I finally and belatedly read the manifesto of the "emergent" church, "A Generous Orthodoxy," by Brian McLaren. The central thesis of the book is revealed by the subtitle which says something to the effect of, "Why I am a Methodist/Anabaptist, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, evangelical, Roman Catholic, Liberal/Conservative, Missional, Eastern Orthodox, Emergent Christian..."
I opened the book with great expectations because I have come to appreciate the disaster of a pompous cul-de-sac sectarianism that cannot see or charitably converse beyond itself. My tour of duty through micro-Reformedom opened my eyes to this problem - although I know full well that such psychologies are alive and well in all branches of the church. There is nothing new under the sun.
In many respects, McLaren has opened up a very helpful conversation. Each orthodox tradition has distinctives that we should embrace. No tradition has it all figured-out and we really can learn from one another. I am no Wesleyan, but I can appreciate the need for a personal holiness that is rooted in spiritual disciplines. I'm not a fundamentalist, but I know there are truths that cannot be compromised without sacrificing the Christian faith. I am not Eastern Orthodox, but I do believe that our Trinitarianism needs to be more at the forefront of our faith and practice. Etc., etc., etc...
Here is the, "BUT."
The problem I have with McLaren's book and his brand of "emergent" Christianity is that is superficial and naive in a bad way. His analysis of the respective traditions he interacts with are all caricatures at best. It is like having a caricaturist trying to deliver on a medical anatomy text. It makes a certain point, but the details are an ugly and misleading mess. For example, he equates Calvinism with "determinism." Belief in inerrancy is slapped with endorsing "dictation theory." Roman Catholicism is complimented for it's focus on the resurrection of Christ. I could go on and on with the vague inaccuracies that he ascribes to each tradition he assesses.
McLaren labors to make disclaimers about his approach - that he is not an academic and is probably wrong about a great many things. That is a nice gesture, but his readers would be better served if they were alerted to the fact that his portrayals of each tradition are purposefully disproportioned for him to make the points he wants to make. The book is short on accuracy and long on editorial impressions.
In part 2 of this review, I will look at McLaren's larger / real project, which is an experiment in applying postmodernism to Christian theology...