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”


The Historical Jesus

In a recent series that I wrote entitled, The Atheist Delusion – Why I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins in 10 parts, by far the most popular post was Part 5: The Historical Jesus. I don’t feel that I did this post sufficient justice. So… I’m now providing a follow up series that provides more detail pertaining to the Historical Jesus.

In this series, I will be using a book by one of Dawkins’ contemporaries as my starting point:

Michel Onfray, in his recently published book, In Defense of Atheism, attempts to discredit religious worldviews through a systemic critique of modern faith traditions. In the section of his book entitled “The Construction of Jesus” [Onfray, In Defense of Atheism, 115-129.], Onfray suggests that the historical Jesus is a mythological figure who is revealed within a flawed set of documents. After closer inspection of Onfray’s claims, it becomes apparent that his perspectives on the historical Jesus are both uninformed and speculative and his argumentation collapses.

Here are the topics that I will be discussing, in order of their appearance:

  1. Historical Jesus Part 1: The Source Documents Are Forgeries
  2. Historical Jesus Part 2: Jesus as Fantasy
  3. Historical Jesus Part 3: Politics of the New Testament Canon
  4. Historical Jesus Part 4: Contradictions and Improbabilities
  5. Historical Jesus Part 5: Bibliography

Stick around and enjoy the ride. For those that criticized my last foray into this topic to be too light or not sufficient in its level of detail, this paper should be right up your alley. In this paper, I use many of the expected academic techniques to examine the evidence.

Note: I will be providing brief bibliographical information throughout the paper [in brackets] and I will provide a complete bibliography on the last day of this series. I’m just mentioning this up front in case anyone is wondering about specific sources.

And please do provide comments and feedback. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this topic further.



The Atheist Delusion – Why I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins in 10 parts

Richard Dawkins has put together an interesting package. His book, The God Delusion, has inspired a great deal of discussion and controversy. After reading the book, I find myself disappointed. I was expecting so much more. For such a great deal of noise, I expected some solid, faith-shattering arguments. Instead, I felt that Dawkins’ arguments were weak, lacking in solid logic and poorly assembled.

Why then am I going to spend time and effort refuting a book that I found to be so negative? Well… the popularity of the book requires some strong refutations in order to set the record straight. That’s my main purpose in posting this set of responses. Additionally, I can’t stand to see these guys (Dawkins, Sam Harris and the rest of their “crew”) thinking that they’ve got the upper hand. I have a keen interest in apologetics, so refuting this type of writing is a great passion for me. Note, apologetics doesn’t mean apologizing for my faith, but rather defending it on intellectual grounds.

Before I get started on my critique, a couple of first thoughts. There are a couple of things that Dawkins does quite badly throughout this book. They are:

  1. Lack of respect – Dawkins takes on a very confrontational tone in his writing. His arrogant and offensive tone is off-putting and it distracts from his writing. While he is entitled to his opinion, his negative attitudes towards religious belief can at times be seen as an emotional response rather than a rational one. Thus, his lack of respect towards those of alternate worldviews takes away from some of his arguments.
  2. Stereotyping – Dawkins groups all religious believers into one big pot, confusing the beliefs of many different faiths into his own, convenient negative hodge-podge. Rather than develop a clear and concise definition of his fundamentalist religious targets, he bunches all religious believers together. His glossing over of religious belief leaves the reader wondering if he has a clear understanding of the religious claims of each reader.

So without further ado, over the next few days, I’ll be tackling the following subjects, one by one:

  1. Straw Men – Dawkins weak proofs of God
  2. The Ultimate 747 – Is that the best he’s got?
  3. Problems with Organized Religion and Sociological Explanations for Religion
  4. The objective roots of morality
  5. The Historical Jesus
  6. The problem with fundamentalism
  7. The slippery slope of abortion
  8. Why not rid ourselves of religion, politics and economics all at the same time?
  9. Childhood abuse and brainwashing
  10. On Evolution and concluding thoughts

Be sure to check back daily. My goal is to post a new section each day, but this will ultimately depend on how much time I can devote to my posts each day. Please do forgive me if I can’t keep up to the daily writing requirements to get these finished on time.

Ultimately, I think the answer becomes one of cohabitation. I feel the presence of God in my life every day. And, I appreciate God’s presence, just as I appreciate the scientific progress in understanding the world that God has provided for us. I am thankful for the scientific research that allows us to lead fuller, richer lives. But I am conscious of the limitations that surround practical scientific research. While science provides us with tools for survival, science lacks the moral compass required to be wise with it. for that, I look to God.

In Him,

Todd Dow


Family Matters

In this four part series, I’ll be posting a recent sermon that I delivered entitled, “Family Matters.”

Topic: Family
Title: Family Matters
Key Verse: Proverbs 22:6

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Lord, may you be present in this message and in the reflection that results from it. I ask that you bless this time to our continued walk with you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Family matters. Each of us can relate with that. When we look at someone’s success or failure, we tend to look at the influences that have defined that person. And first and foremost on that list is the impact that family has had on an individual.

I read an article this past week in the Hamilton Spectator about a guy named Jesse Lumsden. He’s a football player for the Hamilton Ticats. His dad was a football player as well and the article went into great depth about how Jesse grew up in a family surrounded by football. The article provides a great deal of insight into the years of football influence that went from father to son. Thus, it’s no surprise that Jesse grew up to be a football player. And he’s turning into a pretty good one, at that. His father has had a tremendous impact on Jesse’s direction in life.

Look at others as well… I love biography books. Augustine, Billy Graham… They all point to the impact that their childhood had on them. I’ve been reading Bill Clinton’s autobiography, entitled “My Life”, and in it, Bill spends a great deal of time highlighting the influences from his upbringing and how they affected his policies and decisions throughout his life, including how they influenced his policy decisions as president.

There’s no denying that family, or lack thereof, is perhaps the single most important influencer that we’re likely to have in our lives.

What is a family?
Family can mean different things to different people. Traditionally, we’re talking about mom, dad and a couple of kids. But families come in plenty of shapes and sizes. There are single parent families. Some families consist of two sets of parents. Other families have no parents at all. Some athletes refer to their teammates as their family. Soldiers refer to their comrades as their family.

Jesus expands the meaning of family further when he says:
Mark 3:35: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

So we have a pretty wide definition of family going on here. Family, loosely termed, could be a group of like people that rely on one another as part of a team. In a more traditional definition, family consists of parents and children. For the sake of my message today, I am going to focus on the traditional family situation, but the core of my message could just as easily apply to other types of “family” situations as well.

Within the family, there is tremendous opportunity. As parents, we all know the responsibility that comes with raising kids. I’ve got two little ones at home. Noah and Katie. Noah’s almost two. Katie’s coming up on four months old. I love them both more than I ever thought possible. Five years ago, there is no way I was able to comprehend the deep level of love that I feel today for them. It’s crazy. It’s so great.
I want to share a story of something really touching that happened this week with my family:
The other night, Julie, Noah, Katie and I were going out for dinner. We were all in the car and we were driving. Noah, in his tiny little two year old voice, from the backseat, excitedly said, “we’re going out all together.” We hear this from him at home when we’re together as well. “We’re doing this all together.” He’s also started saying, “We’re doing this as a family.” They’re such great statements. He gets so excited when we’re doing things “all together” “as a family”. He recognizes when we’re together as a family and he announces it. He’s only two and he’s already recognizing the importance of doing things “all together” “as a family”. There’s something innate in him that recognizes and yearns for that time together.

Sociologists have long thought that family dynamics play an extremely influential role in one’s personality later in life. Several factors play an important role in childhood development, including number of parents present, birth order, gender, parenting styles and birth order of the parents. These and many other factors all contribute to the experience that a child has in the home.

To most of us that grew up in a traditional family, this doesn’t sound like a big deal. But when you look back and start reflecting on your childhood within the context of these factors, you start to recognize the impact that these factors play. Gender is huge… girls and boys are typically encouraged to do certain gender specific activities.

Birth order’s another one… how many older siblings here today still feel a nagging feeling that your younger brother or sister is getting away with something that they shouldn’t be?

And how many younger siblings feel that their older brothers or sisters are too bossy and domineering?

Last year, in our Christian Parenting class, we spent a few classes discussing these factors. We found that these factors were present in many families. And we also realized that while we might be able to ease some of the effects of these factors, it isn’t always possible to remove these factors entirely. And really… would we want to? These factors make us who we are.

And really… it’s in our best interest to have happy healthy families. Remember that today’s children will be tomorrow’s parents, teachers and leaders. Strong, healthy families now will ensure strong, healthy leaders for tomorrow. Investing now will certainly pay off in the future.

So what can we do to make strong families? There are plenty of recipes for healthy families. I’ve boiled down a ton of research into three buckets.

Coming up next: The 1st Building Block of a Happy Family.


Todd’s Search for Meaning

I thought I’d take a few days to give a bit of biographical detail on my religious walk. I’ll take the next few days to give some commentary on the following topics:

  1. My background – Where I come from, what prompted my search, my ambitions, etc.
  2. Maintaining My Faith as a Philosophy Undergrad Student – this isn’t as easy as it sounds!
  3. Pastoral Experience – What have a I learned so far as a student pastor?
  4. Grad School – My experience so far at Divinity School.
  5. Next steps – Where Am I Headed? What are my plans?

Today, I’ll talk a bit about my background and what prompted me to become so strong in my faith.

I grew up in a Christian home and I went to chuch when I was little. But religion was never pushed on me as a child. I was given the choice to pursue my faith as I grew older. For a while in my teen years, I drifted away from the church. As I moved into my 20s and started to think about settling down and getting married, I started thinking about the importance of church in family life. I always had this idea that I would like to get back in tune with God, but it wasn’t until I got married that I found my way back. My wife, Julie, is a strong Christian and she became my catalyst for coming back to Church. We were married in her home church. I was baptized in that church about a year after we got married (there was no peer pressure from my wife – it was my choice.) I became comfortable going to church again as a result of these activities.

That’s all fine and good, but why the strong attraction to religion? Plenty of people find themselves going to church as a family. That doesn’t mean that they go and sign up for divinity school and have ambitions of becoming a pastor. What prompted my desire to become so closely aligned with God?

Well… around my mid-twenties, I started working on my undergrad degree part time at the University of Toronto. I was working full time and I wanted to finish my degree to further my career and also for the personal benefits of additional education. And, I was experiencing a reawakening of my faith, so I thought what better topic to study than my belief in God and my interest in Chrisitanity. So, I enrolled in a specialist program in philosophy and religious studies.

This was just what I needed: the chance to learn more about my faith from experts in the field. Little did I know when I enrolled that this program that many of the thoughts that I would run into during this time would challenge the established views of the church. I’ll speak more on this next time though. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

My goal during my undergrad was to firmly establish my faith and to learn how to intelligently articulate my faith to others. I wasn’t happy to just say that I believed because that’s what I was taught in Sunday school as a kid. I needed to be able to understand and explain my faith to others in a way that made sense.

And, I also used my undergrad years to temper my faith. I quietly researched potential career options in ministry during my undergrad years, but I kept I pretty quiet as I wanted to see just how serious I was and I wanted to make sure that my interest in Christian ministry wasn’t just a short term fad.

Well, I’m well into my graduate degree, and there are no signs of waning passion for ministry. So… looks like my faith has survived so far.

Stay tuned! Next time, we’ll discuss Maintaining My Faith as a Philosophy Undergrad Student.

Talk soon!