A generous Orthodoxy — Brian McLaren in Pretoria
"Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus so badly that he left all his pride and dignity in a spattered heap at the bottom of the tree. He both ran and climbed into a tree. By doing so, he exposed himself to ridicule, and this in a culture where public honour meant everything. Then it happened — the unthinkable. Zacchaeus not only saw Christ, but the Lord stopped under the tree and looked up at him..." (from the article Zacchaeus Up a Tree - icon from here)
Khanya (5 May 2007)
A couple of days ago I went to hear Brian McLaren, one of the fundis of the “emerging church” movement, speak in Pretoria. I wrote about my initial reactions here: Notes from underground: Brian McLaren: a generous Orthodoxy. Now here are some further reflections and comments on what he said.
A few months ago, in the Christianity and society discussion forum, Rowland Croucher said
The most literate American guru of the emerging church is probably Brian McLaren (see, eg. his book ‘The Church on the Other Side’; his ‘A Generous Orthodoxy’ is probably as close as anything to being their ‘second Bible’).I couldn’t find McLaren’s books in either the university library or Pretoria bookshops, but I was eventually able to hear him speak.
What he said confirmed what I had begun to suspect from my attempts to follow “the emerging conversation” in the blogosphere — that many of the emerging church people are looking for what the Orthodox Church has had all along, and which the West lost with the onset of modernity through the Renaissance, (Counter)Reformation and the Enlightenment. Been there, done that, got the T- shirt and the canvas conference bag.
Some might want to dismiss that statement as typical “Orthodox triumphalism”, but what McLaren said could have been said by many Orthodox
theologians like Fr Thomas Hopko and several others. He even used Orthodox ikons, so that the face of the Jesus he was talking about was the face of the Jesus I knew, and so what he was saying was familiar culturally as well as theologically.
The only surprise was that what he was saying was so new to many in his audience, and indeed was new to him — but he explained that too — he had
grown up with the Gospel according to St Paul and the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were closed books to him. That’s why his lecture sounded like “New Testament 101: introduction to the gospels, lecture 1”.
So at the risk of being simplistic, I think that if the emerging church movement is post-anything, it is post-evangelical, and especially post-American evangelicalism of the last 20 years or so. I don’t think evangelicalism elsewhere had gone quite so far down that road.
Someone posted a comment on my other blog to the effect that the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa was looking to Brian McLaren and the emerging church movement for salvation. Certainly it seems that all the people at a camp he went to were white, and most of them were Reformed.
I quote: “I am struggling to hear a single voice in SA saying something negative about McLaren and the Emerging Church (EC). Our denomination (NG)
are seeing him as some new hope (I want to say saviour) for all the woes of the church.”
Well, I don’t have anything negative to say about what I heard Brian McLaren say either. He’s not Orthodox, so no doubt there are some things he says and does that I might not agree with, but what he said the other night seemed close enough to Orthodox theology.
So then there is the mystery — why is it that the books of this fundi on the emerging church movement, who is regarded as the hope of one of the biggest denominations in the country, not available in bookshops or university libraries?
Someone said there was a web site where one could get them, Loot, so I must try that some day.
What I liked most about McLaren’s lecture was that for me he started on familiar and solid ground. Over the last 18 months, when I’ve tried to get a grip on the “emerging church conversation” it has been like walking in a swamp in the dark. No firm ground, no familiar landmarks. People would say things that might make perfect sense to them in their context, but without knowing what their context was, it was hard to interpret what they were saying. I didn’t know where they were coming from.
So, as an Orthodox Christian, I was grateful that Brian McLaren started from that same starting point: Jesus came proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. And the Orthodox Divine Liturgy begins with the priest saying, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” And the people say “Amen.”
And Brian McLaren even explained what “the ages of ages” meant, so I knew we really were on the same page.
He explained why St Matthew referred to the “Kingdom of God” as the “Kingdom of Heaven”. He explained that some had misinterpreted this to mean that heaven is just somewhere you go when you die, and so proclaimed that heaven was where you went when you die, but that was not what Jesus was saying. Someone asked, “But then how do you evangelise?”
Brian McLaren never really answered that question, but I think I can. I was trained in the Evangelism Explosion method of personal evangelism, in which “going to heaven when you die” was the foundation and keystone of evangelism. It started with the question “Have you come to the place where you know for certain that if you were to die tonight, you would go to heaven?”
And, depending on the answer, the pesentation of the gospel went in the order Heaven –> God –> Man –> Christ –> Faith.
From the Orthodox point of view this was not really a presentation of the “full gospel”, but concentrated only on one aspect of the gospel, and by presenting it as if it was the whole thing it could be, and often was, misleading. As I wrote in my thesis on Orthodox mission methods
The content presents the idea of the atonement that has dominated Western theology since the eleventh century when Anselm of Canterbury wrote his Cur Deus homo? God is just and therefore must punish sin, and so sinners cannot enter his presence (Rodger 1989:35). We are all sinners, and so we are excluded from the presence of God. Christ as man took the punishment in our place, and so through faith in him we can enter heaven. This is the juridical theory of the atonement with the emphasis on justification (Aulén 1970:1-2; Hayes 1992a:51). For Orthodox theology it is unacceptable for several reasons. Firstly, it separates two attributes of God, his justice and his mercy, and sets them in opposition to each other (Kalomiros 1980:106). Secondly, it ignores the ontological basis of sin, which therefore creates the false dilemma of “punishment or satisfaction” (Rodger 1989:36). Thirdly, it is simplistic, in that it tends to reduce the mystery of salvation to one dimension. As Lossky (1985:100-101) notes, the juridical aspect of redemption is but one of many such images used in the scriptures, and the juridical expression of Christ’s saving work is an image or simile, as are the other images of salvation.So an Orthodox presentation of the gospel would not stress the Western doctrine of the atonement as penal substitution, but might follow a different order: The world –> Sin and evil — God –> The Church –> The End.
- The world
- God made it and put man in charge
- Man tried to grab it and evil entered
- Sin and evil
- Evil has gained a hold on us that we cannot break
- The world is now enemy-occupied territory
- Sent his son Jesus to break the hold of Satan and give us new life through his death and resurrection
- Has established a liberated zone in the midst of the enemy-occupied territory
- The church
- Is called to be the liberated zone of the kingdom of God
- Is entered through renouncing our citizenship of the kingdom of Satan, and being “naturalised” as citizens of the kingdom of God by a new birth in water and the Spirit
- The end
- Ultimately evil will be completely defeated.
Brian McLaren showed two diagrams that illustrated this, though he didn’t use the same terminology. One showd the “consumerist” approach to Christianity, with a large circle representing Self, a smaller one, further away, representing the Church, and a yet smaller one, further away still, representing the World.
Then he showed another, with the World as a big circle, fractured by evil, the Church as a smaller circle within the bigger one, and the Self as a smaller circle still, within the Church.
And that is was a good picture of the Church as the Liberated Zone within the enemy-occupied territoery that is the world. The Orthodox Church doesn’t use such military terminology in its theology, but it is implicit in the theology of baptism, which involves being prised from the clutches of the devil by being exorcised four times, renouncing the devil, turning (literally “converting”) to Christ, accepting him as God and King (compare that with the consumerist “personal saviour”), and then entering the kingdom through baptism.
There are many other things that could be said, but those are a few of the points at which I think Brian McLaren’s presentation spoke to me, because it started in familiar territory.
Emerging church and Orthodoxy (posts from the ‘emerging church’ Category)
Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (& the Decolonization of Africa)
How “White” is the Orthodox Church?
"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
The Church as the Liberated Zone: "All we Christians are terrorists..."
Fr. Moses Berry, a descendant of African slaves, Orthodox priest and teacher in USA
The Kingdom of Heaven, where racial discrimination has no place
The Heresy of Racism
During the time that Luther and Calvin were formulating the Reformation...
In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord : An Orthodox Interpertation of the Gifts of the Spirit / An Orthodox answer to the pentecostalism and charismatic movement!Charismatic Revival As a Sign of the Times
The Authority of the Church, the Protestants & the African Initiated Churches