a Generous Heterodoxy (Or Why My Orthodoxy is Confessionally and Creedally Stingy)


Is [original sin] really in the Bible, is it the only permissible way for us to think about sin, and is it the only permissible way to frame our reading of the Bible? ~ Brian McLaren

It is said we sinned in Adam, not because sin is innate, but because it comes from imitation … They are insane who teach that the sin of Adam comes upon us by propagation … A sin propagated by generation is totally contrary to the catholic faith. Sin is not born with man, but is committed afterwards by man. It is not the fault of nature, but of free will … It can in no way be conceded that God, who pardons a man’s own sins, may impute to him the sins of another. ~ Pelagius, a heretic, quoted by Augustine (from “6-Augustine-Pelagius-Part 1” by Sam Storms)

It is a monstrous and blasphemous dogma, that a holy God is angry with any creature for possessing a nature with which he was sent into being without his knowledge or consent … Original sin, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence. ~ Charles Finney, a Pelagian heretic

Update 2: The cat’s out of the bag, or rather, the heretics are out of the closet. Finally, the Emergent Village Village, through Eric S. English, has confirmed what we have suspected all along. In “The Bible is NOT the WORD OF GOD: a polemic against Christendom,” he declares:

The bible is not the WORD OF GOD. However, our elevation of the bible to almost divine status has seemingly resulted in the Church believing it is to be the moral authority over the world – as though they speak for God. We have equated the language of the bible with the Words of God. This has seemingly resulted in the bible being used as a weapon of power to oppress others. Incredibly, the Church’s oppression has not been limited to the secular world, but has even been used as a weapon to oppress its own people.

But, Jesus never oppressed anyone (emphasis original).

This heresy, which Brian McLaren describes in his a Generous Or+hodoxy as

missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservatice, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished CHRISTIAN

is not CHRISTIAN. It is paganism, Hinduism, pantheism, universalism, or whatever you call it, the Emergent Village fits in. These people are on their way down the slippery slope to atheism.

Update 1: McLaren’s “generous heterodoxy” has born another fruit:

Trevor Douglas McLaren and Owen Patrick Ryan were married Saturday in Washington. Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a Universal Life minister, officiated at the couple’s apartment.

Later in the day, the Rev. Brian D. McLaren, Mr. McLaren’s father …, led a commitment ceremony with traditional Christian elements before family and friends at the Woodend Sanctuary of the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Md. ~ New York Times, September 23, 2012.

Generous Orthodoxy

To his smorgasborg Christianity, add “heterodox” to Emergent’s Brian McLaren, which includes evolutionism:

My Christian identity is more about joining God in the healing, restoration and development and evolution of the world moving toward a brighter, richer and deeper future. Where as the identity of joining the Christianity apart from an evolutionary understanding is joining the ranks and we’re holding the lines of something that is 2,000 years old.

McLaren praises “Evolutionary Christianity” because it allows for the discussion of Darwin’s evolutionary theory versus orthodox views of creation:

“[I]t enables us to do theological reflection on the theory of evolution and on evolution as a beautiful ark of history and ark of creation. Personally, that has freed me in so many ways. It’s raised my vision of who and what God would be.”

It looks like McLaren’s God is also in the process of evolution. In fact, McLaren is the echo of Marcion, the early church heretic (ca 85-160 A.D.) who juxtaposed the “cruel” Old Testament God against the “loving” New Testament God:

In some passages, God appears violent, retaliatory, given to favoritism, and careless of human life. But over time, the image of God that predominates is gentle rather than cruel, compassionate rather than violent, fair to all rather than biased toward some, forgiving rather than retaliatory. In this more mature view, God is not capricious, bloodthirsty, hateful, or prone to fits of vengeful rage. Rather, God loves justice, kindness, reconciliation, and peace; God’s grace gets the final word.

And just like most other emergents, McLaren is confused and so equivocates on many issues. For example, he says that he is concerned that “inerrancy” and “original sin” are two words that don’t occur in the Bible, and may only be part of “philosophical assumptions.” Perhaps, the doctrine of the Trinity may also be just a part of “philosophical assumptions” because “Trinity” is nowhere to be found in Scripture. He says this about the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy:

The word inerrancy never occurs in Scripture and my concern with inerrancy is that it brings into our discussion about the Bible a set of philosophical assumptions that aren’t really necessary and actually can be unhelpful and counterproductive. So I’m not in any way questioning the authority of Scripture but the question I’m asking in the book is how do we understand authority, what are the assumptions we bring to the question of authority before we even begin to talk about the Bible.

What about original sin? He says Christians shouldn’t be so dogmatic since the word and the idea is not found in the Bible:

I don’t object to people using that term. But what I want us to do is really scrutinize that term and ask is it really in the Bible, is it the only permissible way for us to think about sin, and is it the only permissible way to frame our reading of the Bible? If people want to read the Bible in those terms, I’m not really trying to stop them … But there are other people for whom the way that we have framed the issue of original sin has become a real obstacle … We might need to ask the question in the 21st century, in order to be a Christian do you have to not only use the word original sin but do you have to hold the set of mental constructs and assumptions that go along with that word original sin?

He even doubts that a loving God actually condemns mankind because of Adam’s sin, that sin is not a legal problem, and that original sin is not in the text, but only part of tradition:

What I suggest in the book that goes along with this idea of original sin is the idea that God no longer loves humanity. The idea that humanity has become detestable to God and that it’s only the people who become Christians that God can truly love, that their being loved by God through just being God’s creatures is somehow destroyed by original sin. Along with the idea of original sin is the idea that the problem of sin is primarily a legal problem. In other words, the primary category of sin is a category of guilt and condemnation… And unfortunately sometimes when we frame our story around this idea of original sin—again, a term that never appears in the Bible, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong—but we just need to make a distinction in my mind between the things that are in our authoritative text and the things that are part of the Christian tradition.

Concerning the doctrine of hell, McLaren says that it’s inconsistent with the Bible’s image of God and Christ:

A lot of us say, when we read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and really when we read most of the Bible, the image of God that we see does not seem like an eternal torturer. So many of us Christians are asking the question and we’re not asking because we don’t want to believe. We’re asking because we get a vision of God in Jesus Christ that just doesn’t seem to match with that.

With all of these “generous heterodoxy,” Kevin DeYoung argues that McLaren’s and other emergents’ smorgasbord Christianity of “couches, candles, and coffee” is nothing else than “old fashioned liberalism… dressed up for the 21st century.” More than that, his “generous heterodoxy” is in reality, “super-generous heresy.”

As for my orthodoxy, I would rather stay inflexibly stingy, subscribing only to the historic creeds of the early church—Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, and Chalcedonian Creed—and confessions of the 16th century Protestant Reformation: Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort, and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.


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3 thoughts on “a Generous Heterodoxy (Or Why My Orthodoxy is Confessionally and Creedally Stingy)”

  1. Pastor Nollie, I also have read McLaren’s book and, if you would allow, I want to share that here for others who haven’t read his book.

    Among the books I’ve read while in seminary, this book really has amused and confused me the most, all at the same time. For one, this is the only book I’ve read that has a Chapter 0. I’ve never seen a book with such a chapter, only McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy.

    Another thing, since he is not only affirming the good and gleaning from many denominations but also criticizing some of their doctrines and practices, it’s quite tempting to be defensive right away without listening to him all the way first. But if one would just continue reading, defending one’s orthodox belief and conviction is usually unnecessary for McLaren himself would start admitting his own ignorance and inadequacy. For example, he confess that “I myself will be considered by many to be completely unqualified to write such a book of theology, being neither a trained theologian nor even a legitimate pastor, if legitimacy is defined by ordination qualifications in a bona fide denominations” (38). Besides he adds a warning to his readers saying, “[Y]ou should know that I am horribly unfair in this book, lacking all scholarly objectivity and evenhandedness” (40). For that I admire his blunt honesty about himself.

    In another context he relates one story saying, “I have a friend who is Jewish (by birth and practice) and agnostic (by persuasion). One day we were talking about things spiritual. He said, ‘Brian, what’s the deal with Jesus?’ I think his question meant, ‘Why do Christians emphasize Jesus so much?’ It’s a fair question, and one I’m trying to answer on these pages, knowing that I will fail” (79). So what else one can say? The author somehow admits already his own failure in sustaining an adequate explanation of who Jesus is. And his portrayal of Jesus who can be ‘experienced’ in pages 77-111, including the implications of that portrayal, is not the whole Biblical or confessional picture of Christ but more as a product of his gleanings from different Christian traditions which also fits his religious conviction. He has pointed out some good place to start but the person and work of Christ as revealed in Scripture is far from what McLaren has briefly sketched in those three chapters of his book.

    Along this line, his depiction of being a Christ and Christ as Savior is not thoroughly orthodox. He says, “I am a Christian because I believe that, in all these ways, Jesus is saving the world. By “world” I mean planet Earth and all life on it, because left to ourselves, un-judged, un-forgiven, and un-taught, we will certainly destroy this planet and its residents. And by “the world” I specifically mean human history, because again, it was and is in danger, grave danger, ultimate danger, self-imposed danger, and I don’t believe anyone else can rescue it” (106). This formulation seems to uggest that the main problem of the world is not human sin and wickedness, nor the wrath of God on man on account of man’s sin, but general life on earth throughout history. So for him, the reason why Jesus came was to save the earth, not primarily human individuals.

    We do not deny that salvation entails redemption of the cosmos (Rom. 8:18-25), but to say that this is the main reason why Christ came to earth is not Scriptural. No wonder McLaren can say that his agnostic Jewish friend could believe this kind of Jesus (110). He simply took away the inherent offense of the gospel of Christ who came to save rebellious hell-bound sinners. Besides, it is clear that McLaren’s argument of his Jesus is not based on the Bible but on the writings of Roman Catholic priest named Vincent Donovan (99).

    On another level, what is confusing in his book is that sometimes he sounds like an orthodox Christian in his theology, while at times he sounds really a doubting liberal, and still on some occasions he is neither. However, reading this book makes me realize that, to some extent, he sounded like many authentic and orthodox Christians in expressing his concerns about the church. A concern like why few orthodox, particularly evangelical, Reformed and Presbyterian, churches are zealously practicing what they confess and preach, is indeed legitimate.

    One can observe that very few of these churches are really doing Biblical evangelism and missions, or practices real love and compassion toward others. What happens usually among Christians in orthodox churches is that their own doctrinal formulations and convictions usually hinder them to exercise humility and extend kindness, even at times forgiveness, to those who disagree with them. This attitude indeed betrays one’s Christian conviction. What one can learn from this book is that, instead of being too narrow-minded, it is important to learn from other traditions than our own., if not from their doctrine, maybe in the way they relate with each other or outsiders, the way McLaren surveys other groups in pages 43-67. McLaren’s approach to disagreement seems to be more Christian than others in terms of being more winsome to those who disagree with him and harder on himself.

    Another benefit which one can have in reading this book is the need for the church to really understand the prevailing (post)modern culture and how she can address the real needs of people in that culture with the timeless truth and life-changing power of the gospel. On this point, what McLaren has failed to address adequately in his book A Generous Orthodoxy David Wells has superbly articulated in Above All Earthly Pow’rs.

    One cannot easily dismiss McLaren’s call for orthodoxy because the kind of orthodoxy he longs to see and express is one that is “consistently, unequivocally, and unapologetically upholds and affirms the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. It also acknowledges (rather perversely) that a number of items many hold as vital for orthodoxy are found nowhere in these seminal creeds and adds (somewhat sheepishly) that the creeds should never be used as a club to batter into submission people with honest questions and doubts” (32). He also adds that this kind of orthodoxy “also affirms (this is so Protestant) that Scripture itself remains above creeds and that the Holy Spirit may use Scripture to tweak our creedal understandings and emphases from time to time, so that new creeds are needed to give voice to the cry of faith today” (32).

    It is not right to say either that McLaren is avoiding doctrinal matters at all for he said, “This isn’t to say that doctrine doesn’t matter – not at all! Let me go on record as saying that I believe sound doctrine is very, very, very important (Titus 2:1-3:11), and that bad doctrine, while not the root of all evil, is a despicable accomplice to a good bit of the evil in the world” (35). He further explains, “In fact, this book is an attempt to correct what I perceive to be some bad doctrine, including bad doctrine about doctrine. Having wholeheartedly affirmed the importance of orthodox doctrine, I would quickly add that it is of little use to correctly say, ‘Lord, Lord.’ if one doesn’t do what the Lord says” (35). Besides, he also considers himself a “Reformed Christian” and has a great respect and love for the Reformed churches (210). So McLaren is criticizing a kind of ‘dead orthodoxy,’ not orthodoxy per see.

    The thing is, he lacks clarity and consistency in articulating the Biblical faith he professes and its implication for believers. In fact, all throughout his book, McLaren is proposing a middle ground orthodoxy or ‘third alternative’ that somehow integrates all the good doctrines from every Christian tradition and seeks to consistently practice them in all “humility, charity, courage, and diligence” (34) and “caught up in the practice (orthopraxy) of love for God and all God’s creations” (38).

    His book however is not quite clear as how to achieve this third alternative, as well as how to deal Biblically with obviously fundamental doctrinal errors and heresies. Aside from being humble, gentle and self-scrutinizing, McLaren is vague in answering, even opposing, apparent unorthodox doctrines. Instead, his method seems to be just to ignore those differences and promote a kind of orthodoxy that “is seen as a kind of internalized belief, tacit and personal, that becomes part of you to such a degree that once assimilated, you hardly need to think of it” (38). But without objective unchanging truth on which one’s critical analysis and proposed solution are solidly founded, this kind of enterprise can easily fall on unhealthy ecumenism, mysticism, relativism and subjective emotionalism, depending on one’s feelings.

    Thus in trying to address the dilemma of many disillusioned people both in and outside the church about Christ and Christianity, I think McLaren has added obscurity to the situation. On this, one has to go somewhere else, like reading either David Wells, Mike Horton, D.A. Carson, Al Mohler, and the likes.

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