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A Generous Orthodoxy
by Brian D. McLaren,
Published by Youth Specialities, Zondervan 2004

The sub-title says it all really. 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.

In the title of this book Brian McLaren pays conscious tribute to G. K. Chesterton's classic Orthodoxy. Like Chesterton, McLaren isn't a theologian or a biblical scholar but a thinker, and a lover of words who sees orthodoxy not as ‘heavy, humdrum and safe … [but as] one whirling adventure' (Chesterton's words). He's also described as a pastor and a leader in the emergent church movement.

McLaren begins his introduction by addressing his potential readers: people on the inside and the outside of the Christian faith, people who have left, people looking for a reason not to leave, church leaders and beginning believers. He tells them all that his goal in this book is ‘to find a way to embrace the good in many traditions and historic streams of the Christian faith and to integrate them, yielding a new, generous, emergent approach that is greater than the sum of its parts.' His point, as he makes clear throughout the book, is that new discoveries do not (or need not) cancel out older learning but transcend and embrace it, as a tree grows by adding new growth rings.

McLaren begins Chapter 0 with a warning that it is ‘for Mature Audiences only'. He admits that for some the very phrase generous orthodoxy is oxymoronic. Orthodoxy, for many people, is anything but generous, being rather a club to batter people with. Nevertheless he persists in hoping for a kind of orthodoxy (right belief) which results in and also grows out of orthopraxy (right behaviour). After all what is the value of a right understanding of the Trinity, for example, that doesn't result in loving, honouring and serving the Trinity?

After the Introduction and Chapter 0, the first section of the book explains Why I am a Christian. The chapter titles intrigue: the Seven Jesuses I have known; Jesus and God B; Would Jesus be a Christian? Jesus: Saviour of What?

The following chapters describe The kind of Christian I am. They address the different themes of historic and contemporary Christian faith, affirming what each has added to the richness of the feast we can be nourished by and enjoy. There were some surprises there for me – the account of the beginning of the fundamentalist movement for example. The chapter on emergence puts forward liberating new ideas carried by powerful metaphors.

I like the tone of this book. It's personal, thoughtful, relaxed and lively. It's not preachy. McLaren recognizes that many of his readers won't like some or even a lot of what he is saying. He puts forward his views with passion, yet with respect for different perspectives. The feeling of this book is not of listening to a lecture, still less a diatribe, but of participating in a conversation.

A quote from the last chapter gives a taste of the book:

“To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed and mounted on the wall. It is rather to be in a loving (ethical) community of people who are seeking the truth (doctrine) on the road of mission … and who have been launched on the quest by Jesus, who, with us, guides us still. Do we have it? Have we taken hold of it? Not fully, not yet, of course not. But we keep seeking. We're finding enough to keep us going. But we're not finished. That to me is orthodoxy – a way of seeing and seeking, a way of living, a way of thinking and loving and learning that helps what we believe become more true over time, more resonant with the infinite glory that is God.”



To pursue the conversation visit Brian McLaren's website www.anewkindofchristian.com. There's a thoughtful critique of aspects of the book available along with McLaren's response to the critique.

See also www.emergentvillage.org

                                                                          Adrienne Thompson

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