A generous orthodoxy.

I have been meaning to write on this idea for a while now, but recent events have forced my hand somewhat.

I rarely read anything from the evangelical movement, to be honest. Two of the better books I have read in the last five years however came from that tradition. One is Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology (InterVarsity Academic), and the other is Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. It is a book not really as well known around these parts, mainly because the evangelical discourse imported from America is largely dominated by the unfortunate “prosperity gospel” and books which promote a, dare I say it, terribly “practical” use of Scripture that denies it the opportunity to be ambiguous about such matters. (Looming in the background is the dispensationalism of Hal Lindsay and his condemnation of biblical scholarship for stating that such ambiguities exist.)

McLaren’s book has been important for me, because I am seeing my identity as a “post-denominational Catholic” as really being an effort to live out what McLaren suggests: an approach to Christianity that brings to the fore what is valuable about what all its parts/divisions/whatever have contributed to the great pilgrimage of faith. What he defines an orthodoxy is less about the bounds (which is a point for dispute) but what is within the bounds. In short, he is close to suggesting my vision for Catholic Christianity, particularly, dare I say, its Anglican form.

(At this point, I recommend it for reading by all Anglican leaders, by my friends at St. Andrew’s—I found this in your library—anyone from any faction of the church. You may be uncomfortable with some of the language, but then, just wait till you get to my favorite section.)

The book is more of a confession—in a sense, he outlines his conception of Christian faith, his theology (I dare say), in light of his faith experience. The genre enables him to speak in a deeply conversational, sometimes flippant tone. For instance, the introduction repeatedly warns the reader about what the book is not about, urging the reader in one instance to the effect of “getting a refund” if he or she is uncomfortable with his project. But this is a book written sometimes in deep earnestness, as when he calls for a self-examination of why, sometimes, Christians fail to love as Christ did.

My favorite part is when he praises the liturgical traditions of the catholic strand of Christianity. Here, he laments a form of so-called “spontaneous prayer” called the “Prayer of the Justified” which I have, since McLaren wrote so beautifully and funnily about it, always found occasion to grin about whenever it is uttered earnestly. In so doing, he praises Cranmer and the whole cloud of unknown catholic liturgists for their measured and beautiful language. Imagine the “justified” version of this Anglican classic, because I might laugh just typing it:

“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.” (1979 American version)

I think this book is really meant to be an articulation, a newer and more acceptable one, of the principles of a movement my friend Fr. Joseph Frary and others have backed. The Convergence Movement brings together the best of many Christian traditions, liturgical, pentecostal, and evangelical. My reservations are precisely in that their vision is often hampered by a deeply ideological agenda at times. However, in suggesting what McLaren does, that there really is a way of getting beyond even that, the work of convergence must and should proceed apace.

And I propose that this be the theological basis of the new St. Andrew’s. We must remain catholic in the best sense of the world; we must be open to the best our respective strands of Christianity can offer, and we must encourage those who are working to bring everyone closer together to do so in an environment of relative freedom and tranquility. (Of course, this means moving the place out of Cathedral Heights.)

If this vision is adopted, I hope the day will come when I can welcome the leaders of the convergence movement into the Seminary with open arms.


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