Just finished reading Brian McLaren's book "a Generous Or+hodoxy" and although the epilogue brought me to tears when he describes some of the criticism he received when it was first published, the chapters on '... Incarnational' and '... Emergent' gave me a glimpse of a bright future for the church, the People of God.
Some time ago, somewhere on the Internet I read a negative critical review of this book. That review put me off acquiring or reading the book for quite a while. Now I understand it was probably written by an American fundamentalist.
The book has the magnificent subtitle "Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian." These are the chapter headings from the second part of the book. McLaren makes the point that there has been far too much fragmentation of the church because of focus on differences in theology, doctrine and practice and we have lost sight of the big chunk of orthodox belief that we have in common. In these chapters he weaves all these threads of the church together again.
This positioning of all the threads of the institutional denominational church appeals to me. In another place recently I assembled an inventory of my own wanderings through the denominations.
There is a lot I now understand better after reading this book (always comforting to read a book that confirms your current thinking and then challenges you to take the next step):
- that Jesus did not intend to establish (yet another) religion
- that He did not intend to establish the church the way we know it
- what Jesus meant when he sent His followers on a mission to declare the Kingdom of God
- some of the history of the church, including its history in North America and the why and how of fundamentalism there.
But it is the chapter "Why I am Incarnational" that put many things in place for me.
Here is a description of a way of being church that seems to me viable at the beginning of the 21st century and is one that is true to the roots of the church in the Gospel. Here McLaren outlines the relationship followers of Christ should have with believers in other religions - key words are humility, respect, engagement, dialogue, paradox, truth. A key quote:
"If, as a Christian, I am to love my neighbor as myself and to treat my neighbor as I would be treated, then without question one of my duties in regard to my neighbor of another religion is to value everything that is good that he offers me in neighborliness - including the opportunity to learn all I can from his religion. Another duty is to offer everything I have that could be of value to him - including the opportunity to learn from my religion if he can. This is not a compromise of my faith or his; this is a required practice of it." (p. 288)
It is this incarnational approach that, for me, lifts the church and Christianity onto a new plane (or at least gets it back onto that plane where it started). A plane where it has a confident global view. That confidence comes from knowing that it knows the truth. Yet a humble global view. A humility that comes from knowing it is loved by God and knowing that it's mission is to love.
"When I say we are linked and bound through Christ's incarnation to all people, I am not saying all religions are the same, it doesn't matter what you believe, truth is relative, blah, blah, blah. I am saying that because we follow Jesus, because we believe Jesus is true, and because Jesus moves toward all people in love and kindness and grace, we do the same. Our Christian identity must not make us afraid of, superior to, isolated from, defensive or aggressive toward, or otherwise hostile to people of other religions. Rather. the reverse." (p. 281)
Two more quotes:
On love in the chapter "Why I am a Fundamentalist/Calvinist":
"The way to know God is by following Jesus on that adventure. One doesn't learn what God is like in a library or a pew and then begin to love God in real life. One begins to love God and others in real life. In the process one learns what God is like - and one might be driven to the library and pew to learn more. 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." (p. 207)
On the Bible:
"This narrative approach does not lessen the agony one feels reading the conquest of Canaan with the eyes of one taught by Jesus to love all, including enemies. But it helps turn the Bible back into what it is, not a look-it-up encyclopedia of timeless moral truths, but the unfolding narrative of God at work in a violent, sinful world, calling people, beginning with Abraham, into a new way of life. This isn't the deterministic progress of Marxism or capitalism; this is the struggle of common people in the journey of faith, hope and love. And it challenges us: To be truly biblical does not mean being preoccupied with some golden age in the ancient world and God's word to the people back then. It means learning from the past to let God's story, God's will, and God's dream continue to come true in us and our children.
"But this is a whole new way of approaching the Bible, you say. This is a whole new concept of being biblical. Orthodoxy has a deeply different feel in this light - less rigid, more generous. Yes, I think you're right." (p. 190)