The Emergent Church Movement and the Gospel: The Purpose of Exegesis

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A fitting challenge to all students of God's Word (and hopefully that means all Christians), are the following paragraphs by Gordon Fee from his book entitled, To What End Exegesis? As I was reading through chapter seventeen which carries the self-title of the book, I was struck by a few paragraphs which seemed to elucidate for me what it is that so many in the Emergent Church claim they have been looking for and struggling with.

So, when read in light of the current debate over the Emergent Church Movement, his words are challenging because the absence of what he suggests here is just the sort of thing that has created such a hunger for difference, change, and meaningfulness in the previous church experiences some ECM'ers seem to have had.

So I offer Fee's words as a help to those who are anti-ECM, in order to help them (and me?) understand some of their frustrations from a very legitimate viewpoint. To often we write off the frustrations of others simply because we don't understand what they are talking about, or because we haven't taken the time to do so.

But I also offer these words for those who are pro-ECM, in order to help them also, because there is a tone in these words that those thinkers and leaders within the ECM would seem to very much benefit from. While they have nailed, in their analyses, what seems to be lacking in most churches today (with regard to the lifestyle the gospel demands of us), I perceive they have missed the submission to God's special revelation which ought to belong to those who profess to believe His gospel. Those explanations aside, here is Fee.

"I have long argued that the first task of exegesis is to try to understand the intent of the author of a text, as much as this is historically possile, with all of the tools available to us as historians. And I still believe this to be so, even in this postmodern age, where scholars, full of inner contradictions, intentionally write books and articles to tell me that an author's intent may be irrelevant to a good reading of a book. The light that finally dawned, of course, was the plain reality, writ large in almost every text in our canon, that the real intent of these texts was the Spiritual one: obedience to God, be it in the form of behavior, instruction, worship, doxology, or whatever it might be, including a carefully articulated biblical theology.

"Thus, rather than seeing exegesis and Spirituality as opposed to one another, or as one preceding or following or having precedence over the other, I came to realize - and herewith propose for our mutual consideration: (1) that faithful biblical exegesis must, by the very nature of the documents themselves always take into account the Spiritual purposes for which they were written, and (2) that this exegesis belongs within the framework of the believing community, with those who follow (whether exactly or not, ats least intentionally) in the train of the original believing communities for whom and to whom these documents were written.

"Thus let us say wiht uncharacteristic passion: the ultimate aim of exegesis (as I perceive it) is to produce in our lives and the lives of others true Spirituality, in which God's people live in faithful fellowship both with one another and with the eternal and living God and thus in keeping with God's own purposes in the world. In order to do this effectively, I would further argue (but will not take the time to do so here), true "Spirituality" must precede exegesis as well as be the final result of it. We must begin as we would conclude, standing under the text, not over it with all of our scholarly arrogance intact. And we must end that way as well, or all is vanity, chasing after the wind.

"I would therefore make bold to insist that proper exegesis should be done in the context of prayer, so that in our exegesis we hear the text with the sensitivity of the Spirit. Only as we ourselves do our exegesis in th proper posture of humility - on our knees, as it were, listening to God - can we truly expect to speak the Word of God with clarity and boldness so as to comfort, inspire, or speak prophetcally to God's people, the people for whom these texts were written in the first place."

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