Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Generous Orthodoxy - Brian McLaren

I had the opportunity this last week to read “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McClaren. I picked up this book knowing I was going to disagree with the author on things, but felt it was necessary. He has been largely criticized, often times with very harsh words and attitudes, by many, and I felt it was time for me to do a little reading of my own.

Actually, I have read some by him before, thought this was my first chance to read a book by him alone. I first came across his writings in the book “The Church in Emerging Culture,” which was edited by Leonard Sweet, a friend of McClaren as well as a fellow “emergent” type. In that book, Sweet brings together five authors who discuss how we are to “do” church in our culture today, and we get all different answers, from don’t do anything at all, to basically we need to change almost everything. The book is written in a conversational way, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to find out where they fit in, rather than how people tell them they should fit in.

Anyway, McLaren is firmly entrenched in that book in the changing your methods and message, which means we need to change how we do church, as well as what we are talking about. While I agree with both of these to a certain extent (in the sense that we need to bring to the gospel to the world in a relevant and understandable way), I think there are ways of doing this which aren’t so extreme. Anyway…the problem which was the biggest for me when it came to McLaren in that book was the way he was willing to change the message, and I believe he wants to go way too far, conceding and teaching things which are clearly not true, no matter the culture you live in. This is why, for the longest time, I didn’t really want to read too much by him, particularly a book of his on, of all things, orthodoxy. However, I felt it was important for me, as a pastor, to be able to talk about him from actually reading what he says, rather than reading what other people say about him. That being said, here are my thoughts.

First, I disagreed with far less than I thought I would. I admit that I went into the book expecting to agree with very little, and came out disagreeing with about the same amount; certainly not all of what he says, but a lot. One of the things which stood out to me was the heart McLaren has for the lost. His goal throughout is to reach those who don’t know Christ, and to find ways of introducing them to that. For this alone, I think his books need to be taken seriously, though still possibly with a willingness to question and perhaps get a little irritated at him. By the way, he admits in his introduction that he is okay with irritating you if it gets you to think. That I can appreciate.

Secondly, on this same line of thought, I found that people are far too hard on him. Yes, I know there’s some compromise, but still this man deserves a fair trial. Many of those who criticize are Calvinist, and don’t give this man the time of day because of his thoughts on the sovereignty of God. Boy did he stick his neck out on that one! Enough said there…

Thirdly, one thing I really liked about this particular book is that McLaren seems very interested in finding the best in all the different branches of Christianity. While at some times he is very straightforward and certainly steps on toes, at other times he simply wants the best anyone can offer. Certainly there are chapters where he is a little too generous with his orthodoxy, but it doesn’t hurt for us, and definitely for me, to be stretched a little and made to think.

I suppose I could go on and on, but I won’t. Next up: “The Rule of Faith; Scripture, Canon, and Creed in a Critical Age.” This will probably help me come back into proper balance!


Pizza Man said...

Thanks for the review.

Stephen Miller said...

No problem. I'm going to try to do more of these in the future.