Friday, March 24, 2006

Thoughts on McLaren

Brian McLaren is an engaging character, with a passion for the church and a heart for people. He listens carefully, honestly and courageously. I was quite impressed, even though at times I part ways with his understanding. I won't summarise his session, but rather point to something similar he did with my former teacher and emergent guru, Steve Taylor.
Brian has apparently just retired from full time pastoral ministy and is now in a liminal space, a place of transition into ________ He doesn't know. Possibly full time writing, possibly consulting, but he just doesn't know.
His topic was Being a Missional Church. Obviously being in South Africa, he engaged with David Bosch's seminal study: Transforming Mission. Brian worked through this powerpoint, which was quite helpful. Most helpful however was an off-hand remark about Michael Polanyi - with a quote from Polanyi's celebrated: Personal Knowledge. For ease of reference, I'll quote a little more than what Brian noted:
An art which cannot be specified in detail cannot be transmitted by prescription, since no prescription for it exists. It can be passed on only by example from master to apprentice. This restricts the range of diffusion to that of personal contacts.
It follows that an art which has fallen into disuse for the period of a generation is altogether lost. There are hundreds of examples of this to which the process of mechanization is continuously adding new ones. These losses are usually irretrievable. It is pathetic to watch the endless efforts -- equipped with microscopy and chemistry, with mathematics and electronics -- to reproduce a single violin of the kind the half-literate Stradivarius turned out as a matter of routine more than 200 years ago.
To learn by example is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you trust his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyse and account in detail for its effectiveness. By watching the master and emulating his efforts in the presence of his example, the apprentice unconsciously picks up the rules of the art, including those which are not explicitly known to the master himself. These hidden rules can be assimilated only by a person who surrenders himself to that extent uncritically to the imitation of another.
... practical wisdom is more truly embodied in action than expressed in rules of action... [1] Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Toward a Post-critical Philosophy (1958) pp. 53-54
This applies not only to the art of exegesis [Recall Ben Witherington's comment: Good exegetes are not born, they are made and moulded, and the process is more helpful and less painful if you are learning from the best.] but also to our relationships, and to authority. In fact, thoughts are brewing in my reflections as to how this relates to Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine. But maybe more reflections on that, later...
McLaren finished his discussion with some helpful comments on how this relates to discipleship and working together. Although I think McLaren is at his best when he's writing, hearing his voice was a deep reminder that here is someone who is trying to take Jesus and the Kingdom seriously, even if I part ways on one or three issues... So well done Brian!

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