Friday, May 02, 2008

Paul Hiebert's legacy/the peril and promise of pictures

Part of the genius and genus of recently "graduated"(see "A Life Remembered") Mennonite Brethren missionary anthropologist Paul Hiebert is that the charts/diagrams he drew (or commissioned) were such amazing visual summaries of his seminal teachings (the "excluded middle" and bounded/centered sets).

Part of the problem with his fans, mentees, and interpeters is that the famous diagrams on these two hallmark teachings inevitably allowed the teachings to be steered in ways Hiebert never would have steered them;
or made to bolster far too fundamantalist/foundationalist/reductionist versions of the dynamic originals. (The catch is Hiebert didn't create either concept (excluded middle or bounded/centered sets), but was able to expand (without eisegeting) and popularize (without compromise) core concepts into a whole new level and acadamic discipline...or three.)

But such is the power and peril of parable; art, and pictures.

No wonder Jesus drew in the sand when he lectured.
Thank God none of his charts can be found on Google Images.

But what a risk Jesus took, "not opening his mouth once without uttering a parable-picture." (Matt, 13:33-34).

At any rate (how about 45 %), Hiebert's original articles and corresponding charts can be surprisingly hard to find online, some here are some links to link you back to the source.

It was an honor for me to be enrolled in a weeklong course under Dr. Hiebert in 1995 at Center for Overseas Ministry. To sit in his sessions, and then flow into fellowship and sittings with him over lunch on the Yale campus was fantastic; and a preview of Kingdom community.
I look forward to the meals (and maybe even further courses?) with him in the realm he has unfairly beat us to.

I can hardly teach anything without these pix. They are powerful microcosms of just about anything we are called to ask/teach/talk about in Kingdom missiology.

The charts are not as complex and convulted as Frank Lake's theological centerfolds; but that is their beauty, blessing and bane.

Here you go:

1)"The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,"
originally published in Missiology: An International Review Vol. X, No. 1. January 1982.
A version of the original piece here; Summary here.
The sections on the "organic-mechanical continuum" are particulary pointed for the emerging missional community.

2)"Bounded and Centered Sets"
...Among Hiebert's first writings here are a chapter in "Conversion: Doorway to Discipleship".
Here is an amazing collection of writings (temporarily offline...hope to have fixed this weekend) by Hiebert and others which take up his topic and torch. Tribesters in the league of Brian McLaren, Frost and Hirsch, Len Hjalmarson and Rich Nathan are among the thinkers (likely familiar to anyone subversive enough to be caught hanging in this bloggerhood) who apply these models well.


  1. I'm a pretty big fan of Hiebert myself

  2. and he might have been/would've been a fan of your blog, Matt(:


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!