Theological Blind Spots: Paul Hiebert’s suggestion for an international hermeneutic

Paul HiebertYesterday I wrote about blind spots in our individual lives. It is difficult to see them and just as challenging to address them.

The same thing is true in our theology. We often have blind spots that are evident to others but hard for us to see ourselves. Many years ago, I came across Paul Hiebert’s suggestion that we need the input of many people to save us from theological blind spots. Hiebert envisions an international hermeneutical community, who helps one another read, interpret, and live out Scripture beyond our cultural and personal blind spots for walking with Christ. He writes:

The goal of theology is not simply to apply the gospel in the diverse contexts of human life. Theology’s nature also revolves around the goal to understand the unchanging nature of the gospel—the absolutes that transcend time and cultural pluralism. If theology is to become more than a Rorschach inkblot into which we project our own cultural prejudices, we need a standard against which to test our theologies. Here again we can apply principles used by the Anabaptists to test the orthodoxy of theologies. One principle is that the primary test is the Scripture itself—the divinely superintended record of God’s acts in history. Another principle is that humility and the willingness to be led by the Spirit are vital to the reading of Scripture. The final principle is that the hermeneutical community checks interpretations and seeks consensus.

Just as believers in a local church must test their interpretations of Scriptures with their community of believers, so the churches in different cultural and historical contexts must test their theologies with the international community of churches and the church down through the ages. The priesthood of believers must be exercised within a hermeneutical community.

As the church in a given sociocultural setting seeks to contextualize the gospel, it is keenly aware of the needs the gospel must address within its setting and the foreignness of Christian forms that have been introduced from without. It is often unaware, however, of its own cultural biases, which it projects into its understanding of the Scriptures. Believers in other cultures are generally more aware of these. Consequently, churches in specific cultural settings need the check of the international community of churches to test where theologies are too strongly influenced by cultural assumptions.

Ironically, this metatheological process, carried out on the international level, may lead us to what Western theologians have long sought—a growing consensus on theological absolutes. It may bring us closer to the formulation of a truly supracultural theology. But such a formulation must be an ongoing process; for as the world and its cultures change, so do the problems theology must address.

[From Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 102-103.]

A Prayer for Global Mission

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God of truth and love,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Hear our prayer for those who do not know You.

We ask that they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth
and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world.

Sustain, inspire and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel.

Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith;
sustain our faith when it is still fragile.
Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church;
raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world.

Make us witnesses to Your goodness;
full of love, strength and faith –
for Your glory
and the salvation of the entire world.

By Kendall Harmon

Hard Places: MissionsFest 2019

The next two weekends at Eastbrook Church are the bookends of our annual MissionsFest. This year we are turning our attention to Eastbrook’s historic commitment to mission in challenging contexts with the theme of “Hard Places.” We are privileged to have two guest speakers, who are long-time partners in ministry in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. We will share in a study of Isaiah 61 as we hear from our friends and field workers from hard places around the city and the world.You can access more information here.

The Weekend Wanderer: 6 October 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

nobel prize“Nobel Peace Prize for anti-rape activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege” – From the BBC: “The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has gone to campaigners against rape in warfare, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. Ms Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi who was tortured and raped by Islamic State militants and later became the face of a campaign to free the Yazidi people. Dr Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who, along with his colleagues, has treated tens of thousands of victims.” As Christianity Today reports, Dr. Mukwege is a Christian who has dedicated his career to caring for victims of rape. “If Christians do not live out the practical implications of their faith among their communities and neighbors, ‘we cannot fulfill the mission entrusted to us by Christ,’ he said at a keynote for the Lutheran World Federation last year.”

 

83718“What Tim Keller Wants American Christians to Know About Politics” – Christianity Today‘s “Quick to Listen” podcast has an interview with Tim Keller this week on the hot topic of Christian approaches to politics. “Shortly after the [Kavanaugh] hearing, a book excerpt from Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, appeared in The New York Times. ‘Christians cannot pretend they can transcend politics and simply “preach the Gospel,”‘ he wrote in his latest book Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy. ‘Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo. … To not be political is to be political.’ But that doesn’t mean that Christians have to hold convictions about every moment of political life, said Keller.” About twenty minutes in, Keller speaks some wise words about the way in which politics can easily become our identity or are religion, and how the gospel might strengthen us within the church to have meaningful discussion about these divisive issues in order to bridge gaps.

 

merlin_144839694_a3396ea5-3907-4a24-8669-225c037f5985-superJumbo“A Complete National Disgrace” – David Brooks writes on themes of the Kavanaugh hearing, political polarization, institutional thinking, and the possibility of a way forward. “Over the past few years, hundreds of organizations and thousands of people (myself included) have mobilized to reduce political polarization, encourage civil dialogue and heal national divisions. The first test case for our movement was the Kavanaugh hearings. It’s clear that at least so far our work is a complete failure….What we saw in these hearings was the unvarnished tribalization of national life.” I do believe that  [Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this article.]

 

william-willimon“Court Preachers” – Speaking of this sort of thing, Will Willimon, professor at Duke Divinity School and co-author, with Stanley Hauerwas, of Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, writes a provocative essay against “court preachers.” What are court preachers? “Preachers attempting to ingratiate themselves with the powerful; some clergy are always willing to sacrifice the gospel in exchange for proximity to the crown.” Who might be a court preacher today? Willimon takes aim at Franklin Graham on this account, and for some good reasons, it seems. I continue to ask myself: have we lost who we are as evangelicals in this season of time, or are we trapped within the endless cycle of ideological polarization?

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 8.20.23 AM“Overcoming Our Greatest Affliction”Andy Crouch, author of such books as Culture Making and Strong and Weak, opens up an important cultural discussion for those of us naming Christ as our Lord. “We are the most powerful generation in history, but also the loneliest, most anxious, and most depressed. We’re meant to flourish in heart, soul, mind, strength, and relationship — yet culture asks us undermine our personhood to acquire power. ”

 

Stalin“Among the Disbelievers” – Gary Saul Morson, in a wide-ranging essay in Commentary, traces the ways that atheism was not just a part of Soviet communism, but “central to the Bolshevik project.” He explores the place of “ethics” within that ideology, as well as the loss and recovery of “conscience,” particularly as seen in the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He writes: “As Richard Dawkins explains in The God Delusion: ‘What matters is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest evidence that it does.’ This comment displays an ignorance so astonishing that, as the Russian expression goes, one can only stare and spit.” [Thanks to Micah Mattix for sharing this in the Daily Prufrock.]

 

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“Azusa Pacific Reverses Approval for Gay Student Couples” Last week I shared an article on Azusa Pacific University’s (APU) change of stance in relation to human sexuality and, more specifically, attempting to not shine the spotlight in a discriminatory manner on same-sex attraction or those with gender dysphoria. Apparently, the board of trustees of the university weren’t asked about it, and APU has reversed course on that move after receiving severe criticism about this change.

 

83694“No Refuge: Persecuted Christians Entering US Dwindle to Record Low” – “Refugee resettlement hit a record low over the past year, with the United States taking in fewer than half the amount permitted under a reduced refugee ceiling of 45,000….Though most of the refugees welcomed over the past year are Christians, the overall drop means far fewer believers are finding refuge in the US than in prior years. In the 2018 fiscal year, 15,748 Christian refugees entered the country, a 36.4 percent decline from the previous year and a 55 percent decline from fiscal year 2016.” Of course, as the article points out at the beginning, all of this is a subset of the overall reduction of refugee resettlement both in the past year and now in the coming year.

 

merlin_141072990_3f059377-d122-45a7-ba46-95c7e81bf387-jumbo“Migrant Children Moved Under Cover of Darkness to a Texas Tent City” – “In shelters from Kansas to New York, hundreds of migrant children have been roused in the middle of the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to their new home: a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in West Texas. Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases. But in the rows of sand-colored tents in Tornillo, Tex., children in groups of 20, separated by gender, sleep lined up in bunks. There is no school: The children are given workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited.”

 

83583“The Unintended Impact of The Church Planting Industry on Our Evangelistic Impact”Ed Stetzer, a seasoned church planter and trainer of church planters, reflects on some issues that have led me to pull back from modern expressions of church planting. Primarily, he begins to question one of the driving assumptions behind the modern, American church planting movement since its beginnings in the 1980s. That assumption (given to us by missiologist C. Peter Wagner): “church planting is the most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven.” Ed asks some meaningful questions, while admitting that an industry has arisen around church planting. His admissions don’t go far enough in my mind, but I still encourage you to read this essay.

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Bernard Mizeki: one story of God’s unique call and gifting

Bernard Mizeki.jpegI first came across the compelling story of Bernard Mizeki in Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s outstanding book, Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia.

Born in Inhambane, Mozambique, in 1861, Bernard Mizeki trained as a linguist while living as a migrant worker in Cape Town, South Africa. In 1891, at thirty years of age, he was recruited as a teacher and missionary for the new Anglican diocese of Mashonaland in present day Zimbabwe by George Knight-Bruce, an Anglican bishop and pioneer missionary in Southern Africa.

Using his natural abilities and spiritual gifts, Mizeki translated much of the Bible and Prayer Book into the local languages. With his own experiences in traditional religions, he was able to explain the good news of Jesus Christ through terms the Shona people could understand, leading many to a deeper understanding level of discipleship with Jesus.

During the war of resistance to colonialism in 1896, Mizeki refused to leave his mission and was stabbed to death. He is remembered as the “Mashonaland martyr.”[1]

It was Mizeki’s unique gifts and abilities, his unique creation and experiences, that God took within His hands for the sake of the Gospel, even as it cost Mizeki his life.

We, too, are created uniquely by God, with abilities and talents, experiences and gifts, that God has knit into our lives by His sovereign grace since before we were born.


[1] “Mizeki, Bernard,” Dictionary of African Christian Biography, https://dacb.org/stories/zimbabwe/mizeki-bernard/ & https://dacb.org/stories/zimbabwe/mizeki-bernard2/.