Brian McLaren: a generous Orthodoxy
A few weeks ago I wrote Notes from underground: Brian McLaren to speak in Pretoria and asked people who knew about him and his writings to tell me whether it would be worth paying to go an hear him speak.
There were various answers, some positive, some negative.
Now I’ve just got back from hearing him speak, and I can say unequivocally that yes, it was worth hearing him, and my wife and I are both glad that we went. It was very interesting, and it clarified a lot of things for me about the “emerging church” movement. Yes, I know he is just one bloke, and others are saying different things, but it resolved a lot of confusion for me.
In many ways there was nothing very special or startling about what he said. At one level it was New Testament 101: Introduction to the gospels. It was very Orthodox, and at some points he used Orthodox ikons to illustrate it. It was the basics of the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God. When Jesus came proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, what did it mean in the contemporary setting, and what does it mean today? For me it was familiar ground, biblically, theologically and culturally. There was nothing new, nothing I hadn’t heard before.
So what was it worth going to hear him?
I think it was his presentation, the way he drew things together, the way he got the message across.
Someone asked at one point how one does evangelism with this view of the gospel, but I think in many ways it was evangelism; he presented the basics of the gospel in a clear, succinct and ordered way, and that is evangelism.
So it answered some questions for me. Over the past few months I have got the feeling that a lot of what “emerging church” people are looking for is to be found in Orthodox Christianity, and has been in the Orthodox Church all along. Many of these things disappeared in Western Christianity with the onset of modernity, and in a sense Western Christianity and modernity are almost synonymous. And Brian McLaren’s lecture tended to confirm this. I was unable to get hold of his book A generous orthodoxy to read beforehand, and I wondered how “orthodox” he was, and what I can say now that what I heard him say tonight was very Orthodox, many Orthodox speakers I have heard have said similar things. Any differences were mostly in style, not substance.
There is more I could say, but now I’m tired and want to go to bed. Maybe I’ll pick up some particular themes from what he said in later posts.