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Brian McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy, on my first read, created all kinds of dialogue in my own mind and I found very few to discuss it with because I was not yet a blogger nor had any of my colleagues read it.
Because I’ve been thinking of late what it means to be orthodox, I’ve returned back to his book a few times to pick up what he meant by generous. Let me suggest three elements to the meaning of the word “generous” in his proposal. (If you were not aware of this, the expression “generous orthodoxy” comes from Hans Frei.)
First, orthodoxy is generous because it is creedal, and limits the faith to what Christians have believed (a) everywhere, (b) always, and (c) by all. This so-called Vincentian canon has recently been exploited by Thomas Oden and then also for evangelicalism by Oden and J.I. Packer.
The implication of this first element of generosity is significant: it holds us to what the Church has always believed, but to no more than what the Church has always believed. My friends, there is hope at a deep ecclesiological level for greater unity among the Churches in this sense of generosity. There is very little hope for Christians if every individual church decides on its own just what it will believe, as if the classical creeds have had no shaping on who we are and what we believe.
Furthermore, this element of orthodoxy drives each of us to be more ecumenical if that means cooperating with one another at the level of what we all believe. In short, generous orthodoxy is charitable — something some theologians struggle with.
Second, orthodoxy is generous because it is chastened in light of the postmodernist challenge in epistemology. Nothing has infuriated or stimulated the current dialogue about the Christian faith and its mission in our world more than the debate about truth and about how we know the truth. This is no place to set it all out — even if I could, which I can’t — but one of the most central elements is that human knowledge is conditioned by cultural context and even the way we articulate the Christian faith is shaped by that culture. There is no getting around this. In light of that, we need to be (so the proposal of generous orthodoxy might suggest) more dialogical, respective, and open both self-criticism and to genuine dialogue about what we really do believe and where we need to draw lines.
Third, orthodoxy is generous because it is performative or missional in shape. Here is where I think the newest innovation and perhaps the most exciting element of the Emergent movement/conversation has taken those of us who care to listen and learn. The focus of the following Jesus is personal, incarnational-relational, and mission-oriented rather than just theologically shaped. That is, Jesus calls us to live his life in our day and involved in that, which I call the Jesus Creed, is a life of heart, soul, mind, and body/strength. Theology, yes; but theology is one dimension of following Jesus today. In short, following Jesus is a performance of the gospel that transcends, but includes, an articulation of the gospel.
How can we be anything but generous in our orthodoxy?