Tension in Tolerence: A Review of Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy” – Part I

In this four part series, I’ll be providing a book review of Brian D. McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy“. Today, I’ll provide an introduction and overview of the book. Next, I’ll provide some objections. From there, I’ll respond to some of those objections. And finally, I’ll wrap up with some personal reflection and a summary. So, stick around and be sure to provide comments and feedback!

In the book “A Generous Orthodoxy”, Brian McLaren presents an approach to Christianity that is both positively refreshing and troublingly devoid of a solid doctrinal foundation. While McLaren can be applauded for his inclusive approach to Christian practice, this also appears to be his biggest challenge. McLaren’s writing highlights the tension between dogmatism and the freedom and variety of Christian expression. Ultimately, the book is an inspiration to those that appreciate the loving inclusiveness celebrated and championed by Jesus.

McLaren has written a brilliant treatise that speaks to those who value the spiritual gifts of Christianity but who frown upon the doctrinal divisions that have split the church. McLaren speaks to the postmodern objection to certainty and knowledge by inviting a spectrum of religious worship in its many forms, perspectives and expressions of faith. McLaren argues that Christian orthodoxy, defined as “right thinking and opinion about the gospel” (McLaren, 35), is to be humble, charitable, courageous and diligent (McLaren, 34). The goal of this “generous” inclusiveness is to affirm “the importance of orthodox doctrine” (McLaren, 36), while placing doctrinal distinctives “in their marginal place.” (McLaren, 36) This “generous orthodoxy” not only encourages cross-denominational Christian discussion, but it also extends the olive branch to other faiths, allowing for interfaith dialogue and collaboration.

McLaren’s Christian vision centres itself on the understanding of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels. This view minimizes the doctrinal and theological extensions that have been generated through centuries of theological discourse and gospel-filtering. This vision demands that the practitioner appreciate the truth claims in competing religious experiences. McLaren, speaking of the “Seven Jesuses he has known”, asks:

Why not celebrate them all? Already, many people are using terms like post-Protestant, post-denominational, post-liberal, and post-conservative to express a desire to move beyond the polarization and sectarianism that have too often characterized Christians of the past (as we’ll discuss in Chapters 6 and 7). Up until recent decades, each tribe felt it had to uphold one image of Jesus and undermine some or all of the others. What if, instead, we saw these various emphases as partial projections that together can create a hologram: a richer, multidimensional vision of Jesus? (McLaren, 74)

Instead of focusing on the differences as divisive details, McLaren suggests that we embrace the differences, wrapping ourselves in a quilt of diverse and multifaceted perspectives. Ultimately, according to McLaren, we should “enjoy the feast of generous orthodoxy” (McLaren, 74) that such an all-encompassing perspective generates.

Up next: “Objections to McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy”

By Todd Dow

Author, Geek, CF fundraiser & Cancer Survivor. My family, baseball, infosec, privacy & devops are a few of my favorite things.

One reply on “Tension in Tolerence: A Review of Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy” – Part I”

I think it is by building from an ambiguous foundation that Mclaren finds his doctrine. Perhaps his book might be taken as an anti-doctrinal statement. Not against as in it’s a terrible thing but against as in against putting himself in a box. He doesn’t want to label himself as conservative or liberal (theologically) and thus puts himself beyond the reach of both labels in to “post” perhaps modernism, liberalism, conservatism or simply “post” that. Wanting to not let labels keep him from learning all there is to learn about spirituality and identity in this world and beyond it.

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