You can read my review here. And it has occurred to me that there really will be significant differences in the way one understands the Bible as the mission of God depending on what theological tradition you come from.

I am a bad person, so I have not kept up with all the excellent work Brian Russell of Asbury Florida has been doing on missional hermeneutics. I think he has a book soon coming out soon.

Anyway, I've started a new tag category. I have ideas for books and articles all the time. But I'm busy now with a seminary and I'm not like Joel Green or Ben Witherington, who have everything that's ever been published on the tip of their brain. The long and short of it is that writing articles takes time and a lot of work, and it's hard to find the time when you're busy doing other things that are more pressing.

So the new category is "scholarship starters," books and articles I could research and write if I had a special chamber I could go into where time stood still and you didn't need sleep. But since that doesn't exist and no one has asked me, I'll throw out the idea for someone else to write. I suppose I've already thrown out several of these from time to time, a call for some Wesleyan-Arminian to write an American church history book that is seriously critical of how Mark Noll treats fundamentalism, someone to write an American church history book backward, in a kind of "find your tradition" moving back in time kind of way.

Today's is for someone to point out the differences between the way a missional hermeneutic plays out for a Wesleyan-Arminian in contrast to a hard core Reformed person. Right now I seem up to my ears in Fuller books and Reformed books, because everyone in mission and evangelism these last forty years seems to have come from these places and traditions. I've dabbled in everything from Van Engen to Bobby Clinton. They are worthy of great praise and kudos!

But there are important distinctions that need to be brought out in a Wesleyan-Arminian context, even though all are welcome to chose. For example, I strongly disagree with the feel I get from Clinton that everything that happens to me is God trying to make me into something. I don't believe that everything that happens to me happens for a reason, like God is some divine micro-manager.

And here's a big difference that someone should write on. The mission of God in creation for a Wesleyan is not to create a world God will later redeem. The mission of God in creation for a Wesleyan-Arminian is to create a world of beauty where God's creatures can thrive and excel with humanity as a kind of steward. The mission to save the world is thus a back up plan, not always the plan. It was for Adam posse non peccare, possible not to sin.

The Reformed and Fuller literature tends to assume an extremely deterministic perspective. I deliberately decided not to go with Glasser, Van Engen, and Gilliland's Announcing the Kingdom, as well as Leslie Newbiggen's The Open Secret in part for this reason. There is much good in these books, but they are not Wesleyan-Arminian in approach.

There's nothing wrong with Reformed theology. But it will take some work for the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition to create a literature that will provide a genuine alternative. I fear that, as the down side to a tradition that is more heart focused, the Arminian voice has largely been absent from the table. And since these other sources are so close to our way of thinking, many of our leaders have absorbed some foreign ideas they would not have to.

So have at it, if anyone is interested...


Keith Drury said...

Good book idea..do it!

As for Clinton's approach... it is interesting (and I think the seminary students discuss this in the course) to see the difference between God causing things to happen for my growth... and God using what happens to me for good... you and I can't go down Piper’s road of believing God sends cancer to make me a better person, but can a solid Wesleyan go so far as to say God can use cancer—or anything else, to refine me? In your book (or, whomever else writes it) I hope you explore this difference in perspective… both are ways to redeem suffering (or anything else--including good things) but the difference in perspectives is significant...

Ken Schenck said...

I'm trying not to put down the ideas I have for books that I might actually write these days :-)

After our first spiritual formation lunch today, I can't tell you how happy we are that you are the one that has written our pilgrimage (especially rather than me) :-)

Brian Russell said...

I agree with your comments about a Wesleyan-Arminian understanding of Creation. I think that it is vital to begin with Creation not merely as a "teaser" to God's story of redemption, but because it paints a picture of life as God intended.

As Wesleyans, we can begin to talk about sanctification as God's work in shaping us into the sort of people whom we were created to be.