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.

Troll

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 get 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?

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

21 Comments

  • Andrew, I don’t know if you’re Wrong or Wright, or both, but, regarding your comment on pyromaniacs: I got an idea from another blogger profile how you can put your non-blogger blog at the top of your blogger profile page. Put it in your ‘About me’ section. If you know how, you can make it an embedded link using html (a href=”” etc)

  • Wright’s book was amazing. It was suggested to me by Peter Enns (OT Prof at Westminster) as a summer read.
    Like you said, I think the idea that how we become just before God is too simplistic and individualistic….and actually quite selfish and arrogant.
    Thanks for posting this. I had posted some objections to people’s comments on that post in the comment section, but I’m not sure anyone listened.

  • hi Mike. I am sure there are as many EC opinions on justification as there are opinions.
    But the argument of John Colwell of Spurgeons might be of interest here.
    He says
    “The systematic and formulaic distinction between “justification” and “sanctification” so characteristic of Reformed debates ought not to be read back into the New Testament where the two terms seem to be used interchangeably and without such marked distinction.”
    And elsewhere, John says
    “It is possible (and more coherent) to understand ‘righteousness’ in Romans as being made righteous, rather than merely declared righteous, as an echo and outcome of the righteousness of God in Christ.”
    I assume that John’s angle would resonate with EC people, or at least his acknowlegement that there might be an artificial dichotomy within Reformed debates on this matter that needs some serious attention.

  • A little heads up Mike, but that question cannot be answered in the same way that a question like “What is the Evangelical church’s opinion on justification?” cannot be answered. They are both variegated parties in which different people will believe different things concerning justification.
    I don’t think Andrew was attempting to lay out an Emerging/Missional view of justification as much as he was laying out the idea that the Bible is primarily about Jesus and his rescue mission to the world and not “how we can go to heaven when we die.” Of course, I’m not Andrew so he might have meant something else, but that is how the post came across to me.

  • sorry if i came across like a theo-geek. my head has been in books all day and it affects the way i think and blog.
    let me try again,
    the EC, being such a varied movement, will have lots of opinions and some may disagree with me.
    but within the EC as it manifests out of Protestantism, there is an inherent distrust of Reformation assumptions that have not been re-appraised.
    and the simple equation i learned in my Reformed Bible College days that
    justification means declared righteous
    sanctification means being made righteous
    and glorification means . . shoot . . i forgot.
    but anyway, i am trying to say that, with the inner dissonance regarding the Reformed theologies, those like John Colwell who bring them to light and come at them again for a second shot will gain a hearing among EC people far quicker than those who leave Reformation assumptions unchallenged, like the meaning of ‘righteousness’ in Romans and its relation to the other uses of hte same Greek term.
    Does that answer the question?

  • As I read your post I could not help but think of “Frank and Dan” as your typical morning show disk jockey’s. Just being over the top, to get listeners. It would be funny if it were not so sad.

  • Hey Andrew this does not have to do with your post but just wanted to say I really enjoy your blog. I have been reading for quite some time and you are always generous, fair, and winsome in your posts. It is refreshing and encouraging to see someone write about touchy and important subjects in such a Godly way.

  • “and the simple equation i learned in my Reformed Bible College days that
    justification means declared righteous
    sanctification means being made righteous
    and glorification means . . shoot . . i forgot.”
    Glorification means, basically, you’re dead.

  • Andrew and Art,
    Thank you for your opinions. It is an interesting subject. With so many different ideas out there it is hard to come to a central singular view, Maybe that is a good thing.

  • andrew,
    nice post. gracious as always. i wonder how all this “meat-chubbery” is bringing the body together.
    i vented a little at my place if you’re interested.
    here

  • Hey Andrew,
    It seems to me the whole problem with the Pyro guys approach is they are attacking EC like its a theological position instead of a missiological conversation.
    Your post here seems to put forth the point that one theological conclusion often derived from the missiological conversation is that missiology is more important and more central than we thought. Amen to that!
    Anyway, thanks for persevering in furthering the conversation. I’ll be checking out that book.

  • Hey Andrew,
    Bob once said, “There’s too much confusion here, I can’t get no relief” and later in the song, “So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”
    Thanks for not taking falsely and cutting through the confusion. Cause in the end we are all just jokers and thieves looking for grace. There will always be endless and futile discussions.
    Keep up the good work.
    Blessing,
    Matt

  • Andrew,
    I read your blog on the pyro guys… and it brought up some of the conversations that occurred during your HAPPY HOUR. Just thought I would throw this definition out to you… I would to discuss this issue of the “emergent church” culture with you more at a later time…
    e•mer•gent ev•o•lu•tion n
    theory of sudden changes: the theory of evolution in which new organisms and characteristics appear at crises not predictable from those already in existence
    The irony of the neo-fundamental reform people are that they tend to act in many cases like the very ones who persecuted and criticized the reformation at the very beginning. To be perfectly honest I know very little about the pyromaniacs so I will only address them off handedly and with a half nod to them for their crafty artistry in getting people to discuss the issue of emergent church culture… that is a good thing.
    I guess where I stand on these pyro guys is that they may be so consumed with theology that they often miss the heart of the gospel. I must admit however that their graphics are well produced and thought provoking. I am simply a follower of Christ so I do not identify with the multiple camps in the church. I believe that we are one body with many parts. Each part of the body is important to the greater whole…
    Sometime ago I was approached by some guys at a Seminary much like these Pryomaniacs Frank and Dan, who held the bible out to me and demanded angrily that I bow down to the authority of scripture. I simply told them that I bow only before the Lord God Almighty and that His Word is alive. His Word is the spirit of truth in love which is the Holy spirit whom is one with the Father and the Son. Jesus told us that they will know we are His followers by HOW WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Perfect love is perfectly unified with truth, justice, mercy and humility. For the Lord our God is One. And we are called to be a people of 1 heart, 1 mind and 1 spirit serving the 1 true God. Is it not written that God is love? This does not mean that God is not also perfectly just, merciful, humble and truthful. God is the Father of all truth. The heart of the gospel is love in truth… worship in truth and in spirit… which is the way, the life and the truth of Christ Jesus… who is the living word.
    We must remember that those who are not against us are for us. Why must we fight amongst ourselves? For what does this profit the Body?
    There is no division in God… We are called to be unified in spirit, truth and love lived out from the inside out. Division among us comes from pride, fear, ignorance and confusion. This is only possible by the inward to outward transformation of each believer which is accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of truth which is the living Word of God which indwells each true believer.
    We are called to be a people of 1 heart, 1 mind and 1 spirit. This unity can only be achieved by the power of God in and through His people. As I commented on the communicast ignorance explodes when human knowledge increases exponentially without a corresponding humbling process. All of our knowledge must be submitted to the Lord and his governance so that we do not become prideful and thusly become blinded by that pride. In other words, we must be made humble in order that we might become increasingly loving, truthful, just and merciful from the inside out. In the Kingdom there is no division of these noble things. They are all unified in Christ Jesus… who is perfectedly one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, hence the importance of the Lordship of Christ over all areas of our lives here in the finite realm. Just as deed and thought were perfectly unified in all ways in the life of Jesus; we too are in the process of “all things being worked together for the good of those who love Him.” Note here the concept of togetherness or the progression towards unity. For the Lord our God is one… without divisions. We are divided here in the finite because of our human frailty resulting from sin whose root cause is pride and disbelief born our of ignorance and woundedness. It is so easy for us to be divided in the fleshy finite because nothing good dwells in the flesh and it is precisely the sin in our flesh, which wars against the holy spirit within each believer. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which unifies us in the Lord God Almighty as a people of one heart, one mind and one spirit. The divisions here are remnants of the sin, which remains in the flesh warring against our members. For this reason we need God’s grace that we might grant it freely to one another in order that we might grow closer to the Lord and to one another. The Kingdom reality transcends the earthly finite reality which bound by limited perspective view due to its finiteness. Perfect love overcomes all finite divisions because it is perfectly unified with truth, justice, mercy and humility in both word and deed. This is the Christ likeness we all seek to be. For this is why we run the race is it not? Yet while we are enshrouded by these mortal coils of weak flesh, we are susceptible to the corrupting influences which seek to divide us. We all need God’s grace to overcome this.
    Aslan cometh,
    Max

  • Andrew,
    Thanks for your comments about the Pyromaniacs. I have butted heads with them before, but on other issues. I have heard them say that they are “Reformed, yet always reforming” but it seems that in many ways, they only get as far as the comma.
    I am thinking of doing some church planting, and have been trying to figure out the irreducable minimum to “church” – not because I think any church should only practice the minimum – but because I am trying to know what the essentials are.
    I mean, can I have church with some guys out by the lake with our fishing poles? If not, why not? I am trying to answer some of these questions over at my own blog in the weeks ahead, but will be checking back here too.
    Thanks!

  • surely the central message of the bible is to love god and love your neighbour – isn’t that what jesus said – if you do that you’ve got it covered…

  • “alas, here I stand in the middle of this frightfully long sentence, seeking to hop out into another paragraph” this made me laugh quite a lot!!

  • Andrew,
    You may have covered this before somewhere else on your blog…but where do you think the Pyro’s condemnation of the EC stems from? And, is there a resolution?
    I’ve read many of the EC authors and your blog…and I find myself resonating (to use an overused word) with your perspectives much more than those of the Pyros…while still believing in Scripture the Pyros suggest we don’t uphold. How can that be…that two groups portend to uphold Scripture…but accuse each other of missing the point?

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