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Getting Around to “A Generous Orthodoxy”

September 11, 2008

I’ll admit to anyone that I’m a little slow. Slow on the uptake, slow to speak up, slow to get up, slow to move, and just generally slow.

But here’s my sweet consolation – slower is cheaper.

If you buy the biggest and fastest computer, you’ll pay more and get the same for less half a year later. This principle transcends technology: wait a couple of years to read the newest book and you’ll pay a lot less (especially if it’s the DaVinci code).

All of this goes to explain why I’m finally getting around to reading and reviewing Brian McLaren’s “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.”

I know that this book came out in 2004, which is when I thought first about reading it. But it was $27.99 (or so the sticker on my book says), and I got it this summer for $1 at a used book sale. It’s undoubtedly been reviewed by thousands, but due to my slowness, I haven’t gotten around to reading the reviews. 

Brian McLaren is part of the “emergent” movement, which is sort of a young and hip North American Christianity. More specifically, its low-church or free church or Baptist theology, the kind you’d find in a church with a coffee bar, choruses displayed by powerpoint onto multiple screens, with a 31 year old senior pastor. This book, with its ridiculously long subtitle, attempts to trace out an inclusive, irenic Christianity perfectly suited for that kind of church.

This is essentially a mixture of two bestselling genres of Christian writing:

1) Affirmative Evangelical Apologetic: A gentle suggestion about why you should believe, either in Jesus or in a certain way of relating to God, a certain type of salvation, or most atypically, in a certain form of ‘orthodoxy.’ Examples of this kind of book include Mere Christianity, Knowing God, McLaren’s own A New Kind of Christian, and the Purpose Driven Life, etc.. Target Audience: Seekers (coming into the church), as well as the choir.

2) Liberal Cri de Coeur: A tale of why an author can no longer abide conservatism, and why those narrow minded cats can’t dig it. Examples include Honest to God, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Reimagining Christianity, etc.. Target Audience: Seekers (leaving/already gone), and the choir at the mainline church.

Either of these genres can theoretically be good, but they stink just as often. #1 ends up a bit like an unconvincing sales pitch (“I’m living life to the full and so can you!”). #2 ends up a little shrill and self-serving (“I’ve been persecuted for asking tough questions, but here I stand… and so can you!”) and always needs an even more fundamentalistic faith to react against. 

BUT McLaren actually pulls off the 1-2 punch! He’s pretty balanced, not too harsh on his would-be detractors (and they are legion), and generally pretty hopeful. And he’s right – liberals and evangelicals (and pretty much every other polarity) should get together and get the best of both worlds! And what better location than in the ol’ baptist church?

Behind the constant theme of “aw shucks,” this book shows a guy with a better grasp on modern theology than he lets on, plus a pastor with a pretty shrewd understanding of how to speak to his congregation. Sure, this book will date itself in a couple of years, as pretty much any apologetic or cri de coeur might, but you could end up in a lot worse places than an emergent church.

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2 comments

  1. you were ‘generous’ in your review of brian’s book…


  2. I’ve just started reading it, mainly because a copy couldn’t be had for love or money, and I had to get it by mail order.

    And yes, I think you’ve pegged his intended audience pretty well.



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