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The Gist of Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy [2]



The term ‘missional’ was popularized in the 1990s by the Gospel and Our Culture Network (gocn.org), and its important book ‘The Missional Church’ (Darrell Guder et.al, 1998). Earlier David Bosch, Lesslie Newbigin and Vincent Donovan insisted that theology ought to be a discipline within Christian mission, rather than vice-versa. Mission isn’t simply multiplying Christians, but making disciples of Jesus Christ in authentic community for the good of the world. So ministry is not simply what we do in the church, but it’s for mission. Every Christian is a missionary and mission field. Jesus’ good news is for the poor, the lost. It’s Good News for the whole world. Not simply (as to Abraham) ‘I will bless you’ but also that all nations will be blessed. The healthiest religion benefits its non-adherents.

Our mission is more than exclusivist (only some are saved) or universalist (all will be saved) or inclusivist (we are saved, plus some others). Rather our missional calling is to be a blessing to everyone on earth. Our mission is not to figure out who’s blessed, or not blessed, or unblessable. ‘Inclusivism says the gospel is efficacious for many, and exclusivists say for a comparative few. But I’m more interested in a gospel that is universally efficacious for the whole earth before death in history’ (p. 114).


(McLaren describes himself as a ‘middle-aged, bald introvert with a small Buddha belly and without proper credentials).

He’s a ‘small-e’ rather than a large-E evangelical (which these days is too often associated with the religious right). Or, with Dave Tomlinson –  ‘post-evangelical’, or (Robert Webber) ‘younger evangelical’. For small-e’s: ‘biblical’ is a favorite adjective; they emphasize personal conversion; believe God can be known and experienced with something like intimacy; want to share their faith with others –  ‘Evangelical’ simply means ‘pertaining to the Good News’.


The average Roman Catholic today sees indulgences (which, like expensive airline tickets were transferable) the same way Protestants will someday see their schmaltzy religious broadcasting or pop-atonement theology (what Dallas Willard calls ‘the gospel of sin management’), with embarrassment.  We Protestants have come close to selling indulgences ourselves (have you watched religious TV lately?).


How do we know ‘truth’? The medieval person would answer ‘The authorities’. But the authorities may be wrong –  in matters of science (Copernicus, Galileo), or faith (Luther, Calvin). ‘Here I stand’ may be considered the first statement uttered in the modern world. But what if an authoritative Bible seems to justify some dubious causes (slavery, male chauvinism, abuse of the environment, explaining away fossils)?

Liberal Christianity seemed increasingly domesticated, tame, sycophantic-  a Christianized version of leftist politics. Many of them know a lot about marching in demonstrations but little or nothing about, say, prayer. But since the 1980s the conservatives have been riding shotgun, making their claim to be the civil religion of America.

Liberals had put their human authority/reason above that of the Bible; but they claimed the conservatives’ faith was self-centred and self-serving. Liberals’ commitment to many social causes has been heroic; as has conservatives’ commitment to evangelism and discipleship. But both have in different ways sold out their spiritual birthright.


Von Balthasar: ‘God needs prophets in order to make himself known, and all prophets are artists: what a prophet has to say can never be said in prose.’

In Chesterton’s Orthodoxy mysticism is celebrated as essential not only to orthodoxy, but also to sanity itself. (The madman is not the man who has lost his reason, but who has lost everything except his reason). C S Lewis, writing between Chesterton and our age built his highly reasoned apologetic work around strongly imaginative metaphors. Today’s systematic theologies will be both coherent (hanging together, making sense when all the parts are integrated), conversational (never attempting to be the last word, and thus silence other voices), and comprehensive (relating to all of life).


I grew up believing the Bible was an answer-book – but now appreciate its humanness eg. Paul’s humanity, including his personal opinions (eg. 1 Corinthians 7:12) and biases (eg. Titus 1:12-13).

But ‘the “word of God” is never used in the Bible to refer to the Bible (the collection of 66 books hadn’t been compiled yet).

‘Oddly, I’ve never heard of a church or denomination that asked people to affirm a doctrinal statement like this: “The purpose of Scripture is to equip God’s people for good works”.’ Rather, conservatives use statements foreign to the Bible’s vocabulary about itself (inerrant, authoritative, literal, revelatory, objective, absolute, propositional etc.).

We need to reclaim the Bible as narrative, recounting what happened in terms of accuracy and ethics appropriate to the people of a particular era (rather than what is ideal or ethically desirable for all time). The Bible is a timely document rather than a timeless one.

How could God bless violent people? If homo sapiens exist today because they wiped out homo neanderthalenis, then God blesses the violent because there’s no one else to bless. As future generations might ask: how can God bless people who drove cars and heated homes with energy derived from fossil fuels, or paid for the creation of horrific weapons?


If charismatics gave me my high school diploma in the ways of the Spirit, it was from Catholic contemplatives that I entered an undergraduate degree in the liberal arts of the Spirit – Pentecostals and contemplatives both agree that joy and serenity are true hallmarks of spiritual vitality – Catholic contemplatives, it seems, have had an easier time with joy than non-charismatic Protestants, preoccupied as they tend to be with modern rationality, abstract theory, and depressing topics such as total depravity.

G K Chesterton, considering his life in retrospect, said that he had always had the almost mystical conviction of the miracle in all that exists, and of the rapture dwelling essentially within all experience.

I feel (not every single moment, but often) that I am carrying around this hilarious secret: that I actually own all things, that all things are mine –  because I am Christ’s and Christ is God’s, and God allows me to have things in the way that matters most. It is on this robust, overflowing charismatic/contemplative pathway that one gains the joy and serenity to be generous.


‘For me the fundamentals of the faith boil down to those given by Jesus: to love God and love our neighbours. These two fundamentals will not satisfy many fundamentalists, I fear. They’ll insist on asking ‘Which God are we supposed to love? The God of the Baptists or Brethren, the God of the Calvinists or Methodists, the God of the Muslims or Jews?’ I’ll respond by saying, ‘Whichever God Jesus was referring to.’ Then, still unsatisfied, they’ll probably ask, ‘What exactly do you mean by love? And who is my neighbour?’ At that point I’ll probably mutter something about Samaritans and walk away.’ (p. 184)

Anyone who doesn’t embark on the adventure of love doesn’t know God at all, whatever he can say or define or delineate, for God is love.

I have little time for determinism. If it’s true, then I can’t help but not believe it, because, after all, I have no choice. (And if you believe it, ditto).

‘Reformation is not a one time act to which a confessionalist could appeal and upon whose events a traditionalist could rest’ (Moltmann) –  ‘semper reformanda’ –  we’re continually being led and taught and guided by the Spirit into new truth.

Christian thought has been in transition from the Hebraic setting to the Hellenistic world, from the thought-forms of Greco-Roman culture to those of Franco-Germanic; from the world of medieval feudalism to the Renaissance –  to the Enlightenment; from the developed world to the third world – and currently from a modern to a post-modern cultural milieu.

Calvin’s descendants (among others) sometimes seem to believe they have been granted an exemption from 1 Corinthians 13 or Ephesians 4 or Colossians 3 in the defense of Calvinist theology.


I’m less interested in how and when you were baptized than I am in why and whether you live the meaning of your baptism, whenever it happened and however much water was used to do it.

Anabaptists have been underrepresented in the academy and have relatively few major theological voices there: they would rather express themselves in care for the poor, the land, and the community than in notional arguments.

While some Protestants seem to let Jesus be Savior, but promote Paul to lord and teacher, Anabaptists have always interpreted Paul through Jesus and not the reverse.

Anglicans seek a via media (John Donne’s phrase whose heritage dates back to Aristotle’s ‘golden mean’), or middle way. They sought both to retain what was of value from medieval Catholic Christianity and to embrace what was of value from the emerging Reformation movements. For Anglicans it is never ‘sola’ –  never only one factor. Scripture is always in dialogue with tradition, reason, and experience. Anglicans are practiced in compromise, in making room for one another when Scripture, reason, tradition and experience don’t line up for everyone the same way.



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