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A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, ... emergent, unfinished Christian (emergentYS) Paperback – Abridged, January 29, 2006
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...this book will make you think. In a time when wee seem to be preaching intolerance in the name of God, McLaren's book is a voice of reason. -- YouthWorker <br><br> (YouthWorker ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
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.
A confession and manifesto from a senior leader in the emerging church movement. A Generous Orthodoxycalls for a radical, Christ-centered orthodoxy of faith and practice in a missional, generous spirit. Brian McLaren argues for a post-liberal, post-conservative, post-protestant convergence, which will stimulate lively interest and global conversation among thoughtful Christians from all traditions.
In a sweeping exploration of belief, author Brian McLaren takes us across the landscape of faith, envisioning an orthodoxy that aims for Jesus, is driven by love, and is defined by missional intent. A Generous Orthodoxy rediscovers the mysterious and compelling ways that Jesus can be embraced across the entire Christian horizon. Rather than establishing what is and is not orthodox, McLaren walks through the many traditions of faith, bringing to the center a way of life that draws us closer to Christ and to each other. Whether you find yourself inside, outside, or somewhere on the fringe of Christianity, A Generous Orthodoxy draws you toward a way of living that looks beyond the us/them paradigm to the blessed and ancient paradox of we.
Also available on abridged audio CD, read by the author.
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Let me alarm the reader immediately by stating bluntly the premise of this thesis. Perhaps then you can deal with the passion of my words and move beyond initial reactions. I think this book is one of the best-written, well thought-out, and most cleverly presented deceptions I've ever come across. McLaren is good... really good! Unfortunately he has wrapped some really good points, some of which I can agree with, around some very dangerous theological errors. He is charming, disarming, and self-depreciating, which makes it doubly hard to criticize some of wrong things he says about some incredibly important stuff! I liken refuting some important issues in this book to the task of ferreting out and destroying cancer in an otherwise healthy body. Doctors are often frustrated in their attempts to kill cancerous tumors within living people without damaging the healthy tissue around the thing that is killing the patient.
On pages 35-36 McClaren declares "...you should know that I am horribly unfair in this book, lacking all scholarly objectivity and evenhandedness..." and then says, "...I cannot even pretend to be objective or fair."
It's difficult to engage in honest discourse with someone who says things like this. It's like trying to talk to someone who arbitrarily changes languages in the middle of a sentence. This allows him to pretty much say anything he wants.
"You have every reason to believe, based on a cursory understanding of church history, that a generous orthodoxy is oxymoronic (like heavy lightness, a dark flash, or dry rain) . . ." (p. 27).
Indeed I do have every reason to believe that his "AGO" is "oxymoronic," based on a bit more than a cursory understanding of church history. Here he is actually admitting (in a ploy to be disarmingly honest) that even a "cursory" understanding of historical scholarship renders his entire premise contradictory!
Next, he claims that he personally affirms:
"...consistently, unequivocally, and unapologetically" the Apostles' and Nicene Creed (pp. 28, 32).
Then he proceeds to deconstruct the very same creeds by charging that they were used to:
"...batter into submission people with honest questions."
I question the honesty of this statement. The Apostle's and Nicene Creeds were adopted after careful, prayerful, and scholarly deliberation by some highly educated, pious men. To be sure, they were imperfect men with their own biases, but some of them died as martyrs rather than deny what they asserted as the truth about Christ in these creeds. It's an iniquitous blanket accusation to state that the creeds were used to "batter" people with "honest" questions. (But then, McLaren warned us he would be unfair, didn't he?) The early church was being assailed by heresies like Gnosticism, and frankly, some of those people with so-called "honest questions" were actually agents of darkness seeking to do great damage to the Christians by raising speculations regarding the resurrection of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, just to name a few.
McLaren then seeks to discredit the creeds he claims to embrace by implying that "the victors write the history books." (p. 29) He then says:
"...orthodoxy might seem to follow those who fight the hardest and perhaps the dirtiest. Not a pleasant thought."
Does anyone else see what he just did? He started out affirming his support of the creeds, and the orthodoxy (right thinking) they set forth, and then cleverly discredited them as something that came forth from questionable persons who fought the "...hardest and perhaps the dirtiest...?" This is deconstructionism in action and is, at the very least, disingenuous.
Next, McLaren brings a thinly-veiled accusation against conservative evangelicals by making a big deal about the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy (orthopraxy refers to the "right living" that should follow "right thinking") McLaren didn't invent the idea of "walk the talk." Fact is, from the New Testament writers onward, conservative Christians have preached and practiced orthopraxy for centuries, so this is a hollow argument. For sure, there have been some hypocrites among the conservatives, (as well as liberals) but this doesn't mean everyone is insincere.
"Orthodoxy in this book is similarly caught up in the practice (orthopraxy) of love for God and all God's creations. Such an outlandish idea, in the name of orthodoxy, is so unorthodox that it is hardly worth your continued consideration" (p. 33).
Hmm. Let me get this straight... We're supposed to see that for most traditionally orthodox believers down through history; loving God was a rare and dangerous novelty? A bit of a stretch, don't you think?
In this chapter, McLaren seems to be laying out a new definition of "living right." I suspect he is saying "living right" means being a "nice" discussion partner, regardless of what is being discussed. Okay, I can buy into being courteous to people when discussing beliefs, but I don't think the bible teaches that we have to embrace and celebrate whatever people bring to the table.
What about homosexual behavior? What about people who think its okay to sexually abuse children? What about the Nazis whose "religion" of Aryanism dictated that Jews should be massacred? What about Moslems who slaughter their daughters in "honor killings" if they go out without a chaperone or refuse to wear their veil? Would McLaren embrace and celebrate these beliefs and put them on par with orthodox Christianity in order to be generous? You see the problem. Without fixed standards and moral reference points, there is no basis to judge between good and evil, right and wrong, truth or lies. God's word is our only reliable yardstick. If we cavalierly set it aside and seek to "embrace" the standards of every other belief system, chaos is the only possible result. Tyranny is inevitable.
McLaren seems to deftly sidestep such sticky issues. On subjects like sexual ethics, he fails to link right thinking about God with right living. On certain subjects, he conveniently detaches orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and he does this while claiming that he is doing just the opposite. This comes across as a bit dishonest to me.
Then, McLaren seems to attempt to steal the inevitable thunder of his critics. He redirects the reader's attention away from what he is actually saying with a "straw man" scenario that depicts something like the angry villagers storming Frankenstein's castle with torches and pitchforks to slay the monster. He lays out a clever ruse, designed to diffuse his critics by comically inferring that those who read his book may be risking unspecified persecutions:
"...many who consider themselves orthodox watchdogs will consider the message of this book an intruder on their turf-you risk guilt by association just by being seen in public with this book" (p. 37).
He suggests swapping dust jackets with other books so "no one will know what you're reading" and avoid the "orthodox watchdogs." (Read: "orthodox Gestapo") Maybe they'll "report" you to a neighborhood inquisition watch group who will come in the middle of the night and drag you off to the dungeon.
"Just so you know, I plan to change my name and apply to either Extreme Makeover or a witness protection program as soon as the book comes out to save my fragile skin, so I urge you to protect yourself, too" (p. 37).
Ooooooo. Pretty spooky! Now I'm REALLY hooked on this book! Esoteric, secret knowledge that only the enlightened will understand. Better not talk about it too much in mixed company. This seems somewhat manipulative to me. Is it not obvious?
This appears to be a stratagem to appeal to some people's prideful desire to be seen as à la mode, chic, avant-garde, and on the cutting-edge of societal evolution. Yep, you gotta watch out for those mean-spirited "orthodox watchdogs" that might find you out and disagree! They just don't "get it" and will hinder progress by resisting our deeper understanding of how certainty in orthodoxy is passé.
It seems obvious that he is shrewdly maneuvering his readers to regard those who might legitimately not be excited about his deconstructist, postmodern liberalism as knuckle-dragging troglodytes? Later in his introduction on page 39, he magnanimously tears down entirely this false scenario. Here, he is engaging in the aforementioned rhetorical technique called the "straw man" argument. I'm disturbed by how often he seems to resort to this ploy. What is he trying to hide?
I'm still scratching my head over this next statement...
"Speaking of smoke, this book suggests that relativists are right in their denunciation of absolutism. It also affirms that absolutists are right in their denunciation of relativism. And then it suggests that they are both wrong because the answer lies beyond both absolutism and relativism" (p. 38).
Well I'm sure glad he cleared that one up! This reminds me of that scene from the film, Fiddler on the Roof, where Rebe Tevya is caught telling two guys who are arguing that they are both right. A third man says to Tevya, "They both can't be right!" Tevya then says to the third man, "And you also are right!" Yep, clear as mud.
Near the end of the chapter, McLaren writes --.
"Speaking of confession, I confess I just reread this Chapter 0, and it strikes me as so weird -- arrogant? defensive? tortured? complex? anxious? -- that I can't imagine why anyone would push through it to Chapter 1" (p. 38).
Gee wiz. Would anyone like to guess why it struck him that way? Could it possibly be that what he wrote actually is: "...so weird - arrogant, defensive, tortured, complex, anxious?" Like I said, this guy is good. He openly confesses his arrogance, thereby stealing the thunder of what discerning critics would pick up on right away. You wouldn't need much more than a room-temperature IQ to see through this manipulation to blunt legitimate criticism. I hate this kind of dishonesty toward readers.
Did you notice what else he is doing with the above statements? (This is probably the most important point in this entire discussion) He is elevating absurdity to a near-virtue! It's sort-of like saying, "the more irrational and disconnected I am with my arguments, the more profound and cutting-edge they seem! This is deconstructionist thought at its best! It is actually one of a number of brainwashing techniques used in cults that seek to turn off rational, higher-brain function, and critical objective thinking, which then opens up the mind to receive anything it is told!
Recently I viewed a documentary film about how cults brainwash people into their deception. A primary component to their indoctrination is creating a profound disconnect between rational, critical thinking through low-protein food, sleep deprivation, incessant chanting, and constant exposure to bizarre, irrational lectures. After a time, people would become like zombies and open to any suggestion the leaders wanted them to believe.
Bottom line? I'm deeply concerned that many people today are being similarly influenced to accept lies and deceptions through so-called "teachers" who champion deconstructionist, postmodern thought, and the refutation of absolute truth by a nonfoundationalist paradigm shift in popular thinking.
I am not saying that everything else in the book is wrong or evil. However, from these first pages, it has become apparent to me that some serious theological errors are being shrouded within that which is outwardly good. It's sort-of like a rotten piece of meat hidden within an otherwise excellent and tasty burrito. You can't see the poison outwardly, and it makes no difference if you pile on the hot sauce to mask the odor of spoiled meat. If you eat it up you may become incredibly sick later on. These days, we need to unpack our theological burritos and look inside before we wolf them down.
I'll leave it here for now. For the sake of continued discussion, I will admit that there are things about the present form of "Churchianity" that I dislike. McLaren scores some hits on some of those, and I rather enjoy the idea of poking spears at sacred cows, then listening to them moo in protest. I'm willing to walk this out to the end of the book, and glean what good may be found. I just don't like being manipulated with what to me are transparent rhetorical and psychological techniques that make me feel like I'm being tricked into seeing something. I want an author to just honestly tell me his premise, present his supporting data, lay out his conclusion, and then let me decide if it makes sense. Does that make any sense?
Oh, and one more parting thought. It occurred to me that my abbreviation for A Generous Orthodoxy, AGO, suggests an interesting irony. Much of the theological error set forth by McLaren and other emerging postmodern theologians are an interesting rehash of some very old heresies dealt with by the early church fathers long AGO.
Christology is everything and here McLaren shows his major weakness, he wants Jesus to be more than the revealed Jesus of the Bible speaks of. A political Jesus, a worldly Jesus. He describes the seven Jesus's he went through, and none of them fits "his" bill. It is just a new spin (emergent church) on an old mistake of the need to change those things revealed in Word of God about Jesus to suit one's own desires/thoughts. Isaiah 55:8ff speaks against such control over revelation, yet McLaren says at places he does believe in Scripture, yet takes away what it gives in next written breath.
Many like McLaren who are mystified, confused, even frustrated that none of existing Christian confessions suit their thoughts and needs will be and can be attracted by such innovative thinking, combining elements from many Christian confessions into a whole that McLaren admits is dynamic, even approaching such as process theology. He further admits this branch of Christian history, i.e. liberal, attracts him and plays a contributive role in his theology continuum.
In our theological age of fulfilling even greater than previous generations 2 Timothy 4:3-4's prophecy that many will not tolerate sound doctrine but associate for themselves teachers who tickle their ears, McLaren and this emergent movement provide some of that tickling going on around us now.
See D.A. Carson's fine critique: "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church" or listen to fine critiques on Issues Etc. Also, for those who mistakenly write off Carson's book because Carson never dialogued with McLaren first, see written dialogue with McLaren and four others in book: "The Emerging Church in Culture" paying special attention to Mike Horton's fine input.