Reforming or Conforming? Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – The Doctrine of Scripture: Only a Human Problem, by Paul Wells. From the book Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church

Paul Wells discusses the divine-human relationship to Scripture and offers four models – witness, accommodation, the analogy between Christ and the Bible [incarnational] and the servant form of Scripture. Treatment is given to scholars who’s names begin with “B” – Bavinck, Brunner, Barth, Berkouwer, Barr and special treatment for Bloesch. I know what you’re thinking . . . . Where the heck is BRIGGS? Well, Charles Briggs gets treatment in the book’s Introduction, along with Bave. Oh yeah – Clark Pinnock and Peter Enns also gain a mention from Wells also.

Key thought: “The doctrine of the humanity of Scripture cries out for a fresh approach that will liberate it from the self-destructiveness of modernism and postmodernism.”

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Wells offers four perspectives to accomplish this:

1) a humanity of Scripture contains a new humanity in the old as its matrix -ie, it is “redemptive and “restorative” [I added “prophetic” and “performative” in my notes]
2) a humanity of Scripture has a particular political function which is as broad as the creation. N.T. Wright gets the thumbs up

3) a humanity of Scripture is Christ-centered because Christ is the conclusion of the whole historical process. Accommodation gets a mention.

4) a humanity of Scripture is linked to humanity in regeneration

reforming or conformingAlthough Wells believes that “Situatedness” is a positive aspect of the connectedness of Scripture, he takes care to separate his conclusions from the influence of postmodernism, which he sees as “characterized by skepticism and localizing tendencies”. I am not sure this is fully possible, considering the pervasive nature of our postmodern [or globalized] context. I tend to think a more honest way is to fess up to being influenced by our surroundings (whether modern or -postmodern) and offer up a way to rise above postmodern limitations to show ourselves approved as workmen, handling accurately the Word of truth.

One theologian who does this is Chris Wright who brings a missional approach to Scripture that he believes both precedes and supercedes postmodernism. Wright’s missional hermeneutics and approach to postmodernity came to mind quite a few times as I read through Reforming or Conforming? and at the risk of repeating myself [I have mentioned this before] here it is. See what you think.

51Qo3Y9Wjzl. Sl500 Aa240 In his book The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Chris Wright 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.” (page 42) . . to become an “interested” missiology that goes beyond contextual [and liberationist] hermeneutics by offering to subsume both readings into itself. Chris Wright puts forward a missional hermeneutic as a contextual, holistic, coherent framework that finds its center in Christ himself [like Well’s 3rd perspective] 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.” (page 41)

Rather than avoiding postmodernity, Wright sees it as an opportunity and not a threat. Wright 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. Wright sees the Scriptures as something that “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)

Although I highly recommend you purchase Chris Wright’s book just like I did [not cheap, mind you], much of The Mission of God is available free right here on Google books.

Some Questions

Do you find yourself siding with Paul Wells in seeing our theology as unstained by modernism or postmodernism . . . or . . . do you agree with Chris Wright that a missional view of the Scriptures can subsume postmodernism?

Is there any advantage to reading the Scriptures from a postmodern standpoint as opposed to a modern or premodern standpoint?

The Series so far:

Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church, edited by Gary Johnson and Ronald Gleason.

Introduction by Gary L.W. Johnson.

Chapter 1 – The Doctrine of Scripture: Only a Human Problem, by Paul Wells.

Chapter 7 – Church and Community or Community and Church, by Ronald N. Gleason

Chapter 9 – Joyriding on the Downgrade at Breakneck Speed: The Dark Side of Diversity, by Phil Johnson


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.

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