Generous (Evangelical?) Orthodoxy: Preamble

Brian McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy has called forth an enormous response, much of which has simply not taken the time to read the book carefully and assess it as a rhetorical wake-up call for Evangelicalism to take stock with how it makes its case for theological truths.

I am going on record here to say two things about Generous Orthdoxy: first, the book is a challenge to get Evangelicals to think through some of its basic beliefs in light of the developments of a shifting global culture. Second, Generous Orthodoxy is misunderstood if it is seen as some kind of “statement of faith,” though surely McLaren is wending his way into such discussions often enough.

The single-most difficult comment in Generous Orthodoxy for me is found on p. 35:

“Beyond all these warnings, you should know that I am horribly unfair in this book, lacking all scholarly objectivity and evenhandedness. My own upbringing was way out on the end of one of the most conservative twigs of one of the most conservative branches of one of the most conservative limbs of Christianity, and I am far harder on conservative Protestant Christians who share that heritage than I am on anyone else. I’m sorry. I am consistently oversympathetic to Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, even dreaded liberals, while I keep elbowing my conservative brethren in the ribs in a most annoying – some would say ‘ungenerous’ – way. I cannot even pretend to be objective or fair. This is simply an inexcusable shortcoming of the book that serves no good purpose, unless by some chance it could generously be included under the proverb, ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (Proverbs 27:6 NASB). Even so, will I be grateful and gracious when this friendly wounding is generously reciprocated?”

When I read this I was annoyed, and when I read it now sometimes I get annoyed. But that is his point: when many think they are “unbiased” or “objective” or “fair,” Brian wants to say that they are probably not being fair. Each of us is biased. What I now think of this statement is this: this an exaggerated claim of one’s own limited understanding. It annoys me because it is exaggerated, but within that exaggeration is one of the most honest comments you will find in an author. Each of us is biased. Brian admits it. I have different takes on lots of things Brian says, but the conversation he has opened is an important one. I see this series of blogs to be a conversation with Brian and you about what concerns us most: how do we live the gospel in our day?

Now, I want to make a claim about the Emerging Movement that undergirds everything Brian and many others are saying: the generous orthodoxy that is being called for is an evangelical generosity and orthodoxy. It is a generous evangelical orthodoxy.

The Emerging Movement [=EM] offers all kinds of qualifications about being post-evangelical/liberal, post-this-and-that (I’ve blogged aplenty on this), but anyone with a wide enough lens to see what is going on sees the EM as an evangelical movement.

Why? First, it is not officially connected to either Roman Catholicism or to Eastern Orthodoxy, though it appreciates the fullness of the Church in a genuine ecumenical spirit. There are only three options: RC, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Is there a fourth? (I will suggest so at the end of this post, but it may surprise you.)

Second, nearly all of its leaders (and we would have to know more than I do about who gets to be called “leader” here) are Christians who have come through (and out of?) the Evangelical movement. Thus, their faith came into being in that context, and — as Sheryl Crow sings it — the first cut is the deepest.

Third, the EM is stubbornly and irresistibly and never-to-change low church, independent, and profoundly local. These are signs of an Evangelical ethos. There was a low rumble disagreement about Tony Jones being called “Director.” Why? Independence is valued; independence is the hall-mark of the Protestant movement. Local is valued; local is another trait of the same segment of the Church.

Fourth, the EM is radically protestant in its desire to “go back to the Bible and do it all over again so we can live faithfully for today.” There is nothing new about this: this is Anabaptist, this is radical reformation stuff. And, this is the stuff of Evangelicalism.

Fifth, I have no desire here to define “Evangelical.” Many want to define it sociologically, others want it to be defined theologically. Take Grenz’s “convertive piety” or David Bebbington’s “big five doctrines” or Randy Balmer’s “patchwork quilt.” Fight all you want about the term, it still works, and it is about the only genuine term on the shelves that fits what is going on in the EM. I do think that many in the EM see a new day coming when the EM may well shed its “Evangelical” category and find itself with a new term or a new label, but that day has not yet arrived. Do I think it will come? Perhaps so.

Right now, I think the “generous orthodoxy” it is striving for is a generous evangelical orthodoxy. Many want to get beyond that term (evangelical) because they are responding to and moving away from and beyond evangelical.

Now I wish to make a proposal that changes the title of this post: the sort of evangelicalism the EM is striving for is anabaptist. As we in the EM seek to fashion a label and a category for what is going on, perhaps the only genuine label that comes close is “anabaptist.” Some of you may know of the famous booklet published by William R. McGrath called The Anabaptists: Neither Catholics nor Protestants. In many ways, I think the EM is a new statement of McGrath’s claim. The best history of the movement is William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story. I could wish that many in the EM would read this book, but realize that it is the story of another movement. The EM and Anabaptism are clearly different, but the spirit of the two is similar. Radical reformation, radical ecclesiology.

This is the first in a series of about ten posts on the characteristics of a generous (evangelical) orthodoxy which may be a new anabaptist movement. Each day will focus on a category and the need for generosity for each of those categories. I invite “conversation” and I discourage those with a testy spirit.

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  • Second, nearly all of its leaders (and we would have to know more than I do about who gets to be called “leader” here) are Christians who have come through (and out of?) the Evangelical movement. Thus, their faith came into being in that context, and — as Sheryl Crow sings it — the first cut is the deepest.Thank you Scot for placing this very important paragraph in this your first post in the new series.Jean

  • Scot, I’ve often heard that the anabaptists were the “real” reformers because, unlike Luther and Calvin, they imagined a new ecclesiology. Is that accurate?

  • Scott,Being an Eastern Orthodox Christian myself, I felt that Generous (Evangelical) Orthodoxy would have been more appropriate. I originally was Evangelical and becaome Eastern Orthodox about 13 years ago.I have been reading up on the Emergent Church as they have embraced some “Eastern Orthodox” items in their faith.I haven’t read Brian’s book and suppose I should, as it probably would help me understand the Emergent Church better.It’s a challenging time for America and so much is going on within it in regards to the change that is taking place Christianity and more so within Evangelical Christianity.May we, through God’s grace stay on the straight and narrow path and press towards the mark of the high calling of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!With humble bow,Rd. Chrysostomos

  • Rd. Chrysostomos,Not very often I get to talk to the preacher himself! I generally don’t respond to anonymity, for a variety of reasons, but yours comes in the spirit of conversation.”Orthodoxy” as you know can be a slippery term: but it refers (for me) to two major things. First, to the Eastern Orthodox Church in all its varieties and locations and theology and icons, etc.. And, second, it refers to the orthodoxy of creedal faith — as we see, for instance, in Oden. While Emerging folks do connect at times with the Orthodox Church, they do more “pinching” than anything else. I’m keen on helping us see that “orthodoxy” in “generous orthodoxy” is about creedal faith. Otherwise, we would be unfair to Orthodoxy as in Church.

  • Scot,I think you are dead-on. EM is a generous Anabaptist Evangelical Orthodoxy whose eschatology (in general) seeks the kingdom of God now through radical living in community. This is one of the reasons I find it attractive. I’m still chewing on McLaren’s latest book, so I will follow you with interest here.I do agree with Christ that the “earthiness” is more about new creation eschatology and creation ecology than it is Emerson, but the influence on McLaren in particular could be more Emerson given his own particular background. The larger appeal, however, is the biblical theology of new creation in the EM.John Mark

  • Scott, thanks for your site and posts.On reading this one, I think there are a few things I want to ask, and sorry if I have misread or not got the larger context from your previous posts.Anabaptist: My limited view of emerging church, sees lots of groups, strongly indenependent, local, and anti-clerical, anti-estabslished church etc…and getting lots of input from anabaptism. But my big but here, Brian McLaren has a very different ecclessiology than this largely sociological apporach, and in a generous orthodoxy his affirmation of many traditions and other churhces, does not follow the ressurgence of anbaptist leanings.Post-foundationalism: This is major departure by people like Brian McLaren, from the mainstay epistomology of evanglicals. Brian is not sociologically a pos-evangelical, in anabaptist clothing, but he is post-foundationalist (in the Grenz and Franke sense), which is very different to the emerging groups who remain conservative epistomologically whilst embracing anabaptist ecclessiology.So Brian is not writing a generous evangelical orthodoxy, but a genuine generous orthodoxy from somone who is now post-foundational. I’m may be wrong but foundationalism is at the heart of evangelicalism, something Brian is not.Stuart Murray in ‘Post-Christendom’ articulates a response that is more characteristic of the generous evangelical orthodoxy, as a leader in anbaptist studies, and his promoting of this for the way for evanglicals to change church.Lastly, maybe tongue in cheek, I struggle to see how you can be anabaptist and generous in any real way, surely the anbaptist route is so protesting, so individual, so independent that it is far from generous.Jason

  • As a Canadian from southern Manitoba, I live within the “Bible Belt” of this nation. However, unlike its American counterpart, the Canadian Belt is largely defined by its deep roots in the Anabaptist tradition. Even most evangelical churches reflect the heritage that most Manitobans share to varying degrees.This has been fasncinating, as there is also a vibrant Roman Catholic community in the city of Winnipeg (our provincial capital), creating some unique (though rare) cross-traditional partnerships.I think that is why the emerging journey in Canada finds more receptive ears here in Manitoba. In addition to the very broad and deep Anabaptist heritage here, most evangelical communities are significantly informed by Anabaptist theology.My own childhood/teens reflects this diversity- born into a conservative (politically & theologically) evangelical church, attended a Christian school run by very traditional Anabaptists, was part of a Pentacostal youth group and regularly attended Roman Catholic Mass with my French Canadian grandmother.This is becoming a very common heritage for young Christians in this part of Canada. Evangelical Anabaptism or Anabaptist Evangelicalism are both fairly common. But as you say, Evangelical is by far the most common denominator.I look forward to reading more.Jamie

  • Jason,Many thanks for your comment. I’ve been to your blog a number of times, so thanks for stopping over here.On Anabaptism: I guess part of this is how you define it. I think I make it pretty clear that that the EM is not identical to Anabaptism, so perhaps this loosens some of the grips here. In addition, anabaptists today are themselves shifting away from some of hte older more conservative lines of thinking (see J. Denny Weaver’s radical reinterpretation of the atonement).On post-foundationalism: I’m not quite sure how this turned into what Brian McLaren believes about ecclesiology. I am certainly not speaking for him. Again, it matters how one defines post-foundationalism (and foundationalism). I find myself to be between critical realism and soft postmodernity, and I’m not so sure McLaren isn’t close to that himself. But, again, my blog is not about Brian’s views. I mentioned Brian at the front of my post because I see my own series here as precipitated by his own book. At any rate, Brian’s PB background is quite Anabaptist in ecclesiology — low church, democratic, Word oriented, fellowship. The social vision is now becoming a part of lots of groups, including esp Anabaptists.I don’t know Stuart Murray’s stuff, so if you could point me to his stuff.Your last point is wrong-headed, if not deprecating of anabaptists. I’m a bit offended by your saying anabaptists can’t be generous. It seems like your last paragraph and the first lines of your “Anabaptist” paragraph are about the same. If Emerging can be generous, can’t also the Anabaptists?

  • Scot I think Jason’s point might be that Anabaptism can’t be generous because it see everything through the anabaptist grid. It consumes and reinterprets everything through itself (like any other set of beliefs). So in McLaren’s book he states how he is a Calvinist and this and that, but in reality he is only an anabaptist reinterpreting Calvinism, etc. to fit anabaptist views. It would be the equivalent of me saying that I love your wife’s apple pie, and by “apple pie” I mean roast beef. No view can be generous without demolishing the other view (regardless of what is said in theory). That is the nature of truth claims.

  • Bryan,In the spirit of conversation, let me say that if that is what Jason meant — that any commitment is a swallowing of all other commitments — then I apologize. But I must admit I can’t for the life of me see where such a view would come from either my comments or from Brian’s.

  • Scot, well said.

  • Come on Dr. McKnight– Cat Stevens sang the first cut is the deepest…(smile)Kevincawleyblog

  • I know she covered it…and I know I’m way off topic 😉

  • Scott, I am sorry I offended you that was not my intention, and I am releived that Bryan saw my true intentions. I was not talking about character, personality or being perjorative in any way, and assumed from the post you made that ‘generous’ was about broad ecumenical ecclesiology, and value in the church in it’s broadest sense. It was that, that I see (mainly in the UK), something that the resurgence in anabaptist theology is not doing, and in that sense is not generous.Without giving you a book list, web lsit, and conference list, please accept my poor summary here that I hear regularly from anabaptist streams in emegerging church that post-christendom means that the last 1700 years of the church was a huge mistake.Now I feel more comfortable with people like NT wright who see christendom in a different way and not the disaster others are stating.If evangelicals thought the church went wrong from the 3rd century until the reformation, many anabaptist and emerging church people in the UK are taking that further to say the mistake was until today.So I see Brian McLaren doing something very different, that anbaptist theology in the UK is not, affirming broadly and deeply church traditions, beliefs, and ecclesiology, throughout church history and not seeing it as mistake, and also from a post-foundationalist point of view.So I still think Brian is post-foundational and generous and is not an evangelical generous approach.Does that clarify? And thank you for the apology. Warmly, Jason

  • Jason,That’s good. Thanks for this. I accept that the anabaptists have traditionally not embraced the broader catholic traditions, and I know Brian is big on this (and so am I). I think my thoughts were at the level of ecclesiology as a radical reformation, and in that I see many convergences with Emerging and anabaptism, but still understand that I do not see them as the same. I see them providing a model — a fourth way, as it were.Brian is along that line. We were talking across one another here. Thanks for your clarifications.

  • Jason,Now to some substance here.Of the points I make as to why Generous Orthodoxy is still Evangelical, which do you disagree with? After all, Brian says he is an Evangelical (chp. 6).And, I see a strong desire among many who are emerging to hang on to an evangelical heritage, if move beyond it in some regards, or should I say extend that heritage into the postmodern world? Or should I say be for today what these other movements were for their day. No?Jason, I’m totally committed to a catholic Christian faith — my new Embracing Grace will argue this and my next book I write, called Praying with the Church, will explore the prayer traditions of the major traditions.

  • What I have appreciated about Brian McLaren is that he has not attempted to distance himself from all things “evangelical” and, as you point out Scot, be very open (if over stated) about his own inevitable biases.Anabaptism, in praxis, is about as diverse as Evangelicalism is, and therefore I find that Jason’s experience with UK Anabaptism is not the norm in my experience.I am unconvinced that Generous Orthodoxy/Emerging Church should attempt to identify one tradition to align with, at least at this stage. Nor should it be afraid of limiting itself by the inevitable reality of their inherent evangelical nature (at this stage). However, this discourse is crucial in helping to find direction.Jamie

  • Jamie,Tomorrow’s blog will begin sketching some “foundations” upon which an Emerging Church can be built. I agree, it can’t align with anyone tradition. There is, I think, a fourth option.

  • So Scot, when you say, “Again, it matters how one defines post-foundationalism (and foundationalism). I find myself to be between critical realism and soft postmodernity.” What exactly does that mean?And when you use the word “foundations” i.e., what you are posting on tomorrow, do you define “foundations” as something different than foundationalism?Just curious…Winn

  • Winn,I wondered if some would get nervous about “foundations.”A real ‘buzz’ term for EM is “foundationalism” and it has been reified into a bogey man. I’m not so sure we know as much about that as many think they do.But, let’s get off that for now. No, my posts will not be “foundationalist” but “ten theses” or something like that.We know there is a difference between a radical postmodernist (hard pomo) that says there is no truth; it is a linguistic turn all the way down. There are soft pomo types who know that the Subject plays a big role in the knowledge process. Critical realists know there is a distinction between Object and Subject and that we can do “critical” distancing of ourselves from what we are studying, but that knowledge is always an interplay between the two and our knowledge claims are always an approximation. Now, the distinction between a soft pomo and critical realist is not all that great, since both acknowledge the reality of an Object out there and a Subject as a knowing instrument (and meaning making instrument). Carson made this distinction but in the book he made the mistake of disagreeing with hard pomo when some of those he is addressing are soft pomo. There is a difference and it calls for a nuance that he didn’t elaborate. He should have.

  • Look friends, it is getting late and I’ve got a commentary on James to work on tomorrow, so I need my rest. This has been the busiest day ever for my blogsite. Been fun, though.

  • While you were asleep, we are still thinking and it is now Tuesday evening, so here goes.I really like your expression “radical reformation, radical ecclesiology.” Perhaps you could extend it to “radical everything”. I identified with “Generous Orthodoxy”, but came to a different conclusion. I have dabbled in all of the same streams, but unlike Brian I could not say that I am all of them. I have found that I am none of them, because they all carried baggage that I could not fit with my understanding of the scriptures.Reading Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross really expanded my spiritual life, but the Catholic Church has too much baggage for me to say that I am a Catholic. I learnt a lot about the reality of the Holy Spirit from the Pentecostal movement, but I cannot fit their prosperity doctrine with the scriptures. The Calvinist system is inspiring, but in the end I can only believe in “fairly irresistible grace”, so I am not a Calvinist. I feel the same about the Anabaptists. I am inspired by their zeal to go all the way in reformation, but was put off by their withdrawal from society. And so on. I cannot say that I am any of the chapters in Brian’s book.That does mean that I think they are not Christian, or that I cannot relate to them. I have friends in all camps. I just feel that I have to move beyond where they are, as I search for the truth and attempt to develop my relationship with God.I suspect that most of these movement only started collection junk once they got beyond their initial zeal. When they started, they were:1) trying to get rid of some of the junk that has built up round the church2) seeking to get a better relationship with God.3) challengingthe culture where it does not stack up under the light of the scripture4) dealing with the issues that were critical for their society.It seems to me that this is what Christians should always be doing. What I like about the word radical is the sense of getting back to the root of the matter. That is what we should always be doing. May be “radical everything” is a good goal.

  • Hi Scott, whilst you might want to call what you are writing a ‘generous evangelical orthodoxy’, and see anbaptist as something key to that, I don’t think you need to co-oprt Brian McLaren for that, using his book and title has just been conusing for me at least.Whilst Brian will affirm what he sees as the best of evangelicals, there are many evangelicals he would not be in tuine with including foundationalism.So Brian’s thust is not a generous evangelical orthodoxy, but his generous orthodoxy includes the desire to see and accept traditions from evangelicals.And again, he does not align with anbaptists for ecclessiology, but would seek to say what was important from anabaptists that we can learn from.Brian is not tryinng to beldn all these things together, but encourage us to look outside our often narrow and exclusive tradions and forms and in some cases take on board from others, and at the least to affirm those ouitside our tribes.So I’m sorry if I am misreading you Scott, I like your idea of a generous evanglical orthodoxy, but wonder why you are including Brian McLaren in this process.Thanks for your writing and interaction, Jason.

  • For my part, I think that Scot’s inclusion of McLaren in this context is fitting. While he doesn’t fit fully in what has “traditionally” been called Evangelicalism, it is from this context that he sets out on his emerging journey.Therefore, I think Scot is right to identify (as I think McLaren himself does) the evangelical core to Generous Orthodoxy as it was explored in his book and in the general Emergent Church journey.

  • Jason,Thanks for this.I’d like to drop this issue with this one comment: I’m not co-opting Brian. I am claiming that his book precipitated my thoughts, which is the sort of thing Brian wants. And, “generous orthodoxy” is not uniquely Brian’s; he grabbed it either from Frei or (more likely) through Grenz’s use of Frei.

  • Jason:No disrespect, but the last time I spoke to Brian, he claimed to be both “anabaptist” and “evangelical.” Now, he and I are both using those without the capital letters in front, in the same way that I would claim to be “catholic” but not “Catholic.” Reading GO, it’s pretty clear that Brian is much more sympathetic in his “Why I am Anabaptist/Anglican” chapter than he is in his “Why I am Calvinist/Reformed.” In posts on the Emergent-US blog in the coming days, Brian will also be hinting at this shift.

  • Hi tony, none taken, but I wasn’t saying Brian isn’t being ‘anabaptist’ and ‘evangelical’ with small letters…he obviously is. But I am sure he not setting out an Anbaptist Evangelical orthodoxy.

  • I know I’m coming to this late … but better than never. I’m more familiar with Early German Pietism (cf. Spener, Franke) than Anabaptism (still learning though) and would like to try a different take. I’m toying with the idea that within the “rigid overtly ungenerous scholastic” Lutheranism of their day after the 30year war, the early German Lutheran pietist were evoked to “emerge” and “react” as a corrective similar to radical reformers but within the tradition. and while they were at work, people like Spener were “more generous” to their reformed/Calvinist counterparts and later his God son Zinzendorf towards the Moravians. I know this might sound simplistic, but I somehow read within Protestant history … whether through the Lutheran Pietist or the Anabaptist radical reformers possible places of convergence at least in spirit though not necessarily in strategy. And thus, both are tyring to “embody” evangelical in the wider sense as in being faithful to the Gospel in ther context (I think). You mentioned, “the EM is radically protestant in its desire to “go back to the Bible and do it all over again so we can live faithfully for today.” There is nothing new about this: this is Anabaptist, this is radical reformation stuff. And, this is the stuff of Evangelicalism.” I would imagine Spener was one who would say, “people need to read the Scriptures for themselves in small groups” in reaction to just listening to scholastic debates. So in the EM, I think there’s space for both “streams” – in different clothing … a quick not so coherent 2 cents

  • Scot, I read this post when you first posted it and have responded here, but I’ve only just read thru the comments.Brian has told me of his affection for anabaptism and how he considers himself an anabaptist. We’ve talked about Mennonotism in North America and where he would and wouldn’t buy into aspects of it. Whilst I think I’d be happy describing Brian as “anabaptist” (in the general, not Mennonite, sense), I certainly wouldn’t say the same of the emerging church.Jason, I think you’ve completely mis-represent anabaptism. Or, perhaps it’s been misrepresented to you? You know how we both get frustrated at people using the word “emergent” for their gathering because they, e.g., sit on sofas instead of pews? People – particularly in emerging church circles, it seems – do the same with “anabaptist.”You wrote: “I see (mainly in the UK), something that the resurgence in anabaptist theology is not doing, and in that sense is not generous… I hear regularly from anabaptist streams in emegerging church that post-christendom means that the last 1700 years of the church was a huge mistake.”Who are these emerging anabaptists that you see and hear from? Personally, I think I can count them on 1 hand. “surely the anbaptist route is so protesting, so individual, so independent that it is far from generous.”That couldn’t be further from the truth. A cursory read of something like Yoder’s Politics of Jesus reveals the social heart of anabaptism. For those oppressed by a State-run Church the anabaptists offered a genuinely liberating community.The problem comes when folks rip the anabaptists out of their historical context and think they can drop them straight into 21-st Century Britain. To be anti-Constantinian is not the same as being anti-established church, depending on what we mean by the latter.