Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Generous Orthodoxy

Reread Brian McLaren’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004). I have enjoyed reading the book the first time and the second reading is helpful because it is helps me to put into perspective, the impressions I have in the first reading. Like all of Brian’s books, he throws a lot of things at you at the same time and you have to fight to make sense of them. Sometimes in reading Brian’s writings, I feel like I am fitting together a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle; linear thinking is a hindrance rather than a help!

I like the title “a generous orthodoxy” though I wondered how an orthodoxy can be generous.

Hans Frei supposedly coined the phrase “generous orthodoxy”.

My own vision of what might be propitious for our day, split as we are, not so much into denominations as into schools of thought, is that we need a kind of generous orthodoxy which would have in it an element of liberalism—a voice like the Christian Century—and an element of evangelicalism—the voice of Christianity Today. I don't know if there is a voice between those two, as a matter of fact. If there is, I would like to pursue it.

This was picked up by Stanley Grenz in his book Renewing the Center.

Calling for a renewal of an evangelical center to the church of Jesus Christ, a center characterized by a 'generous orthodoxy.'

Brian described himself as a

which about covers the whole range of belief and traditions in Christianity. Talk about covering all his bases! In each chapter, Brian shared his experiences and autobiography and how he came to that point in his spiritual journey. It is refreshing to be able to read about his struggles and his doubts. Sometimes I think it is very sad to assume that Christians know all truth and never have doubts. If we know all truth, then we do not need the Holy Spirit and if we do not have doubts, we should be in heaven (where we see clearly).

I must say that Brian is very generous in his assessment of the state of the church and other Christians. I wish other and other were as generous towards him. Fortunately there are other.However, in terms of orthodoxy, I saw how he cleverly tred his way between theological landmines without setting them off. He also skirted the edges of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy without being pulled in. Though I do not agree with everything he wrote, I have enjoyed his explanations and tried to see things from his point of view.

If there is a word I would use to describe this book, it will be bridge-building (oops, actually two words). It is a start of building bridges to other shores, ideas and practices. I guess a conversation is also a form of bridge building. And I am enjoying the conversation from people on both sides of the bridge. Some grassroot discussion here.

soli deo gloria

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Blogger Sivin Kit said...

nice to read a generous review of the book from Malaysia. I wonder whether it's because there's a need from our context towards polarization that helps us to appreciate what he's trying to convey/confess in his book.

For me it was a helpful book to see how one person models his reflective journey in different streams and experiences in and of Christianity while trying his best to make sense of it.

Tragically, in our settings many of us are tempted either to hold on to securities of past traditionalism or the perceived success of future trends without the reflective stance that Brian demonstrates here.

Like his other writings, his methodology (for lack of a better term) and his attitude of generosity towards others and also the self-critical dimension is what I appreciate.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

well I am a generous guy *smile*

It may be as you said that our context is a polarised multicultural pluralistic society that makes us open to what he is saying. But I do not think so. As you would know, there are people with closed mind here too.

It may be that we were spared (somewhat) the theological battles between the liberals and fundamentalist of the last century that we are more open. IMHO people who have the most problem with the emerging churches are those from systematic theology background (mostly from academia) while those at the grassroots and practicing practical theology are more receptive.

In our settings, I feel that many of us who hold on to past traditionalism may not be because of any theological concern, but plain apathy (apathia as you will know is one of the seven cardinal sins). We are just plain lazy. If it works, let us carry on. It is easy to be in maintenance model. Instead of being fisher of men (which is hard work), let us be keepers of aquarium.

Brian's methodology (and I know he has one) is to demonstrate post modernist thinking. It may seem haphazard and unstructured but I think I see the pattern in his 'madness'. I believe he is also intentionally provocative.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's easy to be generous with something you don't have.

4:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reinvention of Christianity, the most traditional of American contributions to religious history, proceeds apace. Publisher’s Weekly is excited. An article, “Pomos Toward Paradise,” breathlessly reports the pomos (postmoderns) of the “emerging church” who are rapidly moving toward the paradise of big commercial success, with many of them having arrived. Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian is a tremendous hit.

McLaren “calls the emerging church a ‘conversation’ rather than a movement.” It appears that even “movement” suggests too much of an institutional commitment for “emergents” who want to float unencumbered in their spiritual fancies.

Says McLaren, “They’re asking questions about what it means to be a Christian in a postmodern, postcolonial world.” Postcolonial? One waits in vain for the postinanity era in the spiritual hustling of what PW calls the world of “viral networking.” (Viral as in virus, one assumes.)

A successful marketer explains, “A lot of people who fit into the postmodern category don’t want to be identified as Christian.”

Christ is so much easier to take without the riffraff he has attracted over the centuries. The Relevant Media Group is near the top of the market with a “hip, twenty-something demographic that is the primary core of postmodern thinking.” For Relevant, we are told, “the ‘real world’ is largely an urban one.” “We want to be part of our readers’ world,” says a spokesman, so the company is moving from an affluent suburb to a site closer to the center of Orlando, Florida. You can hardly get more urban than that.

Postmodern, postcolonial, emerging, viral networking—it’s mostly the hype and chatter of religious pandering to a neophiliac culture. In addition to cashing in on the newest new thing, I expect most of these authors and perhaps even some of the publishers think they are winning souls for Christ.

Christianity Today, the mainline evangelical magazine, pays a lot of attention and is concerned about the theological vacuity and doctrinal deviations of the industry, as well it should be. But the stuff sells, as witness PW’s list of the top-forty religion bestsellers in the same issue, a list which (except for one book by the estimable C. S. Lewis) runs the gamut from lower to higher kitsch.

Of course, such an observation smacks of elitism, as in having a taste for excellence. The higher elitism, however, is not scornful toward the inevitability of the popular always being popular, as in vulgar, and holds on to the hope that those who sell the fake satisfactions of being superior to Christianity as it has been believed and lived through time will, however inadvertently, lead some people to a commitment to Christ, including his mostly quite ordinary friends who are the Church.

Seeing through the preening self-importance of “seeker,” “emergent,” “pomo,” and whatever is next month’s hot spiritual pretension, they might even find the courage to call themselves Christians.

- Richard John Neuhaus, in First Things, March 2005

4:37 AM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

Alex you have hit on an important point: "It may seem haphazard and unstructured but I think I see the pattern in his 'madness'. I believe he is also intentionally provocative."

Scot Mcknight's article in CT, 5 Streams of the Emerging Church also brings this point out.

After reading all of Brian's books and being in email contact with him plus talking to a number of people who are close to him, the personal dimension helps to avoid a more detached reading of his works and appreciate the context in which he comes from.

So far while there are some fair critics (here is one good example: A Brotherly Critique and Response to "A Generous Orthodoxy"), I found it more educational to understand his critics than the criticism they throw at him. Brian doesn't have everything right and i don't think he has ever portrayed himself in that light. It's also interesting to read and pick out some lessons from Brian's personal responses to his readers as well as commentary and criticism on himself and the emergent conversation in general here:

Brian's Annotation to "The Emergent Mystique" - CT article

Note to Readers

A Friendly Note to My Critics

The irony is a lot of what Brian is saying has been said by many others here in Asia or even in the west perhaps in different ways. So, when I see critics get a little too personal or excited it makes me wonder what will they say when they hear what many of us have to say here? I'm just wondering ...

4:36 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi anon,

Yes, I agree. It is easy to be generous with something you don't have. However it is also easy to be generous with something that you have.

On the other hand, it is easy not to be generous with something you don't have and it is easy not to be genorous with something that you have but are not willing to give.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi sivin,

yes, it will interesting to see the responses in the coming Friends in Conversation: A Quiet Revolution of Hope.

After studying many of his writings and speeches, I agree with you that many of the things or themes Brian has touched upon are neither original nor unique by him. What was unique was that he was able to collect what many other people has been saying for a long time and gather them into one place.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

dear anon,

Thank you for the quotation from Richard John Neuhas (a Lutheran theologian who converted to Catholicism in 1990 ) from First Things journal March 2005. However I was unable to find the quotation in the March 2005 issue. Could you please direct me to the article from which the quotation was drawn from?

However the March 2005 issue of First Things did have a wonderful article, "The Call to Holiness" which is a call for unity and tolerance between Roman Catholicism and Protestants.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Google: "first things" postinanity

and you'll find it. I think I had to click on the cache to pick it up though.

I can't wait for First Things, Touchstone and the blogosphere to start documenting the "Postinanity" trend and perhaps, God willing the big "O" "Orthodox" revival.

Stories like this one:

More Americans joining Orthodox Christian churches

The Associated Press

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Greg Mencotti worried he'd never find a spiritual home.

The Sunday-school teacher grew up Roman Catholic then lost his faith. Eventually, he returned to Christianity, this time as a born-again Christian, spending years worshipping in a Methodist congregation. Still, he felt his search wasn't over.

That led him to the Antiochian Orthodox Church, a denomination with Middle East ties that, like all Orthodox groups, traces its roots to the earliest days of Christianity.

Today, Mencotti is one of about 250 million Orthodox believers worldwide — and among a significant number of newcomers attracted to this ancient way of worship. The trend is especially notable because so few in the U.S. know about the Orthodox churches here.

"I was like most Americans," said Mencotti, who was urged by his wife to explore Orthodox worship. "I didn't understand anything about Orthodoxy."

Orthodoxy was born from the Great Schism of 1054 [this needs to be corrected, the Orthodox Church was born with the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost], when feuds over papal authority and differences in the liturgy split Christianity into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox halves.

In the U.S., Orthodox Christians are a fraction of religious believers, numbering about 1.2 million, according to estimates by Orthodox researchers.

In the past, their growth had been largely fueled by immigration, with churches forming mainly along ethnic lines. Some converts came to Orthodoxy through marriage to a church member.

But now about one-third of all U.S. Orthodox priests are converts — and that number is likely to grow, according to Alexei Krindatch, research director at the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, Calif. A 2006 survey of the four Orthodox seminaries in the country found that about 43 percent of seminarians are converts, Krindatch said.

There are no exact figures on the rate of conversion across the 22 separate U.S. Orthodox jurisdictions. But when Mencotti began attending Orthodox worship, the church was packed with converts, including the church's pastor, the Rev. John Dixon.

Orthodox churches in Washington state, too, are seeing more newcomers from previous faiths.

Cliff Argue, who works with the Washington Orthodox Clergy Association, which has about 25 member churches, doesn't have numbers but says, "It's safe to say that many of the parishes, if not all the parishes, are seeing increased number of converts in the church."

In the past, most who converted did so after marrying into the faith. More recently, though, Argue says, Orthodox churches are seeing people who may be searching for something they aren't finding in other faiths, or people who want to join because of changes in practice or theology in their own denominations.

Part of the attraction, he believes, is that the Orthodox church "is pretty much the same as it's been for 2,000 years."

The Rev. John Matusiak, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Wheaton, Ill., part of the Orthodox Church in America, said his parish has grown from 20 people in the early 1990s to more than 600 today, with the overwhelming majority of new members younger than 40.

Krindatch's research found that one-third of the more than 200 U.S. parishes in the Antiochian Orthodox Church were founded after 1990.

Matusiak said growth is especially apparent in suburbs and commuter towns. "People in Wheaton weren't flocking to Orthodoxy because there was never a church here," Matusiak said.

Many converts credit the beauty of the liturgy and the durability of the theology, which can be a comfort to those seeking shelter from divisive battles over biblical interpretation in other Christian traditions.

Dixon, who was raised an Old Regular Baptist, an austere faith of the Southern Appalachians, said his conversion grew from his studies about the origins of Christianity as an undergraduate at Marshall University. The turning point came when he first attended services at an Orthodox church.

"As soon as I came in that day," he says, "I knew I was home."

Convert-fueled growth, though, has its challenges.

Like converts in all faiths, the newly Orthodox bring a zeal that can be unsettling for those born into the church, who tend to be more easygoing in their religious observance. Parishes run the risk of dividing between new and lifelong parishioners, Krindatch says.

And some worry about converts' impact on the churches. They are entering the parishes at a time when many lay activists across Orthodox denominations are pushing church leaders to let go of ethnic divisions and pool resources so they can better evangelize in the United States.

The Rev. Joseph Huneycutt, author of "One Flew Over the Onion Dome," a book about conversion, and the editor of OrthoDixie, a blog about Orthodoxy in the South, said he was drawn to the faith by the beauty of its rituals and its teachings.

On his first visit, he said the church was filled with the smell of incense and the sound of the chanted Divine Liturgy. The altar was largely concealed by the iconostasis, a large screen or wall hung with icons of Christ, Mary, angels and Apostles. And worshippers received Communion from a chalice and spoon.

"I had become convinced that the Eucharist was the center of Christian worship — ancient Christian worship," Huneycutt says. "Once I had reached that point in my personal walk with Christ, there was no going back."


The Orthodox Metropolinate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia

Orthodoxy in China

Orthodox Church in America: www.oca.org/

Antiochian Orthodox Church: www.antiochian.org/

3:22 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

dear anon,

thank you for your information on postinanity and Orthodox revival.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

"What was unique was that he was able to collect what many other people has been saying for a long time and gather them into one place."

This is a very important perspective and comment. I feel the same way.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...


I believe every generation of serious devoted Christians had been doing the same thing. Initially they will be called heretics until after a while their views have been accepted and now they are mainline.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

as a Lutheran, I can't help to think of Martin Luther when I read your comment Alex :-) Ok I admit, I'm bias!

8:58 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

yes, sivin, Luther was one of those I have in mind when I wrote that. Along with Anthony of the desert,Athanasius, Augustine, Benedict,Bernard of Claurvaux, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Meister Eckhart,Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and James Houston.

9:55 PM  

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