127 of 137 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2005
This books looks at, what the author sees as, some of the good and some of the bad in several Christian "traditions" (Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Anabaptist, etc.)
I felt like the author was raising some good questions and making fair points, though it was somewhat less original then I had anticipated. I know this sounds like a slam, but I do not mean it to be. Great teachers often represent old ideas in new ways. But being that this book came from the "emergent" crowd and the fact that the author often referred to "ways" that transcend old definitions, he doesn't clearly spell out what it means to be a "post-conservative and post-liberal". I'm 26 and attended university for two years in a very left wing university in France, so I don't think it's that I'm to old or out of it to grasp the values of the emerging generation, though, it is possible. Basically he highlights a lot of the values he has found in other traditions and calls for them to be a part of the church of tomorrow.
His point about the Bible being narrative theology was well done, though I've thought about the Hebrew taking of the promise land in quite the terms he described. He seems to be open to evolution as an idea, which may bother some, but he doesn't really dwell on this. At one points he mentions that the substitutionary atonement was not in the original creeds and seems to infer that perhaps shouldn't be among our fundamentals (though he doesn't say this directly). Many others, including myself, see this as one of the very foundations of Christian belief and how one can practice the presence of God (which he calls us to) without experiencing this truth atonement puzzles me.
His presentation of the Anabaptists was gold. So was his presentation of Pentecostals and contemplatives, two groups that aren't often associated. He does sight the reformed faith as being a creed which led to slavery in the new world or at least justified it. As far as I know, it was the Northern part of America which tended to be of the reformed faith and the south (especially the rich slave owning ones) tended to adhere mostly to the Anglican Church. (I am neither)
I would disagree with one of his presuppositions, namely, that we need to change our message because we live in a dynamic context. I disagree. There is nothing new under the sun. The problems of sin, immorality, evil, depression that faced my parent's (and McLaren's) generation are the same today. Our reaction to them maybe different and our culture may be different, but our problems are the same and we need the eternal gospel preached to us, though perhaps in a different form, we need the same message.
303 of 343 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2004
McLaren argues that all of the theological hair splitting misses the core message of Jesus. He spends some time talking about the elements of each of the "categories" and "denominations" that he would include in his more inclusive orthodoxy.
He effectively stirs the theological pots a bit, pulling lots of good chunks to the surface to chew on. I really don't agree with him on a few points, but I really enjoyed seeing his perspective and enjoyed his self-effacing, whimsical style.
I would challenge those like me in the evangelical circles to read this... not to confirm what we already believe... there are lots of books to do that... but to understand arguments outside our collective comfort zone. Whether your adopt McLaren's conclusions or not, understanding the thought process can be a helpful exercise. You may decide that you get clarity on your own beliefs simply by setting them in contrasting light to Brian McLaren's.
I wouldn't recommend this to someone who is new to the faith. Getting a clear understanding on the fundamentals (not fundamentalisms) ought to be a pre-requisite. This ought to be a mature audiences only (in terms of development of personal faith) book. But for those who have already wrestled with the big questions of faith you'll find this to be an easy read and worth the time you spend with it.
60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2005
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Brian McLaren--author, pastor, professor, church leader--writes what his publishers describe as, "Orthodoxy beyond answers." This seems a fair assessment of McLaren's intent in, "A Generous Orthodoxy."
McLaren, as in all his writings, prefers story and poetry over systems and prose. In addition, he prefers a both/and approach over an either/or focus. In essence, "A Generous Orthodoxy" purposes to be a both/and story of major themes in Christian theology and Church history.
McLaren fashions himself a modern-day (perhaps we should say, "a post-modern-day") G. K. Chesterton, whose book, "Orthodoxy," McLaren quotes or refers to on numerous occasions. Though writing 100 years before McLaren, and 50 years before the supposed advent of post-modernity, Chesterton's discussion of Orthodoxy exposes the weaknesses both of modernity and post-modernity. If you are looking for Orthodoxy with answers, you may want to read Chesterton's classic.
McLaren goes to great lengths to emphasize his desire to not provide answers, but rather to raise questions. Because of this, for some, reading his book may feel more like Orthodoxy without answers. Indeed, there is a chasm between truth/facts beyond answers and truth/facts without answers. At times it can feel somewhat off-putting to be told in a variety of ways that those who search for answers either have an immature faith or a "modernity faith," but surely not a mature post-modern faith.
In my own ministry to post-moderns, I find them more interested in "answers" than might be imagined when reading "A Generous Orthodoxy." True, they find pat, trite answers distasteful. However, they do long for more than questions. I find that they desire Orthodoxy with reasoned answers discovered in loving community.
Ironically, a result of McLaren's emphasis may be an increase in either/or thinking, rather than a decrease. Like all reformers, McLaren is prone toward overemphasis in order to pull people back toward the "middle."
This seems the case with reference to historical theology and the traditions of the Church. Instead of both learning from historical theology and communicating theology to today's culture, McLaren seems to throw the baby (historical theology) out with the bath water (cultural relevance). This is odd given that the church that McLaren pastors integrates various historical worship styles into their service. The style and substance of historical Christianity are both worth emulating (of course, they are both worth critiquing, also).
"A Generous Orthodoxy" seems to unintentionally promote a second either/or mentality, this one pitting left brain analytical, systematic theology against right brain synthetical spiritual formation. It can and should be both/and, and I know McLaren believes the same. However, the tenor screams, "images, imagination, experience--these are what is most important." Jesus certainly believes that how we love is what matters most (Matthew 22:35-4), yet he also teaches how we "get there" when he reminds us that it is "the truth that sets us free" (John 8:32).
Though generous in the boundary lines of what fits into "Orthodoxy," McLaren at times is less generous toward those who draw the lines a tad tighter. In a book written to encourage dialogue, some of the monologue of "A Generous Orthodox" is likely to build walls instead of bridges.
To the extent that "A Generous Orthodoxy" encourages the search for the discovery of reasoned answers rather than the premature closure of questions, it is successful. To the extent that it challenges the typical either/or thinking of modernity (and of post-modernity, for that matter), it is helpful.
However, if you want truth for life discovered in community, then "A Generous Orthodoxy" may leave you hungering for more. If you want to learn what constitutes historic Orthodox doctrine, "A Generous Orthodoxy" may leave you baffled. And, if you are a staunchly conservative defender of those theological positions historically labeled "Orthodox," then "A Generous Orthodoxy" will likely seem neither generous nor Orthodox.
Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of "Soul Physicians," "Spiritual Friends," "Biblical Psychology," "Martin Luther's Pastoral Counseling," and "Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction."
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2005
I found this book to be helpful, confusing, inspiring, and depressing. This is the first book I've read by Brian McClaren and I can't say that it will be the last. I'm not sure if I agree with the middle of the road approach he takes on almost every issue.I think it's funny when people write books to make you "think" about issues differently and then tell you how to think about it in the end, all the while telling you that's not their intention.
60 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2005
First of all let me say this is an incisive and thought provoking book. This is my first foray into the emergent church movement and its philosophy. In that regard this book was very informative. I enjoy books that challenge the status quo and this one certainly does that. Not that I agree with everything McLaren has written-I definitely do not. However, I like books that get you to "think outside the box" and outside of your comfort zone. We usually read books that reinforce our own thinking rather than engaging those whom we might disagree. That approach limits our growth as well as the development of logic in the defense for our principles, beliefs and worldview.
McLaren's "Generous Orthodoxy" is essentially a compilation of various items gleaned from numerous church denominations, sects, and movements. His is a "cafeteria" approach in which he picks and chooses what he likes and discards the rest. Over all he seems to be very gracious in his comments as he interacts with diverse schools of thought within Christendom. However, I fear that McLaren has given away too much in his widening of the orthodoxy tent. For instance, at the end of the chapter entitled "Why I am a Fundamentalist/Calvinist" he tells the reader that if anyone wants to be part of the generous orthodoxy that they should jettison the notion of "solas," i.e. sola fide (by faith alone) "sola Scriptura" (by Scripture alone) etc and/or the TULIP acronym of Calvinism along with any other creeds and beliefs that in his opinion denotes Christianity as reductionistic. However, these are elements I am not willing to discard because in a sense they define my understanding of orthodox Christianity.
This widening of the tent is even more pronounced in the chapter "Why I am Incarnational" in which he interacts with other world faiths. He states that we should learn of and from those that we are seeking to proclaim Christ to and I would certainly agree with that. Indeed too often we bring too much western trappings in our presentation of the gospel with those outside our culture. However, he is too generous in his affirmation that perhaps, in some cases we should allow a follower of Christ to remain a Hindu, a Buddhist, or a Jew (p. 260). To be a silent "Christian" as it were within their faith milieu. Would the Apostle Paul have agreed? I doubt it. In Philippians 3:5,8 he recounts his past pedigree of "a Hebrew of Hebrews" a Pharisee par excellence and yet he considers that all dung in comparison to his redemption in Christ. As believers in Christ we must be generous in our presentation of the Christian faith, we must temper our words with compassion and love but we must not allow that generosity to somehow blur the distinctions of what it means to be a Christian just to enlarge the definition of orthodoxy, because as we do our orthodoxy looses its meaning and Christianity becomes just another faith, another religion in a plurality of beliefs rather than the one true faith. Note Jesus' words in John 14:6 "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me." These are words that McLaren should ponder as he seeks to redefine orthodoxy and make it more generous.
One brief word of note regarding the typeface, it is smaller than usual and the footnotes are almost microscopic which may be a hindrance for those that are visually-impaired.
97 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2005
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I do not recommend this book. McClaren is an incredibly talented writer. He loves human beings and cares very deeply about postmoderns and introducing them to Jesus. This book contains many good statements and insights, especially corrective ones, but in all is a historically careless theological mess and the non-expert will have dangerous difficulty sifting the wheat from the chaff. It is not orthodox in any confessional or historical sense and only generous given the authors assumptions. But man can this guy write as a polemicist! Phew!
This is a difficult book review for me to write for a number of reasons. The first is that I really want to like Brian McClaren. We have a lot of the same passions on the face of things. God's outreaching love-mission is the all-consuming passion of our lives- the desire to see the blessedness of God's good rule be the cherished benefit of the whole earth.
It is also difficult because about 25% of what comes off of Brian's pen makes me giddy in agreement. He has some amazingly corrective insight and he writes so well that it holds all the more poetic weight.
It is also difficult as one who knows that the American church as a whole will need a new kind of way in the 21st century. Until this book I had held out significant hope that Brian would be a central figure in thinking through the necessary issues and helping the new generations of Christian leadership be faithful yet impactful in the new cultural milieu.
Lastly it is difficult because so many of my colleagues my age and younger are so taken with him. I know that by saying what I am going to say they're going to think me a dinosaur. A dinosaur at 28. Super. Maybe it could be of consolation that Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkein all called themselves that.
The seeming burden of Brian's book is to explain that a wholistic synthesis can be made of the great expanse of Christian tradition- not just within confessional or "Evangelical" Christianity, but across all self identifying Christianity if we are generous enough in our theological- or better, missional-theological- deliberation. Each group is onto something, and if we would read our Bibles to really get the point, and if we would look for the kernel of truth in the other groups, we would find a great, more wholistic, more whole-world-blessing Christianity that could well be termed A Generous Orthodoxy.
Then in Chapters 5-20 he demonstrates this kind of thinking. In each chapter he takes a categorical word in wide Christian usage and explains how it captures something integral and important that should be incorporated in our generous orthodoxy.
For the practical missional Christian who deals with people who reflect on life in a more postmodern, politically and morally semi-liberal, suburban/urban way, there is no doubting this creates a projected theology that is easier to explain plausibly to seekers or non-Christians of various sorts. It is certainly a postmodern gospel that will preach.
This book has some great material in it. There are a few great paragraphs and many great sentences. Taken out of their contexts and republished in a sort of McClaren "Twilight of the Idols" volume would be really cool. That's because I think Brian often has profoundly pastoral human instincts. He really feels the "issues"- whether they are of orthodoxy or orthopraxy. In that sense he is a lot like Francis Shaffer who, for whatever else anyone ever says about him, he was a great lover of humans. But the reason I would have those thoughts taken out of their contexts is because the theology and history that comes after them is often just awful.
Anyhow, here are some specific problems I have with the book as a whole:
1. McClaren's lack of formal training shows at certain a points where he didn't do enough work. For example on page 183 where in a summary of Fundamentalism he says, "Five fundamentals were affirmed, to which we'll return later". I think anyone who has taken a first year college level American church history class would realize there is literally no relationship between the publishing of the Fundamentals and the five point of the traditional Calvinist TULIP (I mean besides the approx. 300 years separating them from Dort to the turn of the 20th century). The editor really should have helped him out with that one.
2. It is very difficult to imagine anyone in a confessional tradition reading this book carefully and calling it "orthodox" even in his or her most generous mood. Brian does this kind of both sides of his mouth thing on several doctrines that have been pretty central and agreed upon throughout the history of the church, and his assertions that this is not the case, to someone like me in the field of theology just proves he has not read enough church history. Among these are the critical importance of right belief (affirmed at lest since Galatians, Colossians, 1 John), the inherent and culpable rebellious sinfulness of mankind (no wonder he seems to have little grounding for a doctrine of hell), the complete absence of any atonement theology of any form, the seeming inability to believe in a God that demonstrates the removal of love from a human object (which God does in many places in scripture) or that exhibits wrath because of sin, and his promotion of universalism while denying it (see his footnote that promotes one four views book and then two books on universalism, and his remark that if he were going to be a restrictivist he'd believe "only universalists go to heaven-after all, they have the highest opinion possible about the efficacy and scope of the saving work of Jesus!" Oh but that's a joke. I'm sorry I'm a professional rhetorician and he's got a masters in literary form as he says in the book, that's no mere joke- that's a sound byte argument in the form of a joke- the medium of debate in the postmodern age). Further, he claims Biblical authority and then considers himself more devout for closing his mouth where the Bible opens its. This is a far cry from Calvin's statement that where the Bible does not speak we should be reverently silent. More could be said on this.
3. I found the whole project of part two of the book disingenuous, which brought out a bigger problem that I have had with McClaren's work the more I have read. First, I thought the whole of the second part disingenuous because it was basically a bait and switch that used a lot of what I would consider "fudged" arguments. Sorry, I don't want to say he's just lying, but some of it was so bad that it's hard, so let's just say "fudged". In most parts he takes a word that actually has an established meaning and then pretty arbitrarily switches the meaning for something somewhat associated with the group it labels. But if you know the meaning of the word, in most chapters he is actually explaining how he is not that thing, or even the opposite. For example, he's a Calvinist only in that he uses the five letters of TULIP to make his own acrostic. He uses no theological points of TULIP mind you (in fact he shows disdain for Calvinism), just the letters. He's a Fundamentalist, but he doesn't affirm "the fundamentals". He's a Methodist in that he wants a new form of spiritual formation that can transform a culture. (Let me say here as a Methodist and a very serious student of the Wesleys and the Methodist revivals that his discussion of Methodism was particularly horrifying. It was like he was just making up something he wanted to make up. Yet here he at least was referring to something integral to Methodist identity- so in that sense it was not as bad as some of the other parts.) Then he's an evangelical because basically he likes passion, courage and bravery to do things. And on and on. But some readers will come to this book thinking, and rightly so, that an evangelical someone "of the euangelion (Gospel)", that a fundamentalist is someone who affirms the confessional fundamentals of the faith, that a Methodist is someone who believes in Methodism and the Wesleyan theology that fuels it- which includes many doctrines he derides.
4. This brings me to my growing frustration with what I perceive as excessive image management in his writing that there seems to be less and less evidence is an accurate representation of the author himself. In my assessment every word of Brian's writings are honed to come off well to the skeptical postmodern. Those of us that work with such people know there is a certain kind of religious teacher they will listen to, and the image of Brian in these books is spot on. Yet as I read I get frustrated. He talks as though very knowledgeable and then makes egregious errors in basic facts or seems oblivious to whole biblical themes or theological concepts. He comes off as humble and kind, but in places is anything but humble (see a particularly arrogant section in the middle of page 184) and in some places not kind at all and in others much too kind as to not be evenhanded (contrast this t normal theological writing virtue where humility is demonstrated by being fair. See anything by Kevin Vanhooser for a great example of this). In some places his very claim to humility that would come off well to the biblically illiterate postmodern will come off as deeply arrogant to the biblical Christian- for example when he plays that being agnostic about hell is humble. It is humble if God has not spoken, but if one believes in the authority of even Jesus (which Brian says he does) we might remember that he is the one that talked about it, and people going there the most (see C.S. Lewis "Learning in War Time" in The Weight of Glory). Again in image management: He seems to be a very open minded independent thinker, but it seems to me as I read more, his mind is closed around relatively few postmodern consideration and locked into a basically neo-liberal agnosticism seasoned with some of the New Perspective on Paul, some Radical Orthodoxy, and a bit of Stan Hauerwas. And finally, he comes off direct and honest, but as I meditate on his content and rhetorical tactics, I'm not so sure, and his radical redefinition of basically every category in the second half of his book is a good example.
5. Lastly it is clear to me that Brian is very strongly influenced by theological liberalism. That is a bit ironic because liberal theology was called "Modernism" for good reason for most of the 20th century. To the extent that this is true, Brian's project will grow out of modernity. That does not mean it cannot be truly postmodern. It can. But liberalism is generally forming postmodern theologies that are building on modernity while I believe more orthodox evangelicals are looking to build a post modern theology that repents of modernity in many ways. For example I think this is what is behind Brian's clear move toward universalism (a 19th century liberal reductionism of the character of God controlled by a truncated modernized conception of love that is bound to non-covenantal freedom growing out of critical reductionist NT scholarship). There is a certain line of reasoning that is all too familiar to those of us that have spent the time learning about the actual Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. My concern is for younger evangelicals who have been told not to worry about theological liberalism because it is dead and obliviously pick up Brian's book. It is never dead so long as there are conservatives maintaining a language of faith that liberalism can redefine (consider that in relationship to point 3- parasitically redefining another's language of faith to use its freight against them and for yourself).
There is a lot more that could be said, but this is a book review not a rebuttal. I would not recommend anyone read this book unless it is read with a tutor that is capable of thinking through these issues. If one is dead set on reading the book, or if materially in agreement with it in its details I strongly suggest reading Don Carson's book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. At first I thought Carson was too hard on Brian, but the more I meditate on Brian's book, the less sure I am of that.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2007
I read this book shortly after it was published, and have bought at least two copies to give to friends. I'll tell you what I like about it a little later, but first I want to tell you the main thing you need to know before you buy it yourself.
I love hard cover books, but in this case you really want the paperback. I struggled a bit reading the hardback, because it is printed in a fairly small, light typeface. You have to wonder what the publishers were thinking. With the paperback they evidently came to their senses, and it's much easier to read. A fringe benefit is that it's also cheaper!
I appreciated several of McLaren's earlier books (particularly the "trilogy" that begins with "A New Kind of Christian") enough to buy extra copies to lend to friends; in fact, a number of our friends feel that these books have helped to crystallize views they had found themselves arriving at over a number of years. But in some ways these books remind me of the criticisms that an opposition party makes of the government -- it's easy to pick holes in someone else's position, but you'd like to see them formalize their own position so you can see whether there are holes to be picked in it.
Well, in "A Generous Orthodoxy" I believe McLaren has done just that: made a fairly comprehensive position statement. Some Christians will probably never like anything he writes, but those who (like myself) believe that Christianity has absorbed much, bad as well as good, from the culture it finds itself in, are more likely to appreciate his perspectives. My favorite McLaren quote comes ironically not from one of his books but from a 2003 magazine interview: "Our faith has become obsessed with how to get to heaven without loving God or loving our neighbour". Sadly, some who would call themselves fundamentalists seem not to realize that those two great commandments are among the true fundamentals of the Christian faith.
I also appreciate that McLaren appreciates that value can be found in the views of Christian groups outside the "evangelical mainstream". The second chapter, "Seven Jesuses I have known", where he explains how his understanding of Jesus has been enhanced by contact with (among others) the Pentecostal, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anabaptist traditions, would by itself be worth the purchase price.
317 of 387 people found the following review helpful
McLaren has written a book which will prove to be a turning point in the emerging church dialogue. In A Generous Orthodoxy, he puts into well-written words the desire of many in the emerging church to draw the best from a wide variety of traditions and streams within Christianity, while still remaining orthodox (and as for one reviewer's comments that McLaren claims the bible alone isn't adaquate for guidance on spiritual matters, Jesus Christ alone isn't sufficient for salvation, and we need more than God's grace to get us into heaven- hogwash. He either didn't read carefully or intentionally misrepresented what was actually a well stated-critique of reductionism- not a statement on any of the mentioned theological matters).
McLaren has given the church a gift- a way to think about theology that actually brings Christians together again, rather than forever splitting into smaller and smaller and smaller groups. Read it and see if you don't find yourself challenged, taught and humbled.
(and can I add for all those of you who have been voting lately.. voting against a review simply because you didn't like the content of the book... pretty silly.)
46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2005
I like the general thrust of the book, but find that the topic may be too broad for a single edition. For example, I found that the author's information about the Anabaptist/Anglican section limited. In other parts, he was able to list notable authors, but he listed none in this section. In fact there are some notable individuals. One being Richard Foster, a founder of the Renovare movement. There are others too. I'm also concerned that in some ways the author is suggesting that it is time to put aside the differences between the different groups of Christians. However, that means we should negate truth. For example, there were some very legitimate reasons for the reformation. I remain a protestant who is in protest. There are certain aspects of the Catholic church I find disturbing, which is what prompted the reformation movement in the first place.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2006
Generous Orthodoxy (GO) is an engaging and challenging book. Engaging because I found myself really wanting to read it, and most of the time, not wanting to put it down. Challenging because it provoked a variety of responses and many detailed discussions on what McLaren was saying. It initially starts out a bit rough, with some poorly written chapters (I deduct one star for this), but by the time he gets to the "The Kind of Christian I Am" section, his true writing skill comes out. I think chapter 0 can be skipped, where he tries to identify everything wrong with the book.
This book is not a systematic theology, so if you want a detailed exposition on what emergent is or McLaren's own views, you will be disappointed. McLaren's views do come through in a form that is more of a dialog or confession. This form, by the way, makes the book easy to read. Some of McLaren's ideas have been criticized, but as the reader will find out, McLaren welcomes this, and even goes so far as to criticize himself. This book is often pointed to a summary of what the capital 'E' Emergent (as in [...]) is all about. However, the book reflects emergent thinking more than it defines emergent thinking.
The theme of "Generous Orthodoxy" is discussed throughout. McLaren defines GO as a widening of orthodoxy (right thinking), so as to make it more complete, rather than focusing on points emphasized by a particular sect of Christianity. He also emphasizes orthopraxis (right practice) as a point of orthodoxy. Much of GO is focused on Christian practice.
McLaren is often accused of being a pluralistic reletivist, or at least, people question whether he actually believes in objective truth. He, however, rejects pluralistic relativism, if you take the time to read what he actually says in this book. In my own reading of GO and McLaren, I am inclined to believe that his critics either do not understand him or misrepresent him in this area. His extensive quotes of G.K. Chesterton's book Orthodoxy is evidence of the fact that he is not advocating pluralistic relativism.
When people ask me "what kind of Christian I am" I have often wished I could write a book like this in reply. There are some chapters I would write differently than McLaren and others that I could not improve upon. In my own thinking, emergent is more a description of the time we live in and what is going on within the Church. GO does a good job of capturing much of this.
McLaren is primarily writing to people, Christian or otherwise, who are about ready to give up on Christianity, or perhaps have already done so. To them, McLaren is saying, "There is more to Christianity than what many (if not most) Christians say or do." To the rest of us, McLaren seems to be challenging us to see if what we say or do really reflects the whole teaching of scripture and of Christ.
The book is definitely worth reading, and you do not have to consider yourself "emergent" to benefit from what McLaren has to say.