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


McLaren’s response to these critiques is contained in the closing paragraphs of his final chapter, entitled “Why I Am Unfinished.” (McLaren, 339):

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. Until God’s kingdom comes in fullness, the revolution of generous orthodoxy must continue: “In the upper world, hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration”. And so for this reason also, the adventure of generous orthodoxy is always unfinished (McLaren, 339)

Thus, McLaren avoids condemnation by claiming that his theology is always unfinished, a veritable moving target that pursues Jesus Christ and God’s kingdom without abandon. This makes McLaren quite slippery because it leaves him unable to be pinned down or typecast. But is this really a bad thing?

There are advantages to this approach. McLaren speaks of a tension between different views of orthodoxy. This tension is present with all claims of knowledge. How can one discern whether or not the claim is in fact truthful? Perhaps the answer is to live in tension. Rather than striving for black and white answers, why not live in shades of grey? The tension experienced when one gives up any claims to absolute truth can be discomforting at first, but over time, it can become a comfortable place to exist. Without the chains of absolute claims of divine truth, the individual is free to explore various experiences of God using various different methods of worship and revelation.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people cling to their denominational beliefs out of a sense of fear or insecurity about giving up their particular grounding in faith. McLaren suggests that some Christians carry on the Protestant ideal of protesting in an effort to “prove themselves right and others wrong” (McLaren, 138). Regardless of the motivations, many people cling to their denominational affiliations in order to remain validated in their Christian walk. Leaving the comforting confines of a congregational confession of faith suggests leaving behind the protection, purpose and destiny that is offered by that particular worldview. Should denominational change be viewed as a step backwards, or is denominational drift an acceptable part of the Christian faith?

Up next: “Personal Reflection and Final Wrap Up”

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