quotes from A Generous Orthodoxy

I sent off my copy of G.O. to a friend but I snatched some quotes from it before I did. So I will post a bunch of them in the days to come. My favorite one first. When I want to note something in a book I am reading, I draw a line beside it in the margin. This one got three lines, and it was just in there as a footnote:

Having read this sentence, you may perhaps better understand why I believe a person can affiliate with Jesus in the kingdom-of-God dimension without affiliating with him in the religious kingdom of Christianity. In other words, I believe that Christianity is not the kingdom of God. The ultimate reality is the kingdom of God, and Christianity at its best is here to proclaim and lead people into that kingdom, calling them out of smaller rings, smaller kingdoms. Christianity at its worst, using the definition in this paragraph, can become a sin when it holds people within its ring and won't let them enter the kingdom of God. Jesus diagnosed the religious leaders of his day as doing this very thing.

And another related one:

In the previous chapter, I suggested that Jesus didn't come to start another religion, which would include the Christian religion. I wasn't kidding. I do, in fact, believe that. That the Christian religion formed as it has is not surprising. It was no doubt necessary and in many ways good, and I know God is in it, and I am in it, too. But "the Christian religion" is neither the ultimate goal of Jesus nor the ultimate goal of God, in my view. Rather, the goal of Jesus is the kingdom of God, which is the dream of God, the wish and hope and desire of God for creation-like a parent's hopes and dreams for a beloved child.

And if your are wanting to reference this and wondering the page numbers, sorry. I scanned the quotes in by taking digital photos of the pages, which only caught a fdew of the page numbers, and so you're just gonna have to take my word on it... it's all in there.

And in the book McLaren points to this article by Joshua Masssey, His Ways Are Not Our Ways. Good read. Kind of a postmodern missiology. Go find out what a Muslim follower of Jesus is.



part two: what hit you the hardest?

i'm falling down on the job here--michelle, thanks for jumping in here.

i'm wondering if we could just have a shout out for the biggest takeaway idea/thought you had from part two? we could call it highs and lows. the idea that resonated with you most forcefully and/or the one idea that left you scratching your head, thinking, "hmmmm...i'm not so sure." maybe we could add one more category in light of this recent article. at any point did you think, "this isn't anything new"? from there we'll have a posting frenzy from our contributors, highlighting the points of greatest interest. sound good?

i'd love to hear from as many of you as possible. let's see if rss is keeping this thing alive after all! :)


First Impressions

Posting here seems to have ground to a halt recently, so let me jump in quickly with a short one.

My book FINALLY arrived last week (more than a month late), and it was hard to put it down - I finished it in record time! I was left with the "warm fuzzies" after reading it through, with a feeling that maybe, just maybe, we can all see past our differences as Christians, bridge a few gaps and grow together toward God.

I had my knuckles rapped in a few places - a couple of in-grown beliefs were named, exposed, and seen to be perhaps not so correct after all, leaving me cringing and smiling ruefully. I learnt a lot about other perspectives too. There are aspects of the different facets of Christianity that I knew nothing about - until now.

I've recently been through a very dark place spiritually, with seemingly no hope at the end of the tunnel. Reading this book has brought a spark of hope, the feeling that things CAN get better, and an urge to strive toward that. There's a tingling of spring now in my soul, and it has nothing to do with Chapter 16 (Why I Am Green). :)

I've been recommending this book left, right and centre to as many people as will stand still long enough to listen (and a few who won't - I recently used part of it for a devotional time where I had a captive audience...). I suspect my copy is going to end up well-worn. It will take a few more passes for everything to really sink in.

Looking forward to hearing what others have to say. To the next chapter and beyond!


Mission, hell, and universalism in Chapter 4

The question of hell comes up a lot in this chapter, which would make sense in a chapter on mission. When I was an evangelical kid at summer camp, we sometimes wondered, in hushed heretical voices, whether the "fire-insurance" we were selling was really what it was all about. I remember some pastors telling us counselors of the incredible value of using the fear of divine punishment for "scaring the hell" out of people. So sometimes a counselor would give their most vivid description of hell in the evening devotion, just before all the ten year olds went to sleep. The salvation count at the morning meeting would always spike well the following day.

So lets talk a little about hell and how our view of it changes how we act out in mission. I started feeling my view of hell was incomplete during university, when questions were raised regarding the nature of eternal punishment. The purpose of punishment is correction, so how could God be into punishment forever? What's the corrective purpose in that? That's just God being nasty, and apparently, according to what God says about God, God's not supposed to be that mean.

So I kept my ears open for other views of hell. And at this point, there are three that bounce around in my head:

1. Hell as fire and eternal punishment. Basically what I just alluded to, a place that God comdemns you to.

The other two are more based on my choice, which makes more sense to me.

2. Hell as a place God sends those who desire to be there. I have heard it described in terms of being cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth". Basically the idea is that God allows people to pursue in the afterlife exactly the path they pursued in life, the difference being that God completely withdraws his spirit from that place. Because in life, even the most screwed up, ugly situation benefits from the spark of light, which is the goodness of God, which works its way into every corner of creation. Even among those who reject God, any good thing they experience, any hint of friendship or tenderness, comes from the light of Christ. In hell that redeeming light is gone. Everyone is free to be as selfish as they desire, cruelty is unrestrained, making it, well, no party anyway.

3. This one is the most convicing to me, and it comes from Eastern Orthodoxy. In that version, when we die, we all go to be with God. But, as James Ferrenberg puts it,

some people are simply unable to experience heaven - that to them, God's love and truth is too much to bear. Lovers of darkness who cannot love the light...to them the light is hellfire.

So each person in their life makes a choice, to embrace the light or reject it, and that choice determines what your experience will be when you go to be with God. For those who have embraced it, it will be heaven, the fulfillment of all we have have hoped and longed for. For those who reject it, the light of God will be the very fires of hell.

C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle would even seem to suggest that it goes in degrees. There, the dwarves who just "sort of" embrace the light just "sort of" experience heaven. For them it is comfortable, but dull and boring. I wonder if that is what the apostle Paul means when he talks about getting into heaven as one "just escaping flames". Or maybe this is what the Parable of the Talents is talking about...

Anyway, there's one version I forgot. It's from Father Zossima in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, and ties in with the number 3.

Fathers and teachers, I ponder, "What is hell?" I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love. Once in infinite existence, immeasurable in time and space, a spiritual creature was given on his coming to earth the power of saying, "I am and I love." Once, only once, there was given him a moment of active lifting love, and for that was earthly life given him, and with it times and seasons. And that happy creature rejected the priceless gift, prized it and loved it not, scorned it and remained callous. Such a one, having left the earth, sees Abraham's bosom and talks with Abraham as we are told in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and beholds heaven and can go up to the Lord. But that is just his torment, to rise up to the Lord without ever having loved, to be brought close to those who have loved when he has despised their love. For he sees clearly and says to himself, "Now I have understanding, and though I now thirst to love, there will be nothing great, no sacrifice in my love, for my earthly life is over, and Abraham will not come even with a drop of living water (that is the gift of earthly active life) to cool the fiery thirst of spiritual love which burns in me now, though I despised it on earth; there is no more life for me and will be no more time! Even though I would gladly give my life for others, it can never be, for that life is passed which can be sacrificed for love, and now there is a gulf fixed between that life and this existence."

Which one makes the most sense to you? How does your view of hell affect how you act out in mission? What is the mission anyway?


Quick thoughts sparked by Chapter 3

My mind was drawn to how I prayed when I was a teenage in Mandarin and the constant use of the phrase "Lord" in my prayer. Besides that, I also recall hearing my Indian seminary mate praying, and how the phrases "Master" and "Lord" came up frequently. Then I thought about how all this reflects not only our theology but also our spirituality.

One thing I like about the book in general and this chapter in particular is the "revisiting" of familiar words, like "Lord". And just spending some time unpacking them once again. I suppose we can see this exercise like "opening a box of chocolates" or "opening up a can of worms" but this is necessary. In the past many of us here in Malaysia specifically may just import the "dominating" understanding of the word "Lord" without knowing it, or may use the word with the "absolute control" flavor even withing our own cultures. In the history of China for example, (and for those who watched the movie "Hero" might get a taste of it), Emporer's can be brutle and war-like, others might be wise and loving to the people. It depends ... thus, the unpacking of the word like "Lord" helps.

I thought about the contrasting styles of my country's previous prime minister and the present one assuming for today the primier of the country is like a king in a way. The difference in operation makes me see the possible values underneath the actions on the surface. And so, if in the past the word "prime minister" may be negative, now the word may evoke a different more positive response.

I guess what I'm trying to say is "words" really do matter, but the picture the word evokes matters even more. Is there a hidden challenge there for us in regards to the word "Christian"? (since the chapter is titled "would Jesus be a Christian?")


Pay Dirt in Chapter 2

I once prayed, as a new Christian, that God would change my heart so that I could accept my place as a woman in the Kingdom – a place that I was not experiencing as one of mutuality, egalitarianism or wholeness for women. I cried buckets as I prayed, but I was ready to accept God's answer. Such was my fervor that I donated my extensive collection of feminist writings, including feminist theologians like Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether. But I wanted to believe rightly and do rightly for God. My prayer was an offering that said, “Lord, where I need to change – change me.”

Then I went outside and got in my car to drive to work. I put in a tape that I had been listening to over and over again – “Conversations” by Sara Groves. What I heard was “I know that you tore the veil so I could sit with you in person.” Then I heard, “No, Karen. I broke those barriers, tore those veils. There are no second-class citizens in my Kingdom.” And I was comforted and transformed, if still dismayed for the loss of my books. Chapter 2 – Jesus and God B – reminded me of this early episode in my life as a follower of Jesus, an episode that threatened to sink my nascent faith and one that had been a barrier to my conversion for over 25 years.

In Chapter 2 I think that McLaren begins to hit some pay dirt. Though the chapter begins with more protestations about his inability to adequately describe Jesus, and his discomfort with those who think that they can, his clear statements regarding the nature of God as being beyond gender categorization really rang true with me.

That said, as a person who was steeped in feminist theory prior to my conversion to Christianity it raises a warning flag for me that a thing I find so obvious would need to be so flatly stated in this book (and in italics no less). Have the lessons of the last 30+ years of feminist theology, the ordination of women in other mainline denominations, not to mention the spiritual and social contributions of first wave feminists in the mid-1800’s and early-1900’s, been so ignored by the Evangelical Church that such a statement even needs to be made? Apparently so.

This is another of those things that keep the unchurched from full communion with the Body of Christ. We can read that God created man and woman in his image just as well as anyone else and we can’t then understand how the church backs into such policies as “the headship of the male,” or “the submissiveness of a woman to her husband,” or the lack of female leadership in the church in general.

I think I’m beginning to understand what McLaren is doing with this book. He’s acknowledging that the voice of the Evangelical Church is, for all intents and purposes, the face of Christianity that most people in the U.S. see, and that, if his brothers and sisters in Christ want to be ambassadors for the faith, they better get a better handle on what that faith really entails. As an unchurched friend of mine asked me yesterday after having heard Jimmy Swaggert’s quote regarding his intent to kill any gay man who looks at him that way, “I don’t understand how he can say that? Isn’t it counter to the teachings of other religious leaders and of Christ?” Bingo, buddy! But that’s the Evangelical Church, fringe element though he may be.

It takes a pretty high level of abstraction to divorce one’s perceptions of who Jesus is, and who we can be if we are in relationship with him, from the examples we see of other Christian’s lives. And that is why it is so important for us to live in ways that do not seem to be diametrically opposed to the teachings of our faith. So, preach on Mr. McLaren. Here’s praying for ears to hear.


The Seven Jesuses Brian Has Known

Seven Jesuses! My goodness, that's a lot. I've got seven kids--seven completely different personalities. It can be a bit much to manage at times, but seven Jesuses? If you thought grasping the concept of the trinity was challenging, I can only caution: kids, don't try this at home.

His first Jesus was the Conservative Protestant. How familiar He was, and reading about him left me with a sense of both comfort and fear. This is the Jesus that I always perceived as taking the edge off of the Angry Father God. I met him as a child, reading one of those terrifying Jack T. Chick tracts that were everywhere in the seventies. Enough said.

His second Jesus, the Pentecostal/Charismatic one--now that's the Jesus I fell in love with. This wildly present Jesus was all up in a sistah's life, but I couldn't help but feel that my church was a largely dysfunctional family--the kind that yells and moans a lot, and throws dishes. This Jesus left me as tired, and frustrated, as much as He left me feeling loved and cared for. Or was it Jesus making me feel the more painful feelings? Maybe it was His people, claiming to know Him so well, yet missing the obvious so often. Where was the love and service of Brian's Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Jesus? Where was that love, with busy hands and feet, working in the community, so captivating in Liberal Protestant, Anabaptist, and oppressed Jesuses?

Finishing this chapter, I realized that although I may not have known these seven Jesuses by the names Brian gave them, I knew them all indeed, and more Jesuses than that. They all mingle, and overlap, and intersect, morphing in my heart and head into One Big Jesus, with many faces, still turning his head revealing more faces, more personalities, challenging my ideas about who He is, and what He requires. He is a mystery, ever unforlding. This One Big--and I like that word Big, inadequate as it is, this Jesus continously asserts His sovereignty. He simply refuses to be what I think He is. He outgrows me, every time, and in doing so, He grows me.

Thank God for every Jesus I have known, and every Jesus I have yet to know.

What about you?


jen sets the scene for our brilliant discussion

okay, we've been dragging on long enough. time to get this thing going, don't you think?

but first!
i want to say that i hope this will be a space where a wide variety of opinions will be expressed. you do not have to be a brian groupie to comment on this blog. (no starry eyes required.) you do not have to be emerging (whatever this means) or post-something to be welcomed in the conversation. you also don't have to be an evangelist for your point of view or someone who leaves anonymous posts that are the equivalent of a drive-by shooting. (this will not endear you to anyone) you just have to be actually reading the book and interested in open, honest exchange among cyber-acquaintances who sometimes disagree, but somehow do so respectfully. some of you are wondering how i will be able to participate in this discussion at all. to this, i say, be prepared to witness a whole new jen.

our structure for this discussion will be simple. agenerousorthodoxy bloggers will take turns posting on each chapter with occasional rabbit trails to linger on points that bear more in depth discussion. these will be assigned ahead of time via email in the beginning until we get our groove thing going here. hopefully, our posts will generate good discussion. but. as any good blogger knows, many a fine conversation is initiated by the clever commenter, taking the post in a whole new enlightening direction. i hope this happens a lot.

we won't be posting a jillion separate posts a day--just one--so even the most negligent blog reader can count on their rss feed to keep them completely up to date. this blog will not overtake your life. i promise.

my hope is this blog will result in a honest discussion, between people who might otherwise--in real life, anyway--never have the chance to meet, let alone choose one another for dialogue partners. to me, that's the coolest thing ever.

so without further ado, here goes: how did chapter zero strike those of you reading along who do not know brian personally? bizarre? absurd? funny? mad? i have my perspective, but i'd love to hear yours. what conclusions did you draw if any about what you were getting yourself into? did it suck you into the book or make you wonder what the hell is wrong with this guy? all responses welcome, please.


a Generous Orthodoxy needs a new kind of evangelical

There are some interesting parallels to the chapter why I am an evangelical in a recent article by Tom Sine in PRISM magazine. Tom maps some of the changes ins American evangelicalism that led to the ungenerous polarizing orthodoxy currently driving the evangelical stream of the Christan faith. Is it possible to be an evangelical (being passionate about bringing the good news as Brian defines it) without being polarizing?

Read the book… here’s some more thoughts:

I got it! The book came this week and I gave it an initial read. Favorite chapters: why I’m a mystic, why I am green, and why I am incarnational. My thoughts ranged as far and wide as the topics covered in the book, and here some of them are...

I expected that I would be somewhat of a fan, and I was right. One thing though: I am all for humility, but in the early going I was thinking that if you were to delete all of McLaren’s self-deprecation and apologies, this thing would have been a pamphlet! But coming from an evangelical background myself, and knowing what it means to have people look at you like you tiptoe on the edge of heresy, I suppose it may be well justified. But critique-wise, that’s all I got. Other than that, I am just all A’s and A plusses. So for my lopsided, I-love-everything-u-say take on Mr. McLaren , I apologize (because apparently, that is what we do...;-)

On a personal level, there were a number of moments, especially in the "Incarnational" chapter, where I felt myself breathing a sigh of relief thinking, "See, I’m not a heretic... or at least if I am he is too, and I think that’s good company. He’s thought about it all and tested it a lot more than I have!" I wondered in an earlier post whether he would speak much about other religions, and he certainly didn’t pull any punches. In fact, the Gandhi quote, to which I have seen some indignant reactions, would have fit very well in that chapter.

I think the main recurring theme in the book, the point that everything rests on is McLaren’s particular brand of "fundamentalism". I liked the way he phrased it, because just a few days ago I had described my preferred faith as fundamentalism with just one fundamental - Love. Likewise, McLaren says that his fundamental is the greatest commandment of Christ, parts one and two, love God and love your neighbor.

But is this fundamental on which "generous orthodoxy" rests shared by Christians as the most important thing, the prime directive. This is the point that makes me think some of our hope for an everybody-blesses-and-works-with-everyone sort of good feeling interaction between various brands of Christians much easier in theory than in application. Lots of Christians I know wouldn’t agree with "Love" as the bedrock message that they are trying to communicate. I would venture to guess that many it would say it is "Truth" (whereupon I would likely respond that they are one in the same… whereupon the discussion would likely devolve into a confusing semantic argument...). But perhaps a book like this is aimed at subtly altering what we view as our bottom line.

I must admit that I monitor within myself a cynicism as I read books like this, a cynicism that sounds something like, "Sure, he talks like this and the books, articles and ideas are good, but does it go any farther than just talk?" There’s a contempt among pomo types (and appropriately so) that has had enough of guys looking for book deals and itinerant ministries so that they can make a living and name for themselves hawking their good ideas. But my next thought is that the majority of that reaction is just my own shit, the part of me that is jealous because I’m the guy with no book and no invitations, just a little-read blog and a big mouth.

But better to listen carefully to the flip side of those nasty voices; I will pay more attention to the angel sitting on my other shoulder. Because a book like this inspires in a reader all kinds of practical ideas and possibilities, like reading a Dave Andrews or a Tom Sine book. Such books are useless if I read them, agree with them, admire them, write about them, but beyond that, take no action. The response that I need to commit to is one of an ongoing inventory-taking of my life - working with what I have now to bring my life into fuller consistency with the kingdom of God, while at the same time dreaming up things to do in the future.

I have a load of more specific responses to various chapters, but I’ll wait until everyone is book-equipped and reading. By the way Jen, is there any specific way we are going to go about discussing it once everyone has got the book and is reading?


Confessions of a ragamuffin diva

My name is Claudia, although some of you know me as ragamuffin diva. I am a charismatic. Actually, I am a recovering charismatic, having recognized that my life had become unmanageable, due to the histrionic Pentecostal excesses that I, and those around me, indulged.

My idea of orthodox, I am embarrassed to say, involved a rather beautiful liturgy, ornate garments, and lots of candles and incense. Think Catholic, or Anglican. Think white people who do not scream, cry, and run between the pews—not that there’s anything wrong with that. To this day, recovering or not, I still find few things offer the relief of a good “shout”—that’s a very happy little dance, accompanied by drums, a thumpin’ bass, and an organ(to those who are uninitiated). And please note: literal shouting may be involved as well. ::Sigh:: Some days I really miss it. But I digress. I believe my point was, I am woefully ignorant of all things orthodox.

I’m not just a recovering charismatic. I’m also a recovering Word of Faith, name it and claim it, speak it into existence, and don’t ever be, or *claim* to be, sick, or broke, or otherwise defective. And while I received numerous prophetic words that spoke of the prosperity that would overtake me, I have yet to be overtaken by prosperity (and I sure could use some this week), and I didn’t find the movement, as a whole, to be very generous. Nor did I find many other Christian “movements” that I tried to be generous, as I stumbled about the faith, desperately seeking truth, and an authenticity that seemed to elude me.

A generous orthodoxy? Good heavens! What is that? After bumping about the narrow path of Christianity for 25 years, spiritually wearing black ray bans and seeing through them “very darkly”, I realize, that I know sadly little of generosity, and even less of orthodoxy, but here I am, by invitation no less, ready to learn, and ready to give. I’m just a pilgrim, really, and I can’t wait to talk about all this.

Brian says, “Quite simply, orthodoxy is belief in what is right, and by extension, what is wrong. So how can we act generously in our assertions of our most precious convictions.”

And to this I say, “How indeed?”

Maybe together we’ll figure it out.


Jesus cubed

I got the book right before my recent trip and was able to read the first four chapters. So here are some thoughts.

I love the advisory "for mature audiences" at the beginning. This conversation sometimes gets tough and we need to be willing to tackle the challenging issues like maturing Jesus followers.

Jesus cubed is my take on the three chapters on Jesus. not sure if it was intentional but Brian seems to map the path much of the American church has plod during the modern era.

Jesus to the first power - an individualized Jesus (at least seven expressions) shaped by individual experiences. Though this chapter was pretty non threatening as compared to what comes next I found myself asking "Is there anyway to experience a more holistic whole Jesus?" or "will it be forever driven by context and experience in the western world?"

Jesus to the second power - a codified Jesus, expressed through a cultural lexicon (church jargon)that determines who is in and who is out. Language is powerful. How we talk about jesus is a s important as what we say. How can the conversation be more inclusive without being meaningless?

Jesus to the third power - a fragmented Jesus disconnected from the biblical narrative Christianity is only through the lens of the American cultural context. Would jeuss be a Christian? I don't think so. Besides the problem of his Jewish birth. As Brian points out I doubt if much of what we claim as traditional Christianity would be recognizable as what he taught. How can we reclaim the biblical narrative (especially Jesus teaching, with the modernist interpretation of Paul cold-filtered out) as a starting point for practicing faith today?



Brian's Notes - Part 6 (The Final Episode)

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read part 3 here
Read Part 4 here
Read Part 5 here

Every writer faces the issue of literary criticism, but in your case it seems that people get most excited about what you’re saying as opposed to how you say it! How do you deal with criticism? Is it a burden to bear, fuel for more thinking and writing, a little of both, or none of the above?

I'm glad you ask this question because it gives me an opportunity to ask for prayer. This book will probably garner more criticism than any of my previous ones, and the one I'm finishing up now (The Last Word and the Word After That - sequel to New Kind of Christian and Story We Find Ourselves In) will probably break recent records for criticism. I need prayer to a) learn what I should learn from criticism, b) not get bitter when some of it is unfair or inaccurate, but rather grow in love for my critics, and c) not be wounded or discouraged in the process. So, I'd categorize criticism for me as a burden to bear, and a temptation or test to overcome.

The criticism that is hardest to bear is not the ranting attacks - most of which don't really understand what I'm talking about, and are expressions of cherished systems being questioned. This reaction is completely understandable and easy not to take personally. But when people who generally agree with me decide to quarrel with some small point - which tends to minimize the big picture - that's tougher. In this regard, I remember the reviews of the movie "Waiting to Exhale." The first reviews praised the film: "Finally a film that does justice to the African-American woman's experience." Then a wave of reviews came out that said, "What a dismal failure at making sense of the African-American male's experience!" One film - and one book - can only do so much, and it's hard when you've tried to do one thing reasonably well to be criticized for not doing everything at once. But that's life, and therein lies my opportunity to grow in character and virtue!

At the end of the day, I really care about my writing and am seeking to tell the truth as I see it. I care about many things far more than how my writing succeeds (however that's defined), of course, and through my writing I hope in some small ways God's kingdom coming on earth as in heaven. That's a messy process and the life of Jesus tells us that what appear to be defeats can be successes. And vice versa. So, even in my failures where I'm rightly critiqued, I hope some good can come - and even when I'm unfairly criticized, much good can come I know.

Thanks Brian for taking the time to offer us a little insight into your writing, and your heart. We appreciate that you are willing to think and write thoughts that have helped bring some order to the confusion. We'll be praying.


Brian's Notes - Part 5

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here
Read Part 4 here

In your introduction we find this warning:

“…as in most of my other books, there are places here where I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity.” p. 22,23.

Clarity is sometimes overrated. I love that notion! Is that a characteristic of the culture we find ourselves in, or do you believe the very nature of the gospel requires us to hold it lightly, to not look directly at it but use our peripheral vision to “see” it? Is it a tactic, for lack of a better word, of our times, or is it a timeless principle, given the subject?

Great question. I think it's actually a characteristic of the gospel. Jesus himself can't say "The Kingdom of God is...." but rather "The Kingdom of God is like...." And he can't even just say that. He has to follow that up with another simile, and another, and another. And doggone it, birds don't always symbolize the same things, nor do trees or yeast or whatever. It's the same with the prophets. Their language is the image-rich language of vision and dreams, not of math.

We're coming out of a time when engineering language was seen as the most true and believable, so I think it's getting easier to be in resonance with Biblical language again - now that even the physicists have converted from the old Newtonian language of laws and mechanics to "fuzzy logic" and chaos theory and relativity and unpredictability etc.

Thanks Brian.


reads like a blog

Hello everyone, DJ Chuang here. In cahoots with my partner in blogging, Jen Lemen, we've setup this space for conversations around Brian's new book, and am happy to hear that its first printing has sold out, but not so happy that our team of bloggers haven't received their copy yet. I did the techy stuff to get this launched, and Jen has assembled a great team of bloggers from a diverse range of voices and perspectives. After all, we wanted to be generous with the conversation, and not perpetuate the talk amongst ourselves. Jen will help guide the conversation after she intuitively senses that the book has arrived for our team, and do her doula magic to kick things off.

I've begun to read the physical book, as far as the preview chapters have been released, and one of my impressions of the book is: it reads like a blog! The only thing missing is timestamps and the links for comments! It's written in a first-person narrative, and traces Brian's meanderings and personal journey towards spiritual understanding, though he's quick to disclaim that clarity or certainty of knowledge is over-rated (was that in Chapter 0?). It's an honest and thoughtful reflection on the things he's learned and the things he's learning, and has a good interplay between feelings and thoughts, with an underlying desire to see the good and value of all perspectives by all of God's creation and His creatures, human beings in particular.

It's also fun for me to read, as he quotes snippets of conversations he's had with certain people, and I know who they are! (full disclosure: both Jen and I attend Brian's church) Makes me wonder if Jen or I will have one of our conversations quoted later on in the book, or maybe in the next book. :)


Brian's Notes - Part 4

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here

Following on from your experimenting with Anabaptist and Anglican methods and practices (and your earlier talks on Practicing the Presence of God), can you suggest some practices for those who are new to this experience?

I think just about everyone benefits from being mentored in these things, as opposed to studying them on one's own. There's something about submitting to the "spiritual master" or "spiritual director" or "mentor" that enhances the experience. You become part of a tradition, a community - it's not just about learning the practices: it's about entering the community. So, I'd suggest finding a monastery or looking for a retreat (or planning one - and finding someone qualified to lead it) and delving into experiences that way ... in community, in a tradition, in apprenticeship. I think that's how I learned contemplative prayer, practicing God's presence, lectio divina, ignatian reading, examen, and anything else of value that I know. I think you'll make more progress in one weekend, or even in one evening in a communal context than you will in months trying to "do it yourself."

Thanks Brian.



Still holding out for my copy of The Book to arrive, but just wanted to share a thought on the first (free!) chapter, read so far.

Along with this book, I've just started reading Yancey's "The Jesus I never knew". I picked it up because I suddenly realized, after years as a Christian, that I didn't really understand who Jesus was - I've had to start from scratch on a number of things that I thought I knew, and this is one of them.

Growing up in a single denomination, never venturing out to even attend another denomination's service until recently, I guess there were a number of other Jesus's I didn't get to meet - those that the first chapter talks about, the variety of expressions and attributes that different branches of the faith emphasize.

So, as strange as it may seem to many who know all this stuff, that first chapter has been a bit of an eye-opener to me. Not only an introduction to the ways Jesus is viewed, but also to the many, varied beliefs within the Body. It's interesting to see how different Jesus can be - one Man, so many ways to meet Him, interact with Him and know Him. I can understand wanting to take all these and mould them into a Big Picture, to try gather all the best bits and put them into one. I wonder if we ever, humanly, individually, can do that? Or do our upbringing, our traditions, our beliefs and our encounters with God and man permanently colour how we interpret Jesus?

I'm only done with chapter one of both these books - I can't wait to see what's on the next page!


Brian's Notes - Part 3

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here

Can you suggest a methodology, or even an attitude we should adopt, in reading scripture again – for the first time – in order to see it in the light of “narrative theology”?

This is huge. My first thought is "Read Brueggemann." He has helped me greatly in this regard.

My second thought is some advice a former colleague, Jose Torres, passed on to me: "If something is weird in the Bible, don't try to make it normal. Face its weirdness. Wrestle with it. Don't try to smooth the lumps and wrinkles in the bed; pull up the covers and see what's under there. Some of the greatest treasures come from the weirdest places." That advice has served me well.

Also, I think it's great to read weird commentaries - weird relative to your own upbringing or bias or training. For example, I saw Genesis in a new light after reading Alan Dershowitz's book "The Genesis of Justice," and Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael." In postmodern jargon, this involves listening to "the voice of the other" - seeing from someone else's perspective. I have some Jewish friends who occasionally come to my church - which makes me hear everything differently, because every time the word "Jews" comes up, or even when the name of "Jesus" is said, I can't help but think of how it sounded in their ears. I think these experiences help us with the Bible - asking, "How would this have sounded in the ears of the original hearers?" That involves imagination, which is pretty hard to turn into a technique or methodology, I suppose.

I just finished preaching through Colossians. I can't tell you how fresh it was for me. My dispensationalist-Calvinist upbringing always taught me to read the Bible looking for a couple of key doctrines (total depravity/original sin, justification by grace through faith, penal atonement, etc.). It was all individualistic, all hell-avoidance-oriented, etc. I've been away from that long enough now - plus I just returned from part of the summer in Africa where I was exposed to the fruits of colonial-Christianity - that I was able to read Colossians not as personalistic/individualistic - but as global, social, cosmic, historic, revolutionary, political - and the internal coherence in this reading was staggering to me. (I'm not saying I preached it that well!)

Thanks Brian!


one more...

Sorry to be such a space hog, but I found one more quote that I thought really captured what I was trying to say:

Mahatma Gandhi, the great Hindu sage, suggested that if Christ could only be unchained from the shackles of Christianity, he could become "THE WAY", not just for Christians, but for the whole world:

"The gentle figure of Christ, so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught his followers not to retailate when struck, but to turn the other cheek - was a beautiful example, I thought, of the perfect person."

He said he thought of Christ as "a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice", and of the cross as "a great example of Jesus' suffering", and "a factor in the composition of my underlying faith in non-violence, which rules all my actions".

"I refused to believe", he said,

"that there exists a person who has not made use of his example, even though he or she may have done so without realizing it... The lives of all who, in some greater or lesser degree, been changed by his presence... And because Jesus has the significance, and transcendency to which I have alluded, I believe he belongs not to Christianity, but to the entire world; to all people , it matters little what faith they profess."

"Leave Christians alone for the moment," he said. "I shall say to the Hindus that your lives will be incomplete unless you reverently study... Jesus. Jesus did not preach a new religion, but a new life" said Gandhi. "Jesus lived and died in vain if he did not teach us to regulate the whole of life by the eternal law of love."

Thoughts about Sivin's thoughts...

I may be jumping the gun here, because I haven't read beyond chapter one yet, but I can see that this idea will likely be coming up, so perhaps it is good to look at it right from the beginning.

I am talking about Sivin's reference to Christianity becoming "rooted in the soil" of Malaysia. Living in Japan on a missionary visa, the challenges surrounding that idea come up often for me.

It seems that within the recent history of Christian mission, there have been two extremes to which the pendulum swings. On one side there is the colonial, culture-crushing kind of mission that carried an attitude which basically said, "We have the truth, you need it, and we are going to give it to you, whether you like it or not".

In reaction to this, you have the movement that says mission is best done only by nationals within a given country; that only they can effectively communicate the gospel to their own culture. And from what I've encountered, neither side seems to be too interested in uncovering what God has been up to in the culture before the "missionaries" even arrived. Rather, it is just about who gets to communicate the truth from "over there".

To me, both seem to miss out on the diversity and sharing that seem to be central to Christ and the Kingdom of God. Perhaps a better paradigm would be one that says, we westerners have been given something from God to give to you, AND (and that's a big "and") God has planted something historically in this nation and this people that we need to learn from you.

But I guess that is where it gets down to the nitty gritty of how our theology affects our actions, and therefore where it gets divisive. Because in my case, the central guiding principle I take from Christ in scripture, the mission I believe has been given me, is the communication and the acting out of grace, the God kind of Love you might say, in whatever context you find yourself. For me that means I am comfortable with some big changes in the cultural expression of Christianity, as long as it squares with the guiding principle of grace. I would venture a guess that Christ may not be too concerned with our cultural expression (for all he had to say about it) as long as we are learning to Love.

Lots of people disagree with that. Lots of people believe that parts of the faith that I consider cultural are much more intricately linked to the mission that Christ gave his followers. And there the tension lies; there application gets more difficult.

Looking through the chapter headings, I don't see one called, "Why I am Buddhist". Yet this is the question I am interested in hearing discussed - to what extent do we need to be listening for the truth of Christ as it has been expressed in the religions of other truth seekers. I guess I should add though, don't let such crazy talk make you write me off as some kind of syncretistic, all-religions-are-equal liberal. That doesn't fit me. I actually passionately (perhaps arrogantly?) believe there is something unique, central (dare I say supreme?) in the person of Christ. I just don't think it is contained in the religion we created to represent him. And I think we should be looking for and trusting in the ways he has been expressing his heart to diverse people in diverse places, throughout the ages.

Dwight Friesen (he's from Manitoba!!)posted this a while ago. Maybe it captures some of what I am trying to say:

Back in the 1920's E. Stanley Jones wrote something to the effect of, Christ did not come to abolish Judaism but to fulfill it. Jones when on to build a case challenging the colonialist missionary movement of his day, arguing that Christ didn't come to destroy Hinduism but to fulfill it, ...to fulfill Islam, ...to fulfill Buddhism, etc...

What if in the name of Christ we sought to preserve and fulfill the beauty of God seen through other religions? While always nudging toward Christ. Like if Saddam Hussein began to follow Christ, should he renounce Islam and become a Methodist. Or could he live Christ in Islam?

Is that too vague? Should I be using more concrete examples? How are we supposed to discuss this stuff on a blog, with all the back-and-forth, challenging and clarifying type questions that a good discussion requires??

Starting with the Foreword Pt.1

Mic test 1-2-3 ... Thanks Jen Lemen for the invite ... I hope my participation in the conversation here would be helpful :-)

Hi my name is Sivin Kit, I am a man of one wife and the father of one son with another youngster still in May Chin (my wife's tummy *grin*). I'm from the not so well known country Malaysia (unless we made any international news lately). I am serving as a Pastor in Kuala Lumpur, the capital. Our church Bangsar Lutheran Church just celebrated our 4th year anniversary since starting on April fool's day 2000 in my house! Oh yes ... I'll be stepping into the 32 year old room in October. That should be enough for now. I'm starting to sound a bit too formal ...

I've always not been a very good critique ... and it took me ages to write the book review for one of Brian's earlier books - The Church on the Other Side (which I think is great and extremely helpful!) So, I kind of decided to approach it more like a conversation allowing what I read to spark whatever reflections I have personally and more specifically re-looking at my own context here in Muslim majority Malaysia where Christians are probably 11% of the population according to the latest census.

Thanks to the sample chapter I can start even before the book arrives. But, before engaging Brian I had loads of stuff bubbling even with John R. Franke's Foreword. I use the page numbers to guide me.

Page 1 - On the reality of change ...
On this side of heaven , we've definately have a similar sense that the world we have known is changing as well. For Malaysia, we got our independence in 1957 from the British, and we were colonized by the Portugese, the Dutch and for short two years under Japanese occupation. all this within about the last 500 years. On top of this, there's this whole modernisation and economic development especially the last 20 years or so, not forgetting the reality of Islamization in the public square, the co-existence of multiple world religions and folk religions, and of course the internet revolution, globalisation, and other influences especially the media, etc.

As far as Christianity is concerned, I think different strands also have co-existed as well, and we work together often on common issues. And in general, most if not all of the denominations are pretty much "conservative" Evangelical in outlook from those associated with the council of churches Malaysia (which consists of the mainline denominations, e.g. Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, etc) and those connected with the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship. Charismatic/Pentecostal Christianity would probably be the fasted growing group the past years but then again even the mainline churches have been impacted too. I don't know enough to comment on the Roman Catholic situation apart form the fact there is a Christian Federation Malaysia where all three Christian groups are united in one voice as far as issues relating to the Government is concernd. So, working together I think we've been doing it for quite well but on the ground level I'm not too sure whether there's a strong sense of mutal appreciation. many of my local church pastor friends though maybe open to dialogue with someone different but at times there are still some suspicion, lack of understanding and indepth mutual appreciation.

Our struggle here on one hand the outside we have always wreslted with our Christianity can be rooted in our soil (which we still have a long way to go) and then there's this "moving tectonic" changes going on as well globally (phew!) On the other hand, on the inside we are either busy doing ministry with passion for church or making a living for others while still plagued by fragmentation and a lack of integration not just at a practical level but more so at the reflective or "paradigm"/thinking level. (I don't mean to vent on my Western brothers and sisters here) At times we import your quarrels or it gets exported to us historically or influentially, And often (maybe) because we don't spend the time to distinguish the issues or have too much on our plate - that we must be responsible ourselves, We get drawn into battles that sap our must needed "constructive" energies. Thus, the blame game isn't helpful. It's very much time for us to "focus" our thinking and doing ... and start building genuine bridges not only amongst ourselves (that's where Brian's book maybe of some help) as well as seeing how Christians in the west face the changes, but also build a connection across borders (with the help of the internet .. this would be easier at least for me). So, Thanks Jen again for the chance ... I hope this is a helpful start from my end of the earth :-)


Brian's Notes - Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

How do you balance your hectic travel and speaking schedule, not to mention your pastoral responsibilities, with the task of writing a book. Do you have a discipline, or do you write a little “here and there” when you have the chance?

I love to write, so I don't have to discipline myself to do it. I think I get the same enjoyment from writing that some people get from playing golf or gambling or eating chicken wings or building multinational corporations. So I write whenever I can. I grab an hour on a plane or in a hotel, or I get up early or stay up late. Sometimes I indulge in a whole day - maybe starting at 7 in the morning and writing until midnight. The time flies. I write fast and then revise like crazy. I also throw away a lot of stuff. Of course - I just went to Amazon and read the first posted review for A Generous Orthodoxy - clearly some people wish I'd throw away a lot more!

When I travel, I give talks that often turn into chapters in books. The traveling and speaking gives me a chance to field test stuff. The Q & A sessions, the push-backs, the conversations over meals or in elevators all help me know what's working, what's not, what's important, what's less so.

Being a pastor also nourishes my writing. I have a conversation with someone ... I get an angry email after a sermon ... I have to deal with a tough counseling situation ... I'm thrown in the deep end of real life ... I have someone misunderstand me or spread a boatload of gossip about me, and I need to work it out with them ... I hurt someone, or say the wrong thing, or forget something I should have remembered ... it all helps me keep it real. It would be very easy to catch the talking head disease. Being part of a local church is a good vaccination.

There's a lot of suffering in pastoral ministry, along with a lot of joy. Plus you hear and intersect with so many, many stories of real people. All of that can't help but enrich the writing process.

Sometimes writing is like vision - if you look directly at something, it's hard to see. Sometimes your best vision is peripheral vision. So sometimes, pastoral ministry distracts me from whatever it is I'm writing about - distracts me in a good way, so I'm not looking directly at it. I focus on something else - today it was a wedding, last week it was going to court with a juvenile offender and his family, tomorrow it might be a funeral - and insight sneaks into my peripheral vision to help me write. I'm rambling - but I hope that's helpful in some way.

Before we go on to the next question, I should add that I think preaching has helped me in my writing as much as anything else. The weekly practice of crafting sermons always forces me to think of how sentences feel in the throat and mouth and ear ... their rhythm, their punch, their poetry, their pitch. The best writing, I think, is always connected by a very sensitive nerve to the vocal cords.

Also, preaching keeps me engaged deeply with the Bible each week, more deeply than if I were just reading it for myself. Any writer who pays close attention to the Bible (for its storylines, for its agonizing ambiguities and polyvalence, for its bizarre and beautiful detail) can't help but be stimulated and stretched and inspired.

Thanks Brian!

Initial thoughts...

JJ here. I am still waiting for my book, but in the meantime I read the intro and thought I would jot down a couple of thoughts.

First of all, I like McLaren's straightforward, accessible style. It seems to me that a lot of the time, one of the reasons that some of these ideas seem so threatening to those in evangelical circles is because despite the fact that these ideas have been around for a while, they have too often been communicated in a code comprehensible only to theologians, and thus have not been given a lot of air time among everyday Christians (of course, it could possibly also be because everyday Christians, whatever that means, don't give a damn about theology, but let's discuss that later). But McLaren said all this already, didn't he.

Anyway, his mentions of Chesterton make me think that, on the other hand, there have been those saying these things in a fairly clear manner for some time now, but they have by and large been ignored, or maybe skipped over, rather than rejected outright. I say that thinking about C.S. Lewis. At times, reading Lewis, I have wondered how the guy avoided being bbq'ed by the evangelical community that seems to love him so much, because of some of the ideas he promoted. Even in some of his most widely read works, Lewis makes statements that I would assume should have landed him in the "evangelical heretic" category. I blogged about this before, but I wanted to quote it again, because I think it is pertinent to the discussion. I notice that already critics over at Amazon are saying that McLaren's ideas open the door "too wide". Well, it seems that he is in good company. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

...But there is another way of demanding results in which the outer world may be quite illogical. They may demand not merely that each man’s life should improve if he becomes a Christian: they may also demand before they believe in Christianity that they should see they whole world neatly divided into two camps – Christian and non-Christian – and that all the people in the first camp at any given moment should be obviously nicer than all the people in the second. This is unreasonable on several grounds.

(I) In the first place the situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100 percent Christians and 100 percent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of goodwill may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christs birth may have been in this position. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgements about Christians and non-Christians in the mass...

Add to that the scene at the end of The Final Battle where you have some who thought they were enemies of Aslan finding out that they were indeed on his side, and you have some pretty challenging ideas.

Ok. That is only one initial thought, but enough for now.


Hello from South Africa

Yes, it's your way-down-south South African chapter, checking in at last. Jen asked me to post a short intro (while I wait for the book to arrive), so here goes.

I'm Michelle, from the very bottom of the African continent. I grew up as a pastor's kid in a pretty conservative denomination, but my journey in the past few years has taken me to some very unexpected places. First as a tentative step out of denominational bounds, then involvement in a very different church, then a bit of happy-clappy for hype level, and finally to a place where I'm currently "home-churched" - just resting, learning and Be-ing for a bit. Add to that a sudden introduction via the web into "emerging" options a year or so ago, and it's quite a mix!

"Emerging" hasn't really hit this continent too hard yet. Much of African spirituality is rooted in ancient practices, very conservative views and church as the building you go to every week (or else!). You'll still see Sunday-best dressed folk, Bible under the arm, on their way to church every weekend. You'll still hear church bells peal out their "alarm clock" at 9 a.m. There are pockets here and there of folk doing things differently - a group in Cape Town that meets informally and works among the homeless, the beach ministry and church-in-a-Muslim-run-restaurant for surfers, the kids who started a skaters ministry. But most have never heard the term "emerging", and I often have to try sum it up in words they can relate to, without sounding weird for being enthusiastic over its possibilities.

Funny thing is, the further along this journey I get, the more I realize I have to learn. Each step forward feels like a couple back.

Most of my mind-expanding learning has been online via forums, blogs and online publications. This will be the first official "emerging" book I'll read, though I have read a couple of Brian's articles online.

I initially thought I'd have to keep a dictionary close at hand when reading this book - I'm not "up" on all those big theological terms that everyone seems to throw around so readily, even if my dad WAS a pastor. But I've been pleasantly suprised so far that it's really understandable, there are plenty of explanations for commoners such as myself, and it's struck a chord with where I am on this journey.

I'd also like to hand out copies to a good few people/pastors I know... :)

Looking forward to reading the rest of the book, and to the ensuing conversation here. Blessings to all today!

Lab Rat

My book has arrived and so far, I've read the Foreword by John R. Franke. And I'm getting that feeling that I get when I think I've actually had an original thought and then I pick up a Newsweek magazine and the thing I was thinking about is the cover story. Or is it more that feeling that I get when something just seems self evident to me, but there are lots and lots of people who don't agree with me and then I read something like the Foreword and I want to shout, "See! See! I'm not an idiot! Someone else agrees with me too! Someone important!"

Well, all that and more was going through my head as I read this opening section to A Generous Orthodoxy. Reading this, so far, makes me ask myself a question I often ask, "Why do people have such short memories?" "Why is that we think all of history started the year we were born?" I ask these questions because they seem to me to be the cause of the current conundrum that the church finds itself in as described by Mr. Franke. As he says:

Foundationalism refers to a conception of knowledge that emerged during the Enlightenment and sought to address the lack of certainty generated by the human tendency toward error and to overcome the inevitable, often destructive disagreements and controversies that followed.

Fear of uncertainty and fear of conflict. I see these as having been the driving forces behind much of the western church since the time of the Enlightenment. They fuel our fevered debates about biblical inerrancy, our theological differences about the relative divinity of Jesus, and the reliance on a Christian subculture to keep us "safe" from unwholesome influences. But this framework in which the church operates is largely invisible to most of the people in the evangelical and mainline protestant traditions. And, as McLaren writes in A New Kind of Christian, if you point this grid out to them, they won't be happy with you. Why do we need certainty? Why can't we learn to work through conflict without it harming our sense of personal safety? Why aren't our churches places where we can learn these skills?

And here's where I start feeling like a lab rat because it's like reading a scary-accurate horoscope when he says:

...strong ecumenical interests, a desire to move beyond the liberal/conservative divide, and a willingness to think through old questions in new ways that foster the pursuit of truth, the unity of the church, and the gracious character of the gospel.

Yep, that's me. And then I think, well if this seems self evident to me, and I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, how come it's not self evident to everyone else? Why does this stuff have to be so hard for church folk? It's crystal clear for the unchurched.

I think I'm also realizing that being emergent is a value. It's about going deeper and it is something that transcends the church. Finally, I'm reminded of a quote from the new movie What The Bleep Do We Know? that says:

The trick to life isn't being in the know. It's being in the mystery.


Brian's Notes - Part 1

Through the intrepid Jen Lemen (it pays to have friends in high places) Brian has very kindly agreed to an email exchange with me on a short series of questions on writing in general and A Generous Orthodoxy specifically. I'll post one question and answer every couple of days here.

Can you tell us about your writing habits? For instance, are you an avid “journal keeper”?

First, Mike, thanks for the questions. Nobody has ever asked me about these sorts of questions for an "official" interview before. OK - about journaling - I began journaling in my college years (thanks to one of my mentors who suggested I try it, and shared his journal with me). Most of my journaling has been writing prayers, sometimes reflections on Scripture, sometimes poetry or song lyrics as part of my private worship. I'm sure journaling helped my writing a little, but mostly it helped my praying. Of course, maybe praying helps writing most of all!

I've noticed that for the last several years, my journaling has decreased some, although it's still part of me, and I return to it as needed, but not as often as before. I think that writing books has filled a similar function as journal keeping ... helping me think, reflect, process, pray, etc. If journaling was in any way good for my writing, now writing seems to be bad for my journaling!As for my writing habits - I used to be a college writing teacher, and one of the things I'd tell my students is that they needed to find the rhythm of writing that worked for them. Some people write every day - an hour, two hours, or some word-count - a hundred words, a thousand words, whatever. Others go away and write for a week or a month at a time. Others are paralyzed until inspiration hits, which is usually shortly after a deadline has passed.

One of my profs in graduates school - actually, it was my thesis director, a wonderful scholar (Walker Percy's literary confidant) named Lewis Lawson - helped me find my rhythm. He kept asking me for an outline of my thesis, and I kept giving him approximations to an outline, but not a bona fide outline with I's and II's and a.1's and a.2's and so on. Finally one day he said, "It sounds like you just want to go up on stage and sing and see what comes out. Some people are like that - they do their best when they improvise. I think you should just start writing and forget about the outline and see what happens." I had more fun writing that thesis (on Walker Percy by the way - what a writer!) than anything I'd done in school since finger painting in kindergarten. So I'd found my rhythm: just do it. Just let it out. Just start and see what happens.

So that's what I do. Of course, I have to submit an outline with each book proposal, but so far, none of my books has ended up exactly as the book proposal outline promised. I go into the project with a problem or a direction or an image or some combination of them all ... and see where it leads.

Thanks Brian!



Gang - just a quick plug for our friend Bill Bean over at Bean Books. They've got the book for the same price as Amazon, and Bill isn't some nameless, faceless corporation. (Talk about biting the hand that feeds me!)

Besides, Bill will even ship to Canada, so you know he's got it going on.


What McLaren is Not Saying in this Book

Karen makes a great point in her rant at her blog, Raw Faith. She describes the common practise of cobbling together elements of different religious traditions for aesthetic purposes. It's really good to have this point in mind while reading McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy, because Karen describes a practise that many readers will mistakenly believe McLaren to be engaged in with this book. A different chapter on each tradition and McLaren takes what he likes and throws out what he doesn't, right? Wrong. That is not what McLaren is saying. Karen writes,

Stop using things like the Book of Common Prayer and candles and incense because you think they’re cool. At least go to an Episcopal service, or an Orthodox service, or a Roman Catholic service and actually learn a little bit about their liturgy before you start saying things like, “and now for an old Anglican prayer.” It’s not just an old prayer! It’s the liturgy practiced by thousands of people all over the world – right now! The candles and incense? They mean something. It’s not just an aesthetic.

Learn what the Eucharist really is and then go find a priest who can teach you how to serve it properly. Better yet, go to mass. When you do, reflect on what your life would be like if you actually had the spiritual fortitude to just sit there in the pew every Sunday like all of the other nameless schmoes in the sanctuary.

I think McLaren, based on A Generous Orthodoxy, would wholeheartedly agree with Karen's frustration. The question is, if McLaren is not cobbling together elements of different traditions (which a superficial reading of his book may lead one to believe he is doing), then what is he doing?

I've tried to approach this question at my blog, Theological Thought, in reference to this and other books by McLaren. However, as McLaren says in A Generous Orthodoxy, "clarity is overrated". So what do you think he's saying in A Generous Orthodoxy? Is he just taking the good and leaving the bad with different traditions? If not, then what is he doing?

Jumping In

I have to say that I'm pretty nervous about doing this. My name is Karen Haluza and I'm relatively new to the "church world", which is why Jen invited me. I'm the token cultural atheist. Just reading the title of this book makes my eyes glaze over. Here - I'll write the whole thing down for you because it doesn't even fit on the Amazon description.

A Generous Orthodoxy - Why I am a missional-evangelical-post-protestant- liberal/conservative-mystical/poet-biblical-charismatic/comtemplative-fundamentalist/calvinist-anabaptist/anglican-methodist-catholic-green-incarnational-depressed-yet-hopeful-emergent-unfinished-Christian.

Whew! Props to Ken, but I have no idea what a Nietzschean concern for orthodoxy is. I've never been to seminary and tend to write about faith from a personal/experiential view. I tend to find that I am quintessentially emerging without even knowing it. I have major issues with the emerging church after having been wholly invested in a faith community that was an experiment in doing and being church in new ways. I am currently a member of an Episcopal church and value the tension and uncertainty of the theological debates occurring in that denomination over issues of inclusivity in church leadership. I blog at Raw Faith.

Amazon promises that my book is in the mail and I'm looking forward to seeing how we all explore what it has to say - together.

okay, start already would you!

is the suspense killing you?
yes, yes, we are going to discuss, but some people are STILL waiting to receive the book. is anyone else camped out on their front porch wondering if that big brown truck is ever going to show?
we've invited some friends from far off places around the globe to join us for this conversation, so it won't just be the same ole lot of us having the same ole conversation. (you know, the white guys with the latest & greatest in clever facial hair and rich american housewives like myself.) all this to say, i think it's worth it to hang in there until our friends can join us. if all goes well, i'm sending books by fastest means possible tuesday morning.

just in case you're curious, sivin kit is joining us from malaysia.
michelle bainbridge is going to give her two cents from south africa.
and of course, you already met john from japan, who is being deceptively agreeable. (please, please don't punch his power or poverty buttons--his two most brilliant subjects-- although it would make everything much more entertaining). :)
andre daley is already on board as well as karen haluza. jump in anytime & say "hey", you bloggers who have yet to introduce yourselves. it'll give us something to read while we're waiting to start full swing. and someone say something unremarkable or silly. if we have to be smart or serious the whole time, i'll never make it.

it would also be great to hear from those of you who've already started. anything you're dying to talk about so far? initial impressions? gold star for ken's A+ book report? all suggestions for the course of our conversation welcome.


A Book to be Read and Reread

So I finished the book. It's definitely a book to be read and reread. Here are my initial thoughts, which I've put together in a review of the book. More thoughts to come. Look forward to reading others' reactions to the book. Thanks Jen and DJ for putting this together!!

Ken's Little Review

Dallas Willard wrote in The Divine Conspiracy that a discipline is "any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort". Orthodoxy, for Brian McLaren in his book A Generous Orthodoxy, seems to play a similar role. Just as McLaren's Neo said in A New Kind of Christian that "Christianity does not own God", so no orthodoxy can ever "own God". Rather, a la Willard, orthodoxy seems to be something within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.

From this perspective, McLaren engages, one chapter at a time, each of several traditions of reflection on God (e.g. mystical/poetic, anabaptist/anglican, catholic, etc). His approach to the orthodox claims of each tradition will frustrate some, as McLaren evaluates these claims on levels other than their validity. For one, McLaren is interested in the salutary benefits of various orthodox positions, such as the esteem with which adherents to Biblical inerrancy hold the Bible. A second consideration McLaren brings to each orthodox claim is the intentions of its adherents. Orthodoxy that is constructed from a sincere desire for God is, for McLaren, always to be respected and taken seriously. Both of these considerations are generous ones, as opposed to the lack of generosity found in modern apologetic discourse that really believes we will, in our lifetimes, capture God in a creed.

McLaren's approach to orthodoxy is similar to Willard's approach to evaluating claims to revelation in his book "Hearing God". Willard once described this book as a phenomenological approach - that by evaluating the way revelation seems to manifest itself in people's lives, the ways God seems to disclose himself and the effect such disclosure has on people, we learn about God. This concern for the role that knowledge claims play in our lives, beyond the logical validity of the claims, is a premodern concern that was reintroduced by Nietzsche, and sustained by successive phenomenologists, including, at times, Willard.

Nietzsche wrote about two Greek gods in his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, in which he described Greek tragedy as "that art [which] owes its continuous evolution to the Apollonian-Dionysiac duality". Apollo, the god of sculpture, is for Nietzsche the symbol of order, form and restraint, whereas Dionysius, the god of music and wine, is the symbol of the frenzy of passion and unpredictable life forces. Nietzsche admired Greek tragedy for this reason, and he admired the composer Richard Wagner for the same reasons - until Wagner converted to Christianity, at which point Wagner became a central target of Nietzsche's criticism. You see, for Nietzsche, 19th century culture denied the Dionysian creative force, smothering everything with life-denying Christian, Apollonian orthodoxies. Progress for Nietzsche depends on the perpetual dialectic between these two forces.

McLaren, in my opinion, is animated by this Nietzschean concern that orthodoxy be respected and engaged, but that it not become a force of static, Apollonian plasticity. Unlike Nietzsche, though, McLaren is also animated by a premodern teleological conviction that these structures of belief aren't empty sophistry, but actually point to, or witness to, a telos, which for McLaren is God. Reading A Generous Orthodoxy is akin to reading the diary of a lifelong seeker after God (not just knowledge about God, but God Himself) whose desperation for God is greater than his desire to be right. That this book masterfully invites us to share this desperation makes it a generous gift of McLaren to his readers.

(If you're feeling generous, you can read this review at Amazon here and vote for it.)


John in Japan

Thanks for the invite. I am John Janzen. I am living in Japan. I am kind of a missionary, but then aren't we all.

This will be my first Brian McLaren book, though so much of what I have heard him say in different places online, I have very liked. So I don't expect to be among the Brian bashers, but I haven't got the book yet. I tend to like it when he says things that sound heretical or unorthodox, because I tend to think that orthodoxy is an illusion.

I will order the book today, but it might take a while longer to get to Nagoya...

shout out

love to have a little shout out here for everyone out there reading the book, interested in reading the book or currently waiting on their front porch for the ups person to drop off your long awaited copy.

we figure this space might be as good as any to discuss the book & it will be so much more fun & interesting if you're along for the ride. we could become our own little virtual book club.

so give a little intro, who you are, where you're from & why you decided to read the book.
a couple of posts down the line, we'll figure out how to proceed from here...



This is a team blog, a place where we will have conversations about Brian McLaren's new book: a Generous Orthodoxy. Those who had placed a pre-order via amazon.com are receiving it as early as yesterday.

This is not an official website for Brian, Zondervan, Emergent, or any other organizational entity. It is simply a place for blogging our thoughts and conversations about the book and related matters.