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Emergent Church

Editor's Note: The Emergent Church segment of this website focuses upon one of the authors' writings.  There are other authors and other books, but one can find out more by reading this book review. KNF


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

by Brian D. McLaren
Reviewer: K. Neill Foster

This fascinating title suggests that maybe Jonathan Edwards has risen from the dead and lengthily outlined book titles have returned. I am not so sure that Edwards would find McLaren a choice companion in ministry and after reading the title alone, Edwards might have repeated a principle he once stated, “Multiplied religious experiences, accompanying one another are no evidence that the experience is necessarily saving or divine” (Foster, 2001, 348).

I found McLaren a brilliant author whose prose pulled me through a lengthy agenda of novel positions on various subjects. I found myself wishing he had done a Master of Divinity before writing this book—it would probably have cancelled his need to write A Generous Orthodoxy. I also wondered about his heavy dependence on Chesterton. His determination to treat all Scripture as narrative was naïve and silly. No poetry? No prophets? No epistles? I don’t think so.

The first point, in this, as you can tell, is a non-affirming review is that McLaren gags on John 14:6. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life—no one can come to the Father except through Him. His affection for inclusivism, universalism in miniature, that is, is apparent and damning. In Louis L. King’s review of an earlier book on inclusivism by other authors, Through No Fault of Their Own, he forthrightly says their book contains heresy. (King, May, 1993, 4).

Secondly, McLaren’s playful use of the various names of currents within evangelicalism and all the plus (+) signs suggest to me that he has not come to grips with Paul’s passage about differences of administration and differences of operation (1 Corinthians 12:6). Does not the Salvation Army exhibit God’s compassionate heart? Does not The Christian and Missionary Alliance reflect God’s missionary passion? The choice is not between this Christ and that; rather it is an understanding of the body of Christ.

Thirdly, there is an alternate reading of 1 John 4:3 which reads something like this, “Every spirit that severs this specific Jesus is not from God." For a thorough discussion of this, see Appendix 3 in Sorting Out the Supernatural. There is a single, specific Lord Jesus Christ “whom to know is life eternal.” Findlay once wrote,

The article ton before Jesous is well established, and gives point to the shorter reading: “Every spirit that does not confess the Jesus,” the Jesus of the Church’s faith and the Apostle’s testimony (1909:316).

McLaren’s assembly of various Christs is not unlike the multiplicity of non-divine Jesus spirits in the charismatic contexts of today. If McLaren is suggesting multiple Christs, he has the words of Jesus with which to contend, “ For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive the elect if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24).

The author’s affirmation of the Apostles Creed, and the Nicene Creed gives me some hope. Can he be less than a Christian if he wholeheartedly affirms those documents? But his softness on hell goes right along with his inclusivism. He is most adept with “itching ears,” (2 Timothy 4:3) enabled by his good writing. But he is dangerous, and as he said, “unfinished.” This man is a moving target who is leaning away from established truth, the authoritative Scripture and “the faith once delivered” (Jude 3). The way a man leans is far more revealing than what he is saying right now (Brown, H.O. J., 2002, 70).

K. Neill Foster
July 16, 2005