A Generous Orthodoxy A Generous Orthodoxy
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

Brian D McLaren
ISBN 9780310258032 (0310258030)
Zondervan, 2006 (paperback)

Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith

If you're a Christian, this is a book that should break your heart. Not because of anything Brian McLaren says but because it needs to be said, because Christianity seems to have evolved over the past two millennia into a religion of arrogance, into something more akin to George Orwell's Thought Police than to something that begins and ends with Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity: the world faith that gave us the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the kind of religious intolerance that spawned "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland. "You'll know the truth," said Jesus, and we seem to have lost track of the bit about it setting us free. Why would any right-minded person want to be associated with this kind of religion?

If you're not a Christian, if you find yourself like Gandhi saying, "I love your Christ, but I hate your Christians. They are so unlike him." (as cited in Alan Jones' Reimagining Christianity) then you'll find this book a refreshing experience as it acknowledges Christianity's failures and crimes against humanity and calls the followers of Jesus to repentance (see Chapter 18 especially).

But whichever side of the fence you're on, don't sit yourself too comfortably (I'm assuming that if you're on the fence you're not sitting comfortably anyway) — before long the spotlight swings to you and your own attitudes: Christianity is only in the state it is because people like you and me have made it that way. And it's not so much Brian McLaren shining the spotlight as Jesus. Not because he's trying to highlight our shortcomings but because it's the only way to drive away the darkness, to give us light to see by. Not a guilt trip but an eyes-wide-open reappraisal of where we've come from and where we're going.

That essentially — to this reader anyway — is what this book is about: dispelling the fog and finding a way forward. So many groups claiming to be moving forward in faith seem to spend most of their time falling backwards in disbelief, but here McLaren really is offering a way forward, pointing to Jesus as the bringer of light, the giver of hope who transcends the denominational and doctrinal divides that Christianity has given birth to, calling us to love our neighbours without prejudice, regardless of creed, gender, orientation, race or any other distinctive.

Make no mistake about it: this book is no denial of orthodoxy. McLaren is very careful to spell out his affirmation of the ancient creeds (p.32) and his high regard for the Bible (Chapter 10, pp.159-171) and he refers extensively to Chesterton's classic Orthodoxy. McLaren's agenda here is to bring Christianity back to a spirituality that takes the whole Bible — the whole of life, even — seriously rather than picking & choosing decontextualised proof texts or privatised experiences to make its points. This requires an open-ended approach to biblical interpretation, recognising its narrative character: in short, generosity, a generous orthodoxy that welcomes the best of all the various traditions and ditches the worst.

Is there a danger of throwing out the baby with the bath water? Of course there is. But McLaren prefers Chesterton's analogy of an artist and his subject: "So here's the tension: we must always be discontented with our portraits of orthodoxy, but we must never, in frustration, throw the Subject of our portrait out the window. Otherwise, the revolution fails and falls, sprawling facedown in the dirt, and the whole whirling adventure is over." (p.297).

As anyone familiar with McLaren's writing would expect, this book offers a thoroughly postmodern affirmation of faith. Much more could and no doubt will be said about it, but I put it to you very simply: if you're concerned about the church's future, this "whole whirling adventure" of following Jesus, you should read it now. If you only read one faith-related book this year, make it this one.

Phil Groom, April 2005

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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