A Generous Orthodoxy ~ Review

Thanks to Organic church for this book review … I think Glad Sounds Malaysia might bring some copies in 🙂 for a preview with the help of the review … read on …


A Generous Orthodoxy
Brian D McLaren

Graham asked me to post this review.
As this is a biographical book in many ways, reflecting Brian’s own journey, I open with a few comments about myself, since I have approached the book as a check list of my own journey. After ‘gettin saved’ I moved through a Baptist church to an Elim Pentecostal church. During my time there I discovered Calvinism, and at the end of 92 moved to a Calvinistic Baptist church, where I spent 12 years in membership, and the last 2 1/2 as the interim minister. I majored in Calvinism, but there was a minor undercurrent fed by my pastor which included CS Lewis, John Henry Newman, Therese of Lisieux, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Although these influences enticed me at times, I always returned to the fold. Calvinism gave me a stronghold in which I could examine and learn from other traditions without ultimately beng swayed by them. Though my orbit around the sun of Calvinism might have wavered at times, it remained an orbit. It was something else that proved to be the decisive factor in plotting a course out of orbit, although I didn’t realise at the time; that was Richard Lovelace’s Dynamics of Spiritual Life, a case of Johnathan Edwards and John Wesley meets Sojourners.
During my last two years where I was those influences developed into tangible drawings away, and eventually at the beginning of this year those drawings resolved into a new sun that came through the system I inhabited, and the realisation that, as it drew away I was now in orbit around another sun, and in a new church, where these influences would develop. It was in this frame of mind that I read McLaren’s book, and now comment upon it.

This is a good book, well written (Mclaren is an English major who moved into Christian ministry). It’s as much a credo as anything, definitely a personal book reflecting his own journey rather than a systematic survey of the field.

The book opens with an introduction by John Franke, in which he quotes Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings:
“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost, for none now live who remember it.”
Galadriel’s words reflect that bitter sweet longing that Tolkien’s Edwardian generation were heir to after WWI, and although it has its’ place in the introduction, it does not reflect what is the spirit of optimism that actually pervades McLaren’s book. He look back is vigorous, grateful, and respectful, but his gaze is forward, as is his stride.

The book falls into two sections:
Part One – Why I am a Christian, in which McLaren reviews his understanding of Jesus Christ as he has encountered him in different (7) traditions, briefly summed up as:
The Protestant Jesus – He saves by dying; the sacrificial Christ
He reviews the four models of the atonement about Christ’s death: Forensic, Ransom, Representative, Victor. He notes what he sees as the major failings of the protestant view: its’ concentration on our being saved from hell to go to heaven, and to forget everything in between, and the marginalisation of Jesus’ life that this might promote. (He is self-acknowledgely more critical of his own traditions than of others, but I found his criticisms here and in the rest of the book to the point, and balanced by an appreciation of their strengths, even of Calvinism).
The Pentecostal Jesus – He saves by his Spirit; the present Christ
Similar issues to the Protestant one, since it too partakes of the hyper-individualism, the concentration on my experience, my needs, etc
The Roman Catholic Jesus – He saves by his resurrection; the Living Christ
The Eastern Orthodox Jesus – He saves by his incarnation; the cosmic Christ
The Liberal Protestant Jesus – He saves by his teaching; the wise Christ
The Anabaptist Jesus – He saves by his example; the ethical Christ
The Liberation Theology Jesus – He saves by his overcoming the powers that be; the radical Christ

Three chapters deal with the matter of being a Christian, and what salvation means, of which McLaren favours an holistic view that encompasses history, culture, society, politics, rather than the ‘traditional’ view of saving from hell. These are good chapters, and should be expanded into a book, if he hasn’t already done so, since their worth might be missed because of the nature of this book.

Part two consists of brief chapters outlining the influences upon him, and this is where I found help in clarifying my own journey, how far I had come, what the road ahead looked like, what I had missed along the way, and of course, what dangers I should avoid. It is to be noted that he is not promoting a one size fits all ‘Generous Orthodoxy’ orthodoxy; he isn’t writing a Systematics. Some of the chapters reflect how my own thinking is going, some point further down that road, such as the ones that reflect thoughts on my own constituency of Protestant, Evangelical, Calvinist, Liberal/Conservative. Some are directly challenging, esp the chapter on inter-faith conversation and incarnational mission, but also the one on Green issues. His criticisms throughout I thought were well balanced, although I won’t be adopting his new TULIP any time soon LOL . I was challenged, not doctrinally but practically by the chapters on the Charismatic/Contemplative, and Mystical/Poetic areas; I do not have much to do with them, being an INTJ, and I guess I should; prayer can get so mechanical at times. The Emergent chapter was an eye opener on the movement, with the nice image of young trees growing on the forest floor, waiting for the huge trees to fall so that they could grow – it may get discouraging at times being part of the small movements that are around, Cell, House, Emergent, etc, but he is confident their time will come, and that this is God’s provision for a witness when the old trees die.

I would recommend this book, he is an engaging writer, and it presents a good checklist of where you think you might be if you are shifting your ground. I don’t suppose anyone is likely to read this book who hasn’t already set out on the journey, so it is not likely to rock your world – probably his other books do that – and it might be better to wait for the paperback edition, as 12 is a lot to pay for a book that probably tells you what you knew already.

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