A Generous Orthodoxy, Critique

“It tastes like an ashtray,” Margi stated. “Yes,” I replied happily. “But a really good ashtray. With caffeine.” I like my morning coffee to be strong. French Roast. Margi pours a third of a cup and fills the rest with boiling water. The pleasures of married life.

I am tired of Brian McLaren. If you don’t know who he is, don’t worry. If you want to see the Wikipedia article, click here. I have not met Brian personally, and I’m sure he is a wonderful man. I’m equally sure that he would as quickly tire of me, but that’s neither here nor there.

I don’t like the theology he his perpetuating, especially among younger church leaders today. There, I’ve said it. Or actually, what McLaren puts forth is more like an un-theology, or an anti-theology, or even a non-theology. His core book on theology is called A Generous Orthodoxy. The only word in that title that’s on target is “A”. He is not generous at all toward traditional evangelicalism. And he avoids any clear cut statement than any theologian would identify as orthodox.

So, when Brian McLaren turns out to be the keynote speaker at a major conference, that nixes it for me.

Here are four main landmines on today’s theological landscape:

  1. Who goes and who doesn’t go to heaven. The biblical view as espoused by every major evangelical leader and institution is called particularism. Only those who believe in Jesus by name/identity go to heaven. Departing from this historic view, too many leaders, including (perhaps–it’s hard to pin him down) McLaren and others seem to espouse universalistic exclusivism. This view affirms that all religions lead to God, through Jesus. Even if the practitioners of those religions don’t know about our believe in Jesus. Kiss world missions goodbye.
  2. Salvation by faith or salvation by works. This is the hallmark distinctive of biblical Christianity. There is an increasing movement to urge people to live the Jesus lifestyle, but without leading them to receive the Jesus LIFE–that mystical life of the indwelling Christ which can only be received by personal faith in and reliance upon the Person who lived in Jerusalem, and died by crucifixion as a substitute for our sins.
  3. The primacy of the Word of God and preaching OR sacramentalism. In the 70’s I grew up in an era that was trying to do away with preaching. It’s deja vu all over again. There will never be a substitute for the in-depth, theological, expository preaching of the Word of God. When we move over to sacramental systems, such as Orthodox or Catholic style liturgies, we invariably minimize the preached word. The danger of this is a church that has no rational core. No ability to withstand the strongholds of secularism or atheism. Without a core truth, the church perishes. And every generation must deposit that core truth in the minds and hearts of all of God’s people. Can I get an Amen?
  4. Church vs Jesus. I’m tired of the mantra that people can love Jesus but hate the church. Yes, I get it. Many unchurched, unsaved, unwhatevers, seekers feel that way. I get that. BUT that does not justify fostering that opinion among young Christians. Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, says Paul. How can we love Jesus and hate what he loves? I will build my church, promised Jesus. How can we love Jesus and hate what he is building? If church is doing some hateful things, get involved and fix it. Just make sure the Bible is your blueprint.

That’s enough for now. On each of these issues, and so many more, Brian McLaren comes down on the opposite side, against historic, biblical, evangelical theology. Perhaps D.A. Carson is right on when he writes, “I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and [Steve] Chalke have largely abandoned the gospel” (D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, (2005), p.186).

What do you think? I’m gonna make another pot of coffee.


12 thoughts on “A Generous Orthodoxy, Critique

  1. Ok – well you don’t pull any punches…do you? LOL! I am glad my father sent me your link. I used to experience lots of people in my sphere of influence that felt frustrated with “Christians”… but I have noticed a shift in that opinion. I have recently seen more people turned on to Jesus because of great believers involved AT church. Maybe that is because I have such an awesome church – Community Christian Church in Naperville! I believe Christians have become more like Jesus and crossed cultural barriers easier in the last 10 years or so. What do you think?

    Melody (Your loving student)

  2. Donny, thanks for all your help getting launched. Your experience and your expertise (at donnysramblings.com) are an incredible blessing.

    Melody, great to hear from you. I’ve heard about your ministry (globalfamilyrescue.org) and totally support it. Nope, I’m old enough to not have to pull punches!


  3. I would like to ask your input about some questions that I have regarding the land mines you wrote about here. To be honest, which I always try to be, I have some major questions that arise in my head when reading through all of this.

    For one, what happens to people who have never heard about Jesus? And what happens to Muslims, who would never in a million years believe that a Jew can save them? How could any of us accept that our mortal enemy is our only salvation?

    Those are difficult questions for me. I’d be interested to see your take on them.

  4. John Piper preaches an excellent sermon on the supremacy of Christ. It was at the Reformission conference in 2004. In it he takes the emergent movement to the woodshed for their “blasphemy” (his word) of denying the necessity of the death of our Lord. I have to give both sides credit, though. He knew there would be many emergent types at the conference. And the emergents knew that speakers like Piper, Don Carson and others would be spanking them. You can download it and other speakers at theresurgence.com.
    I’m not too concerned about them, though. For one, the gates of hell can’t prevail against the church. Two, we’ve seen this movement before and it came to nothing. And three, for all their sincere, deep, “new” approach to old questions, they end up offering people nothing. They are giving artistic outlets to people; the art of some of their writing is great, but it has no foundation. It washes away. I don’t know if McLaren tires me as much as he disappoints me.

  5. Hi, I just randomly ran across your blog. You have some good things to say here, but I have to disagree with you on one point. I hope you don’t mind having a little disagreement on your blog. I’m certainly not defending McLaren; I agree that such doctrines will fly away like chaff in time. But a couple of your shots ended up across my bow, so I feel like I should respond. I hope I don’t come across as argumentative.

    I understand what you’re saying about the centrality of the exposition, I used to say the same things. Recently, I’ve been in the process of leaving the evangelical world and embracing liturgical worship, and I’ve found it to be much more mentally and spiritually engaging than anything I’ve known before.

    First, embracing liturgical worship does not necessitate losing a rational core. Truth can be (and is) exposited and the Word taught without it being the centerpiece of worship. I’ve seen many households where the faith is taught on the family’s time and not left up to the preacher on Sunday morning (and sometimes Wednesday nights). I believe that the centerpiece of worship should not be the sermon, which is what one man says about Scripture, and thus may or may not be true.

    Second, your assertion about atheism and secularism gaining a foothold in liturgical worship seems a little ironic to me. What society has embraced secularism like ours, we who are the very heart of Evangelicalism? What churches are the most secular? What society is more God-hating than ours? The Orthodox and Catholic churches have been amazingly stalwart against the attacks of secularism and atheism. As for the Evangelical church? No church plays the chameleon nearly so well, even for all its weekly exposition. McLaren & Co are simply another shade. Some may find this arguable, but I think the proof is in the pudding.

    Sorry for being so longwinded. I’m interested in hearing any responses. Peace to you and yours.

  6. bill . . . i will enjoy hearing your thoughts & your heart . . . in regards to this blog, I have always wondered why we, as Christians, spend so much time bashing other Christians in order to support our own opinions? I do not believe this is the heart of God . . . Jesus says, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” We’re on the same team . . . by the way, have you read Rob Bell’s new book, ‘SexGod’?

  7. response to Nathan Edwardson
    Hi Nathan. Thanks for checking in. I hope you don’t see my critique of McLaren as “bashing other Christians in order to support our own opinions.” That’s not my heart. At the same time, pastors like you and me are exhorted to: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4:2, NIV. There’s a time to issue rebuke and correction. You wouldn’t call that bashing would you? I first read McLaren after hearing way too many YOUNG ADULT CHRISTIANS espouse teachings that went against Scripture, and against historic Christianity. And most of them had been directly or indirectly influenced by McLaren and a couple of others in the emerging church dialogue. Most of that dialogue is great. Some of it isn’t, and we pastors need help our people sort it out. Not that we have the answers, but anybody who’s going to move away from core evangelical doctrines better have an airtight Scriptural argument, don’t you think? I hope that the Stirring is doing great!
    Let’s have coffee or lunch.

  8. response to Kellen
    Nope, don’t mind disagreement at all. I hope that my blog can stimulate some discussion on theology and church topics without being nasty. I really appreciate your spirit.

    I am not against liturgical/sacramental types of worship. My concern is when these things occur at the expense of the spoken and taught Word. While liturgy and sacramentalism can in their own ways teach truth, they only go so far. That’s what I meant about standing against secularism and atheism. How will the next two generations of Christians answer the increasingly hostile objections of secular society without advanced instruction in the deep things of God, the whole counsel of God, the meat of the Word? That’s the “rational core” I’m referring to. In my experience, as people I know move toward rituals, sacraments, and liturgies, they simultaneously move away from the in-depth teaching of the Word. There is a reason why the Reformers (especially the Radical Reformers) moved the PULPIT TO THE CENTER.
    I amen that and I get very nervous when the pulpit is returned to the periphery so that the “altar” can be returned to the center.

  9. Hello from Buffalo!

    Thought I’d toss in a couple of pennies on this one…

    …McLaren is intentionally vague, I like that. It seems in keeping with the pedagogy of our Master. Why should our preaching be held to a standard that Jesus never held himself to?? This is frightening, I admit, but also freeing. This is one of the primary things I credit McLaren with illuminating for me.

    It seems to me that Jesus was not all that concerned with communicating “propositional truths” or disseminating information. This is of course, set within the context of twelve men (and all of the camp followers), spending twenty-four hours a day with Jesus. It is this transmission of life that Jesus was primarily concerned with, and it is ultimately only truly possible in a “life-on-life” setting, such as the one Jesus created for his disciples.

    When I think of the things my pastor taught me, the things of influence, what tops the list are not the sermons he preached. The way he read the Bible, and the questions he brought to it (and the questions he DIDN’T bring to), have drastically effected my understanding of God, and yet this was not a result of a sermon on “how to read your Bible” but rather a result of spending five years watching him read his, watching him interact with the text…

    …I said to a friend once, and was severely reprimanded for it, that preaching is one of the least important things a pastor does. I still believe it. I don’t think of the sermon’s I’ve listened to, but rather the way someone treated me; I don’t remember illustrations used, but rather the fact that what was preached was also lived. Simply put, the job-description of a pastor-teacher has never been about information. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

    I would never say that preaching and teaching are unimportant, or unecessary, only that they are simply not central. There are many things “emergent” that I find overly reactionary (throwing out proverbial babies…) yet I find the common critiques of gentlemen like Carson to have missed the point of what someone like McLaren is trying to accomplish.

    It is not that the altar should be in the center and the pulpit off to the side….

    …it is rather that the altar and the pulpit, BOTH, should be peripheral to a life lived. Not unimportant, simply not central. The pulpit and the altar are places of catalyst, as well as places of manifestation, of the life of Christ. But it is my heartfelt contention that it is this life present within ours that is the central aspect of the gospel (Mark 1:15 you have to check out D. Willard’s translation of this verse in Conspiracy, although you probably already have, Luke 17:21)

    It is along the lines of your second point…

    …are we inviting someone to perform religious exercises (pray this prayer, read this passage, listen to this sermon) or are we inviting them to a mystical experience of the life of Christ? If we are inviting them to experience the life of Jesus then they will certainly participate in religious events along the way, they will pray prayers of repentance, they will participate in the consumption of religious education, etc…

    …they will live the lifestyle as a result of trusting in Jesus. (Matthew 12:33)

    It is to this end that I believe McLaren is working. If he makes statements that you or I disagree with, or even that are not totally correct (as, of course, anyone who disagrees with us must consequently be), I don’t think he minds…

    …in fact I think he would be happy to play the role of provocateur, prompting people to think beyond the accepted ideas that they have never truly considered, and so, never truly held.

  10. Hi Steve (from Buffalo)
    Thanks for your comment. I am not saying that preaching and teaching are central… at least not on Monday or Tuesday. That is when we as Christians do the living you’re talking about. I don’t see Christians needing to have an iPod playing mp3 sermons all the time. In that sense, in the routines of life, teaching and preacher are not and cannot be central.
    But my contention that unless the pulpit is central in the worship of the church, then the church grows weaker. I did not say that the pulpit is the only thing. But it is the central thing. It puts the mystical in context. It gives strength for each day. It (the Word/pulpit/teaching role of the church) is the means of building up the body (Ac 20:32), sanctification (Jn 17:17), and renewing the mind, thus transforming the very life of which you speak (Rom 12:1,2).
    Brian McLaren is vague, as you say. Into that “vagueness” flows all sorts of theological error, which is left unaddressed and uncorrected. 2 Tim 2:15 says that the word/teaching ministry of the church is to reprove and correct such error. I get nervous whenever the pulpit ministry is peripheral. I also get nervous when truth is NOT spoken in plain language. That is what I find in McLaren. And my heart aches that his influence, which is so widespread.
    It’s great to ask questions. It’s great to let disciples struggle with questions. But Jesus took his disciples aside after their struggle and confusion had run its course, and explained all things plainly to them. That is McLaren’s missing piece.

Comments are closed.