Am I ~ A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional + Evangelical + Post/Protestant + Liberal/Conservative + Mystical/Poetic + Biblical + Charismatic/Contemplative + Fundamentalist/Calvinist + Anabaptist/Anglican + Methodist + Catholic + Green + Incarnational + Depressed-yet-Hopeful + Emergent + Unfinished CHRISTIAN

Wow!  That’s one very l-o-n-g book title. You have to love the subtitle of A Generous Orthodoxy, even if you quibble with McLaren’s confessional-like manifesto.  If this sounds glib, cavalier, or contrived, at times he reads that way, gliding over complex matters in an evasive or superficial manner. Scholars in the professional guild will have their bones to pick. A Generous Orthodoxy is Brian McLaren’s handbook for practical theology. But that pretty much tells you the general material that’s covered in the pages of this book. Rather than rejecting the various branches on the tree of “Christianity,” Brian McLaren looks for the good that each has contributed to our understanding of and relationship with God.

Brian McLaren is the founder of Cedar Ridge Community Church in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, has authored more than a half-dozen books, and is the de facto leader of the so-called Emergent Church movement. On the Emergent Church see www.emergentvillage.com, and the cover stories in Christianity Today (November 2004) and The Christian Century (November 30, 2004).

But McLaren intends to provoke, and so he deliberately adopts a playful, mischievous persona. There is a method to his madness. He is very serious about pushing Christians beyond their ghetto mentality, political fault lines, and petty arguments about peripheral issues, their sometimes well-deserved reputation for arrogance, exclusivity, and insensitivity, to the urgent business of, well, a robust commitment to the ancient orthodox faith that is boldly generous.

He accomplishes this through a confessional faith story of how has interacted with Jesus Christ and Christianity throughout his life. McLaren weaves an auto-biographical narration of his life into a declaration about the way he believes Church should be. His own faith was formed by being uncomfortable with any one brand of Christianity. He incorporates experiences of various denominations within Christianity—from the far right to liberal churches and many in between—into his understanding of his own faith. As he touches each of these types of Christianity he conveys a distinctive understanding of Jesus Christ that draws on elements collected from each of those variations of Christianity.

A Generous Orthodoxy (unwieldy subtitle and all) offers the most systematic presentation of his views seen yet, although many facets of his emergent paradigm have already been introduced in his A New Kind of Christian series and other works. We will not exhaustively examine every proposition set forth, but I will address a few points that were especially noteworthy.

The subtitle of the book sets the stage for where Mr. McLaren wants to go: “Why I am a Missional + Evangelical + Post/Protestant + Liberal/Conservative + Mystical/Poetic + Biblical + Charismatic/Contemplative + Fundamentalist/Calvinist + Anabaptist/Anglican + Methodist + Catholic + Green + Incarnational + Depressed-yet-Hopeful + Emergent + Unfinished CHRISTIAN ” Each of these categories constitutes a chapter in which he looks at the strengths and weaknesses of different traditions.

I won’t deny that I am a fan, so to speak, of Brian McLaren that I constantly find him refreshing, offering fresh perspectives that I thoroughly enjoy time after time, especially since I, myself, tend to not believe in the more literal, doctrinal, typical representations of Christianity. So I really do enjoy the way he explains concepts and terms in a way that I find much more relate-able for those of us who do understand the message of Jesus differently.

The approach of this book, as we are told on page 22, “seeks to find a way to embrace the good in many traditions and historic streams of Christian faith, and to integrate them, yielding a new, generous, emergent approach that is greater than the sum of its parts.” Starting with a chapter focused on an overview of the seven main examples of Jesus the author has encountered, the Conservative Protestant, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Liberal Protestant, Anabaptist, and Jesus of the Oppressed representations, the book then goes on to look at different ideas when it comes to concepts such as “Son of God,” what we mean when we call Jesus “Lord/Master,” and what we mean when we speak of the idea of salvation or being saved, before going on in Part Two to the different kinds of Christianity (Missional + Evangelical + Post/Protestant + Liberal/Conservative + Mystical/Poetic + Biblical + Charismatic/Contemplative + Fundamentalist/Calvinist + Anabaptist/Anglican + Methodist + Catholic + Green + Incarnational + Depressed-yet-Hopeful + Emergent + Unfinished CHRISTIAN ), explaining in each chapter what aspects of each strain of Christianity resonates with him and which parts perhaps could be improved upon, looking into the different histories and doctrinal distinctive of each, continuing to offer throughout his refreshing perspective and understanding.

The word orthodoxy (Greek for “right doctrine”) has both positive and negative connotations. In a culture that prizes what is iconoclastic and transgressive, orthodoxy has come to sound constricted and unimaginative at best, oppressive and tyrannical at worst.

The position taken on this blog is that we cannot do without orthodoxy, for everything else must be tested against it, but that orthodox (traditional, classical) Christian faith should by definition always be generous as our God is generous; lavish in his creation, binding himself in an unconditional covenant, revealing himself in the calling of a people, self-sacrificing in the death of his Son, prodigal in the gifts of the Spirit, justifying the ungodly and indeed, offending the “righteous” by the indiscriminate nature of his favor. True Christian orthodoxy therefore cannot be narrow, pinched, or defensive but always spacious, adventurous and unafraid.

The articles of faith distilled in the historic Creeds and Confessions of the Church are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Christian doctrine is the foundation for a dynamic, courageous intellectual life at the frontiers of 21st-century challenges. Without basic affirmations, we are dangerously unequipped. An analogy might be the successful rock climber who puts up new routes and achieves maximum exhilaration; without strict discipline, tested equipment, and exceptional patience, however, the climber’s ambition will lead to failure and even death. When the Biblical and Creedal bedrock of the historic faith becomes optional, it is fatal for the Church, for she loses her distinctive theological character. Ultimately, it’s about God. If God is who he reveals himself to be in the Holy Scriptures, then his Word is the true and trustworthy guide to the heights of human aspiration and depths of human disappointment. The One who identifies himself at the burning bush as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the same Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who guides our destinies to their fulfillment in his eternal Kingdom.

I really did enjoy the glimpses into the various traditions of faith, and I love his explanations of what a generous orthodoxy is/entails: “To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed, and mounted on the wall. It is rather to be in a loving (ethical) community of people who are seeking the truth (doctrine) on the road of missions (witness, as McClendon said), who have been launched on the quest by Jesus, who, with us, guides us still. Do we have it? Have we taken hold of it? Not fully, not yet, of course not. But we keep seeking. We’re finding enough to keep us going. But we’re not finished. That, to me, is orthodoxy – a way of seeing and seeking, a way of living, a way of thinking and loving and learning that helps what we believe become more true over time, more resonant with the infinite glory that is God.”

(pages 333-334)

And:

“So perhaps orthodoxy will mean not merely correct conclusions but right processes to keep on reaching new and better conclusions, not just correct ends but right means and attitudes to keep on discovering them, not just straight answers but a straight path to the next question that will keep on leading to better answers. This kind of orthodoxy will welcome others into the passionate pursuit of truth, not exclude them for failing to posses it already.”

(page 335)

I must say that though I have always strongly considered myself to be UNorthodox, I could gladly find myself embracing this kind of orthodoxy.

Indeed, McLaren is generous in these pages.  Probably more so than I would have been. That’s a good thing. He acknowledges this generosity in discussing the “good”, but admits that much could be said regarding the” bad and the ugly.” But the focus here is what we can take with us as the journey and growth process continue. Just as the ancient world emerged from the prehistoric world, and the medieval from the ancient, and the modern from the medieval, we are now emerging from the modern to the post-modern (which will likely be re-named by future generations).

I think, McLaren makes some good points against contemporary Christianity. For example, He seeks to correct the individualistic gospel of evangelicalism (107), the shallowness of a religion that focuses on Jesus’ death but not his life (86), and the failure of missions to preach a gospel that applies to all of life (63).

He accomplishes this through a confessional faith story of how has interacted with Jesus Christ and Christianity throughout his life. McLaren weaves an auto-biographical narration of his life into a declaration about the way he believes Church should be. His own faith was formed by being uncomfortable with any one brand of Christianity. He incorporates experiences of various denominations within Christianity—from the far right to liberal churches and many in between—into his understanding of his own faith. As he touches each of these types of Christianity he conveys a distinctive understanding of Jesus Christ that draws on elements collected from each of those variations of Christianity.

McLaren intentionally tries to live within the tension that results from acknowledging partial wisdom in many parts of the church. As he says, “exclusive religion says, ‘We’re in, you’re out.’ While universalist religion reacts and says, ‘everyone’s in’… Magnanimous apathy may be better than narrow antipathy often associated with exclusive religion, but I think we need a better alternative.” (109) McLaren desires a Christianity whose value is judged in part “based on the benefits it brings to its non-adherents.” (111) His missional calling is that he is “blessed in this life to be a blessing to everyone on earth.” (113) McLaren avoids confronting the exclusive claims of the bible with this pronouncement.

The bulk of the book shows how McLaren navigates through a variety of groups within Christianity. He tries to take the best they have to offer and leave behind the worst. Sometimes this works well, other times not so much. As one can see from the title of the book the list of groups that McLaren uses to inform his faith is long (and he admits it could be longer). There is no simple way to summarize each of these groups. Therefore I will choose two of the groups to discuss and analyze. I will choose the group that I thought he did the worst job incorporating into his personal theology and also the one I thought he handled best.

The problem when you try to leave the worst behind in a religion is that you often change the religion dramatically. There is rich, nuanced history here, of which I was predominantly unaware. I came away with a new understanding of many of the branches named in the expanded title of this book. Without doubt, there’s enough bad “sap” in those branches (including those I was involved in) that I would not consider being a part of them, but I have a respect for the good in those traditions, as well as those who engage in them.

“A Generous Orthodoxy” is another great adventure in literature. It’s an exposition of where we’ve been, and a look at where, with God’s grace, we

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