Sunday, December 26, 2004

Review: a Generous Orthodoxy

I have been reading Brian McLaren's books for quite a while. There was a time in my life when my evangelical maintstream spiritual upbringing was being challenged culturally, by studies in "postmodernism", the "emerging church", and the personal feeling of lack in what I was reading/seeing across the church; and spiritually, by the Holy Spirit, discovering gifts of the Spirit, seeing prayer and grace and mercy in new and life-changing light. McLaren was one of the authors to spoke to this transitional period in my life: where the mental aspects and the supernatural aspects were going a little haywire.

I have found that I am still very much in such a place, and now there is a Generous Orthodoxy (copyright 2004, Youth Specialties, Youth Specialties Books) from Pastor Brian. Reading McLaren's prose is like having a conversation with a friend - for me, it's very much like sitting at a Starbucks, watching the people go by, asking questions and getting questions back in response. There is nothing easy in a conversation like this, except the caramel macchiato I would use in the silent pauses as I think about what this "friend" has just said.

I am challenged to live out, personally and individualistically he might say, the "missional" purpose of Christianity. After taking time to describe "the Seven Jesuses" (flannel board Jesus, personal Jesus, political Jesus all the way to pacifist Jesus and liberation Jesus), and after asking the very pointed questions of whether or not Jesus would even label Himself as a "Christian" in today's use and overuse of the term, McLaren starts to take a both/and approach to Christianity that has been intriguing to me from those first word vs. truth times in my own life. And he starts be saying that the church is to be missional, with a progression for the "mission statement" being something like this:
  • 'more Christians and better Christians' - most folks would agree that this is a noble calling for the local body today
  • 'to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ'
  • 'to be abd make disciples of Jesus Christ in authentic community'
  • 'to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ in authentic community for the good of the world'
    - aGO, pp. 106-107
  • It is the idea that we are to be a blessing to Christians and to no-Christians that sets this book apart for me. I don't know that I've ever read, let alone considered, that there is an equal calling to be a blessing to believers and to non-believers. It leads to this statement a few pages later:
    "One of my mentors once said to me, 'Remember, in a pluralistic world, a religion is valued based on the benefits it brings to its nonadherents.' This surprised me, and I thought about it for days [as this I have, too!!!]. Many people think the opposite of what my mentor said: that religions offer benefits to the adherents and catastrophic threats for nonadherents. This offer/threat combination motivates people, the assume, to become adherents out of fear of catastrophe and desire for benefits. I think that the missional way is better: the gospel brings blessing to all, adherents and nonadherents alike. For example, if Jesus sends people into the world to love and serve their neighbors, their neighbors benefit, and so do the people sent by Jesus, since it is better to give than to receive." (p. 111)
    For the rest of the book, these statements on the church being both/and in regards to blessing others makes that much more sense. For McLaren, being an little-"e"vangelical means having good news for everybody, not following a particular socio-political agenda. Being post/protestant means being more "pro"-"testifying" in a positive way than "protesting" against the evils that surrounds us, allowing us to speak and to live the way Jesus models. Being liberal/conservative (I consider myself either conservatively liberal or liberally conservative, take your pick) means recognizing the problems and the positives of both "sides" and living in a way thats "for the good of the world" more than my one viewpoint or political bent. Being mystical/poetic has the idea that we will grab onto the mysteries of life, doing our best to share in the music of storytelling and in the poetry of living the thing out on this planet - moreso than using doctrine and memorization to define out lives together.

    He spends another chapter on "why I am biblical". One of the shortcomings I've seen in the postmodern church fad/movement is the tendency to rationalize and deconstruct Jesus and the scriptures out of the picture. It's really really comforting to know that someone cherishes the Bible enough to preach it - all of it, not just those passages and verses that support one doctrine above another. Prooftexting might be the downfall of the modern church; getting rid of the Bible as a response to lax Bible application would be the undoing of the next generation. We need to get into the Bible, and we need to let the Bible get into us in a way that, again, is "for the good of the world". I hope we'll spend less time arguing about the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture, and more time sitting over latte's at Starbucks talking about how the scriptures are really transforming our daily patterns of living.

    After going through a few more sets of terms/definitions of his Christian life to this point, I am drawn again to "depressed-yet hopeful" and to "unfinished". By no means is McLaren trying to write the leading doctrinal thesis on orthodoxy and the only way to be a "new kind of Christian" - instead, he's sharing that there are still questions, that there are still doubts, and that God is still there in the midst of it with us in all mystery and grace. I am also often depressed-yet-hopful when I follow the current conversations in USAmerican churches and circles today. And I realize I and we are as yet unfinished, if only because there is so much still to learn about ourselves and about our Lord.


    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I really appreciate this review. I have not read this book, but have considered doing so. I am usually not a big "joiner"; I don't seem to fit exactly. But your review helped me sense what it is about McClaren that satisfies and broadens. I may read it. . .

    26/12/04 7:59 PM  
    Blogger Rick said...

    thanks, erica - i think i was intrigued by the preview stuff here and here. printed them off and read them tailgating one saturday - i'm such a book geek.

    26/12/04 9:39 PM  
    Blogger Richard said...

    Now you've gone and done it. ;^) This is definitely the next I'm going to read!

    31/1/05 5:19 PM  

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