Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian

Rate this book
Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian. A confession and manifesto from a senior leader in the emerging church movement. A Generous Orthodoxycalls for a radical, Christ-centered orthodoxy of faith and practice in a missional, generous spirit. Brian McLaren argues for a post-liberal, post-conservative, post-protestant convergence, which will stimulate lively interest and global conversation among thoughtful Christians from all traditions. In a sweeping exploration of belief, author Brian McLaren takes us across the landscape of faith, envisioning an orthodoxy that aims for Jesus, is driven by love, and is defined by missional intent. A Generous Orthodoxy rediscovers the mysterious and compelling ways that Jesus can be embraced across the entire Christian horizon. Rather than establishing what is and is not “orthodox,” McLaren walks through the many traditions of faith, bringing to the center a way of life that draws us closer to Christ and to each other. Whether you find yourself inside, outside, or somewhere on the fringe of Christianity, A Generous Orthodoxy draws you toward a way of living that looks beyond the “us/them” paradigm to the blessed and ancient paradox of “we.” Also available on abridged audio CD, read by the author.

352 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 2004

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Brian D. McLaren

112 books471 followers
Brian D. McLaren is an internationally known speaker and the author of over ten highly acclaimed books on contemporary Christianity, including A New Kind of Christian, A Generous Orthodoxy, and The Secret Message of Jesus.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,798 (28%)
4 stars
2,126 (33%)
3 stars
1,364 (21%)
2 stars
565 (9%)
1 star
404 (6%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 294 reviews
Profile Image for Victoria Sweatman.
1 review10 followers
November 17, 2014
If A Generous Orthodoxy is any indication, Brian McLaren seems to be a very nice man. And this is a very nice book. There are plenty of very nice things to say about it. McLaren’s eagerness to embrace complexity is admirable and needed. His self-effacing posture goes some way toward countering the polemical rhetoric of left-right politics. And his critique of a certain kind of Christian fundamentalism is apt, if already a little dated looking back on it from 2014.

As for his prose - well, it does its best not to remind you that the person who wrote it used to be an English instructor.

Forgive me if that sounds a little ungenerous. This is in many ways a difficult work to critique, given its espousal of imperfection and indeterminacy as virtues. How can there be anything inherently problematic about McLaren’s ideas if the whole point is that they’re still in the process of emerging?

And really, that’s okay. That part of it at least. As the book rightly understands, certainty—from the time Emerson diagnosed it as foolish consistency to the more modern guises McLaren names (absolutism, totalitarianism, fundamentalism, etc.)—has been a recurring hobgoblin of human thought. A dose of uncertainty keeps us honest, keeps us working. Examining a multiplicity of religious beliefs and practices is McLaren’s way of introducing that healthy dose of uncertainty into his own belief and practice.

Where the book loses me, though, is in its unwillingness to really grapple with the messy, difficult, potentially irreconcilable, and probably not very nice implications of trying to fit all these systems and attitudes together. By leaning away from these problems, McLaren ends up neutering exactly what he means to affirm.

He insists (against charges that his generous orthodoxy represents a kind of relativism) that responsibility is central to human interaction, but is loath to concede that actual rules, guidelines, or prohibitions be part of it. He urges respect for and engagement with practitioners of other religions, but glosses over what it really means to respect others’ beliefs when the ultimate goal is to make them followers of Jesus. He relates the story of a Christian friend who taught her daughter that Muslim women wear veils to show that they love God, but fails to show how that example is practically different from the one-size-fits-all brand of tolerance promoted by COEXIST bumper stickers and the like, where no one says anything bad about anyone else for fear of either causing offense or inviting criticism on themselves.

As hard as McLaren doth protest, his approach to religion doesn’t fall far from a rather conventional, milquetoast, let’s-all-just-get-along form of liberalism. Sure, he takes a winding route through postmodernism, skepticism, and multiculturalism, breaking down and holding together a number of different traditions and ideologies, including conservative ones. But Dorothy spent most of that movie working her way through Oz and still ended up in Kansas.

I understand that McLaren’s conservative evangelical background has probably attuned him to the flaws of that particular system. That’s a good thing. I only wish he would apply that same critical focus to the hypocrisies and dysfunctions that also exist within the systems he praises, if he means to be at all as rigorous as he claims.
Profile Image for Bethany.
Author 1 book17 followers
January 11, 2008
I found A Generous Orthodoxy thought-provoking. McLaren uses honesty and wit to portray hard things with gentleness. I especially enjoyed the following points:

The Seven Jesuses I Have Known - McLaren discusses in detail the different ways Jesus has been manifested in his life. In particular, I identified with the Conservative Protestant Jesus (since I grew up in a Southern Baptist church…); it was the first time I realized that the Jesus of my church life is not necessarily the Jesus of the rest of my life, and that the Jesus of the Bible is someone else entirely. I cannot decide if it is good or bad that they cannot be reconciled in my mind.

The Incarnational Mindset - McLaren says that it is part of our responsibility to Christ to know about the religious beliefs of the people around us, whether or not they are Christians. He encourages active participation in and discussion of friends’ and neighbors’ spiritual lives. In order to show the compassion of Christ, McLaren thinks, one must engage with them starting from where they are rather than hoping they will come to us.

This is a good book, especially for those who have struggled with leaving Christianity - or have left it already - because of shortcomings within the Church. You might not be convinced to stay (or come back), but you will definitely have a lot to think about.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
751 reviews16 followers
February 24, 2021
I'm going to ruffle some friend feathers on this one. When, in my first post-collegiate job, the organization I worked for chose to sell this book at the conference bookstore, I was scandalized we would promote such a liberal work. I confess I never read it, as the title before the colon was sufficient to turn me away.

In the year 2021, I have found myself struggling more and more mightily to reconcile the Jesus of both Scripture and my life with the Church to whom I belong. I stumbled across this in a used bookstore and it struck me as, perhaps, the book I needed at the moment. Nothing could have been more true.

I found myself coming away from this book feeling both more secure in my own wrestlings and more compelled to a posture of grace and love towards those within Christendom whose perspectives and postures I find deeply troubling. The fact one book could do work in me at both poles of my internal life is significant.

As a book that I have both despised from a distance and embraced as a lifeline, I appreciate that some people will be as scandalized by this book's presence in my feed as I was to find it on the bookshelves of my workplace in 2003. I hope you will be more generous in your thoughts toward me than I was in my thoughts towards Mr. McLaren 18 years ago.
Profile Image for Michael.
118 reviews4 followers
May 27, 2011
I enjoy reading books that I disagree with on topics I care about, because I believe that truth can withstand a challenge. I also think it equips me to consider ideas and talk about them with greater care. On that basis, I found this book enjoyable a few years ago when I read it.

What I did not particularly enjoy were McLaren's meticulous and manipulative attempts to be disarming. He's obviously a friendly and intelligent guy who knows the Evangelical landscape like the back of his hand, and he uses his assets to great effect. Like most Emergent authors of several years ago, McLaren liked to walk up to the very boundary of traditional orthodoxy, slide a toe across the line, draw it quickly and apologetically back again, and then act like it happened accidentally.

"We're just having a conversation, and we have no idea where it is going." Really? You wrote this whole book and you have no idea where your thinking is going? Because I can see plainly where it is going, and I'm pretty sure it's not good.

Suffice it to say that McLaren has since laid his cards on the table in a more open fashion, and - surprise! - it's mostly generosity and very little orthodoxy.
Profile Image for Karen Mcintyre.
35 reviews10 followers
June 26, 2008
In 1989 I did storytelling at an regional event in PA. The keynote presenter was a Serminary professor Leonard Sweet. What he said resonated deeply with me...an over-simplification was that we no longer live in an either/or world. We live in an AND world. He spoke about paradox and the nature of truth in ways I had not been exposed to and I understood for the first time, why I was uncomfortable with the very conservative Christians who believed that they heard the voice of Jesus in everything in their lives (even the selection of drapes for their living rooms) and the agnostics who could not believe in anything.

Since that time I have continued to stand in the middle and watch the church rend itself - hemorrhaging members who fled to giant mega churches.

Well now along comes Brian McLaren -- the founder of one such church for whom I have a great deal of respect. His book is one very deeply thought out declaration of faith based on this important notion that we--none of us---hold a corner on the truth.

It is a compelling piece of writing that brings to understandable terms some of the critical issues of modern Christianity.
3 reviews4 followers
October 9, 2007
this book should not be skimmed, or used to perpetuate further flimsy arguments against the author, but rather digested.
Profile Image for Arpith Phillips.
32 reviews
November 5, 2022
Sorry Jonathan

It really is a strange day when I find myself agreeing with Al Mohler but a lot of my review will be an echo of his thoughts that I find fair and a little of my own.

The title itself is an interesting proposition. It is certainly true that we are called to be generous? But how generous should we be with our “right thinking”.

McLaren from the get go clarifies that he does not want to get dragged into argument about this or that theology. Which is a strange boundary for a book trying to argue for a “new third way theology”.

The slippery slope of right and wrong doesn’t seem to bother McLaren here as his thesis heavily relies on the belief that “clarity is sometimes overrated”, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity.

For a man who consistently reassures us of his belief in the historic creeds of the church. He refuses to address questions regarding universalism or any kind of soteriology.

Mohler states that “McLaren effectively ransacks the Christian tradition, picking and choosing among theological options without any particular concern for consistency. He rejects the traditional understanding of doctrine as statements of biblical truth and instead presents a variant of postmodernism--effectively arguing that doctrines form a language that is meaningful to Christians, even if not objectively true.” and it certainly does seem to feel that way.

For as much as it’s true that every “Christian” tradition has things of value and should be recognised as useful. It is not true that the tradition itself is correct and recognised. McLaren uses the fact that every tradition has some valued practise or belief to say that by that fact alone it makes them “Christian” which is where he makes his mistake.

The problem with the thesis is that his aim of a generous orthodoxy is just generous enough for it to share nothing resembling any recognisable orthodoxy, historical or otherwise. It simply is blatant picking and choosing without any regard for consistency or clarity and sounds like a happy go lucky “there’s good sides and bad sides” to every single Christian (or not) label he could think of.
Profile Image for Pete.
2 reviews
July 10, 2008
The highly scrutinized, non-self-proclaimed manual for the Emerging Church movement.
Pros: I enjoy the thoughtful, stream of conscious, rabbit trail writing that I think McLaren feels at home with. The authors humility and personal pursuit of Christ is evident. I think that the label of "relativistic-pluralist" by some critics is harsh. He is not denouncing the fundamentals of the Gospel, instead is affirming them and encouraging that we constantly grow and mature in our understanding and application of the absolutes of Scripture. He embraces the attitude that must be at the heart of everyone that considers themselves a true seeker; the assumption that as a finite person my understandings and applications of an infinite God are and never will be complete or completely accurate. Furthermore I must be willing to except that I am wrong and be willing to transform those interpretations and applications. Great footnotes in the book with additional resources. A good read for anyone interested in getting "out of the box" and having fresh thoughts about how to be a part of God's redemption of the world.
Cons: The stream of conscious rabbit trail writing would probably drive some people crazy. The often harsh response to the book by some established evangelical leaders of our day should be both encouraging and should be headed for the wisdom that God has given those leaders. I think less mature readers could read between the lines and form many non-Biblical attitudes and applications from the writing. (Something that would be reflective of their immaturity and not the authors intentions.)
Final Words: A laid back mature read that makes you want to go for a hike or share a cup of coffee with the author. I will definitely be referencing this book in my life and work in the future. Enjoy with caution!
Profile Image for Emi.
157 reviews
March 2, 2013
Like traveling around the world, moving through different denominations can nurture in you a sense of appreciation for diversity, unique beauty of each, and awareness of an increasingly larger/whole picture despite the equally increasing tension among the particulars. Such is what McLauren helps us to see through his personal journey of faith, in a very humble, compassionate, and respectful tone that is permeated by the love of God. Much of what he says resonates deeply with my experience and aligns with the direction I feel I'm headed. While perhaps controversial for Christians with strong opinions or leanings, it might appeal to those with more questions and uncertainty than answers. It is not about universalism or relativism as criticized by some, but rather his ideas might be described as ecumenical, trinitarian, and postmodern -- in other words, full of dialectical tension of mystery that may be harder to digest for a modern/Western mind. In that sense, while his vision of Christianity is the general direction where I personally find the most hope for 21st century churches, I do suspect it will be a very slow and bumpy ride in practice ... particularly because it is not where a multitude might quickly and collectively journey by a kind of "reaction," rooted in our dichotomous mindset, or by established systems in which we are deeply entrapped. A book I might reread again but recommend sparingly, with caution. :)
1 review8 followers
April 12, 2007
Even I'm currently reading this book, I really don't know the author's intention. I appreciate his honesty in pointing out that our faith is far from perfect as exemplified by all the different denominations and Christian group names. I also appreciate that we need to find better ways of seeking to get closer to God. What I'm not completely satisfied is the overall impact that the book has to offer. When he states what he is not satisfied it loses the impact that he would have had if he mostly shared what he is passionate about.
20 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2014
This book encourages one to move beyond "right thinking" to something else, something more generous... more dangerous per the critics (a "radically indeterminate anything-goes gospel that means anything and thus is worth nothing"), but per McLaren, more in line with the narrative story of the Gospel. Is there a "right" way to love God 2000 years after Jesus any more than there is a "right" way to love your spouse? "The biblical witness to Jesus Christ as the unique Savior and hope of the world does not demand a restrictive posture concerning salvation for those who have never heard the gospel or those in other religious traditions." McLaren articulates my belief in Christ and salvation so well: "exclusive in the sense of affirming the unique truth of the revelation in Jesus Christ, but not in the sense of denying the possibility of salvation to those outside the Christian faith; inclusive in the sense of refusing to limit the saving grace of God to Christians, but not in the sense of viewing other religions as salvific." A good read. Perhaps even a dangerous read? My favorite kind...
10 reviews
January 29, 2008
His orthodoxy is so generous that it's not even close to orthodox. If you're dying for a manual on how to be completely wishy-washy this would be the one. I don't believe you could pin him down on anything he believes. You could ask him what his birthday is and he would say something like:

"We're all still growing, learning and changing. Different people may have very different truths that they've gleaned from diverse experiences. Some may believe that my birthday is sometime in June, while yet others could have a completely different view point and suggest that my birthday is in the spring. Still others may hold the truth that my birthday is everyday of the year. What matters is that we all come together and have a conversation to grow and learn and respect each other's opinions while God reveals small pieces of truth to us all."

I suggest Brian should run for office, because the guy has mad waffling skills!
Profile Image for Kara.
54 reviews
May 11, 2018
Ahhh!! This book says basically everything I have been thinking consciously for the past year and have been feeling, without being able to put it into words, for who-knows-how-long. Also, great writing (English major perks).

Edit (28 July 2017): My previous review, from last week, was my immediate reaction to this book. After reading "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church" by D.A. Carson, I have chosen to reduce the rating of this book to 4 stars. I still have great appreciation for what McLaren does in "A Generous Orthodoxy," and I am on board with many of his conclusions. However, Carson makes several good criticisms of McLaren and the emerging church, which I have to take into account. Please see my review on Carson's book for more explanation.
36 reviews1 follower
November 13, 2007
I thought this was an interesting read. He writes in a clear and concise manner and adds humor to the book that a lot of theology writers don't have. He makes a good case for why we can be all of those things....why we don't have to choose to alienate one another with our titles and labels.
Profile Image for Alex Strohschein.
690 reviews96 followers
April 1, 2019
Given that McLaren cleaves to a more liberal outlook than myself, I was surprised at how much I agreed with this book. McLaren paints a compelling picture of "generous orthodoxy," graciously affirming the good in the array of Christian traditions he considers throughout the book; in this way, he offers a gentle corrective to sectarian believers who pontificate that only their OWN denomination has gotten Christianity correct. I would like to think that I too can celebrate the denominational distinctives that the various Christian traditions offer, from Roman Catholicisim’s rich sacramental life and charismatic Christianity’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s continuing work in the world to the evangelistic urgency found in many conservative denominations, the Mennonite eagerness to meet the practical needs of the poor, and the elevation of the practice of foot-washing by Seventh Day Adventists (a practice that Jesus tells his disciples to do but which curiously has never been considered a sacrament, even by sacramental traditions; see John 13:14). McLaren writes clearly and playfully (I have never encountered an author at such great pains to ensure you know how self-aware they are) and I can entirely understand why the book was a liberating, life-changing treatise for its early, 21st-century audience. McLaren’s focus on praxis offers contemporary Christians a way to thoughtfully worship and partner together since the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Mennonite, and Pentecostal share a greater, common affinity in Christ than the doctrines that separate them from full communion (conservative Christians know this; the late Charles Colson captured it in his delightful phrase “ecumenism of the trenches”). I could see myself recommending this book to a burnt-out believer whose faith has been marked by an unnecessarily fundamentalist form of Christianity.

But the last third of the book raises some serious problems for me, particularly when McLaren addresses non-Christian religions. He writes, “It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts” (p. 260). Further along in the penultimate chapter “Why I Am Emergent,” McLaren asserts that “I believe a person can affiliate with Jesus in the kingdom-of-God dimension without affiliating with him in the religious kingdom of Christianity. In other words, I believe that Christianity is not the kingdom of God” (p. 282). I would indeed concur that there are Buddhists and Muslims who are (whether they realize it or not) living out the values of the kingdom of God, but I detect in McLaren a nonchalance about their salvation and ultimate destiny because he sees God as more open-armed that I do. I’d consider myself a soft inclusivist (a la Karl Rahner and Clark Pinnock) but McLaren doesn’t seem to offer a firmer sense of clarity in his own thought about people’s ultimate destiny (at least in this book). McLaren dismisses much of classical Christian orthodoxy while at the same time ending the book with a zealous alter call to embrace an ever-expanding, ever-exploring, ever-rediscovering, ever-reformulating, postmodern-influenced faith with porous boundaries.

This book was a manifesto to the "emergent" church movement, a movement that was seemingly ephemeral (if you visit http://www.emergentvillage.com/, the former online hub of the emergent church, you will no longer be able to find ways to decolonize your Western, imperialistic theology but you WILL find ways to readjust the layout of your home on a budget, though one could argue that, like charismatic Christianity in the 1960s and 1970s, many of the visions and values of the emergent church gradually seeped into mainstream evangelicalism and caused emergent Christianity to lose its distinctiveness). However, many of the movers and the shakers of the emergent church have either (seemingly) stepped away from it (Mark Driscoll, Scot McKnight) or they have kept wandering further and further down the road of theological liberalism into something increasingly undefined and obscurantist yet more loving and inclusive than whatever they left behind (Rob Bell and Brian McLaren himself). Indeed, "generous" has become a term many theological liberals have adopted with the stated purpose of trying to be inclusive of all while really pushing an agenda that ultimately diverges with classical Christianity (see also "Generous Spaciousness"); McLaren pays lip service to how contemporary Christianity has been built up over the centuries by past saints to whom we are indebted to, yet he now has no qualms when it comes to rejecting key tenets of classical Christianity.
Profile Image for Jenny Esots.
422 reviews2 followers
May 7, 2020
Brian McLaren presents an exploration of Christian identity with an orthodoxy that is Christ-centred and inclusive for the twenty first century. In the process he outlines the history of traditional religious beliefs and theology and examines the wide divergence of traditions within Christianity. The rich Christian theological heritage is embraced with a vision to bring people closer together as Christians.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist and public theologian of the Emergent church movement in the United States. He has been voted by Time Magazine as one of the 25 most influential theologians in the 21st Century. The Emerging church came out of mainstream Evangelical churches and is described as having a variety of perspectives and positions. This book was published in 2004, McLaren is noted as a prolific author and has academic interests in medieval drama, romantic poets, modern philosophical literature, and the novels of Dr Walter Percy. In the context of an American writer, McLaren notes he was; ‘surrounded by Christians who very much like the idea of an American God and a very middle-class Republican Jesus.’ Following a period of growth the Evangelical movement in the United States was experiencing a decline in the1990s, as the millennial generation saw the mainline churches as ‘”judgemental,” “too political,” “homophobic,” and hypocritical.”’ The Emergent church grew out of this discontent as a theological rethinking of Christianity.
In ‘A Generous Orthodoxy’ McLaren calls for a radical, Christ-centred orthodoxy of faith and practice in a missional, emergent theology, further defined as; (A) generous orthodoxy is an emerging orthodoxy, never complete. McLaren argues for a post-liberal, post-conservative, post-protestant convergence to stimulate discussion and conversation among Christians from all traditions. Indeed, McLaren promotes inclusivity by devoting a substantial portion of the book in appreciation of various Christian denominations. McLaren walks through the many traditions of the faith, however in claiming what is and what is not orthodox he risks alienating many of these faith traditions.
His stated aim is to bring people close to Jesus with an ecumenical focus, and to break down barriers that separate the various traditions within Christianity. His aim is to draw the reader ‘toward a way of living that looks beyond the “us/them” paradigm to the blessed and ancient paradox of “we.”’ McLaren presents a reframing of Christianity which challenges the theological constructs of established religions.
McLaren is writing for Christians and non-Christians, about a new form of Christianity, as an author he is seeking to engage a wide audience and make the text accessible, hence he uses a conversational memoir style, with self-deprecating content to engage the reader. Its target audience are spiritual seekers who may not even know they are seeking. In short, he is a theologian for the modern age of the twenty first century that has a declining amount of biblical literacy. He seeks to humanise theology, hence his very long book title of Christian definition. McLaren references a lot about the church experience he sees as outdated theology, however he is less forthcoming with a defined alternative, rather he continues to emphasise encouraging dialogue and conversations.
The terminology of a Generous Orthodoxy was originated by the theologian Hans Frei, a key figure in post-liberal theology. McLaren’s generous orthodoxy emphasises being a spiritual seeker on an ongoing journey, again the theology is one of inclusivity where there is no expert font of all wisdom to be consulted; To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have truth captured, stuffed and mounted on the wall. Thus, it contains a very open standpoint which Mayhue describes as; ‘like a patchwork quilt.'
McLaren uses a postmodern paradigm to outline his proposal of not only a generous orthodoxy but a revolutionary one, focusing on a loving community, guided by Jesus. McLaren sees the revolution of orthodoxy as reforming; ‘For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is restoration.’
This is an inclusive and ecumenical theology that embraces diversity and learning from each other, encouraging dialogue and conversations about faith. McLaren has presented a generous orthodoxy of a ‘loving community of people who are seeking truth on the road of mission and who have been launched on the quest by Jesus, who, with us, guides us still.’ In making a claim for inclusivity McLaren does not shy away from criticism, he writes scathingly ‘Jesus did not come to create another exclusive religion.’ Once McLaren establishes the framework of traditional Christian theologies, he presents his own vision of Christian identity, even titling a chapter ‘Would Jesus be a Christian?’ presenting a strong challenge to Conservative Christian theology that he is less than generous towards. McLaren even dares to deride forms of academic processes of interpretation such as systematic theology which he dismisses as; ‘conceptual cathedrals of proposition and argument.’
McLaren presents an accessible and strong argument for a Christian identity that is Christ-centred, ecumenical, and focused on openness and diversity. His Generous Orthodoxy is not an authoritarian doctrine or system but a theology of spiritual seeking, as McLaren fittingly writes that we; ‘acknowledge that Christians of each tradition bring their distinctive and wonderful gifts to the table, so we can all enjoy the feast of generous orthodoxy.’
Profile Image for Dan Gobble.
238 reviews6 followers
August 28, 2016
I've started back through this book again because of how deeply it impacted me the first time. What a breath of fresh air in a world long suffering from stilted, dogmatic, mind-numbing brow-beating, nick-picking theological debate and divisive arguments dividing races and tribes over minutiae and sending bodies flinging into a seemingly endless storm of bloody war after bloody war. All supposedly in the name of Jesus. God forgive us.

McLaren holds up most of the major traditions of the Christian faith in an inquisitive way, and sifts through the wheat and chaff, as he sees things at this point in his journey, all in an effort to find that to which he can cling.

Here's a great snippet from the book to which I offer a hearty AMEN:

"Some people I know once found a snapping turtle crossing a road in New Jersey. Snapping turtles are normally ugly: gray, often sporting a slimy coating of green algae, trailing a long, serrated, gator-like tail and fronted by massive and sharp jaws that can damage if not sever a careless finger or two. This turtle was even uglier than most: it was grossly deformed due to a plastic bottle top, a ring about an inch-and-a-half in diameter that it had accidently acquired as a hatchling when it, too, was about an inch-and-a-half in diameter. The ring had fit around its midsection like a belt back then, but now nearly a foot long, weighing about nine pounds, the animal was corseted by the ring so that it looked like a figure eight.
My friends realized that if they left the turtle in its current state, it would die. The deformity was survivable at nine pounds, but a full-grown snapper can weigh 30. At that size the constriction would not be survivable. So, they snipped the ring. And nothing happened. Nothing.
Except for one thing: at that moment the turtle had a future. It was rescued. It was saved. It would take years for the animal to grow into more normal proportions, maybe decades. Perhaps even in old age it would still be somewhat guitar-shaped. But it would survive.

A ring of selfishness,
and ignorance
has similarly deformed our species. When I say that Jesus is Savior, I believe he snipped the ring by judging, forgiving, teaching, suffering, dying, rising, and more. And he's still working to restore us, to lead us, to heal us. Jesus is still in the process of saving us. Because I have confidence in Jesus as Savior, I'm seeking to be part of his ongoing saving work, sharing his saving love for our world.

. . . I used to believe that Jesus' primary focus was on saving me as an individual and on saving other 'me's' as individuals. For that reason I often spoke of Jesus as my 'personal Savior,' and I urged others to believe in Jesus in the same way. I still believe that Jesus is vitally interested in saving me and you by individually judging us, by forgiving us of our wrongs, and teaching us to live in a better way. But I fear that for too many Christians, 'personal salvation' has become another personal consumer product (like personal computers, a personal journal, personal time, etc.), and Christianity has become its marketing program. If so, salvation is 'all about me,' and . . . I think we need another song.

. . . when I thought of Jesus only as my personal Savior, I was primarily focused on Jesus saving me from hell after I died. That's what I needed a personal Savior for.

Growing numbers of people share . . . my own . . . discomfort with this self- and hell-centered approach to salvation for a number of reasons:
1. Can't seeking my personal salvation as the ultimate end become the ultimate consumerism or narcissism? In a self-centered and hell-centered salvation, doesn't Jesus - like every company and political party - appeal to me on the basis of self-interest so that I can have it all eternally and can do so cheaply, conveniently, easily, and quickly? Doesn't this sound a bit shabby?

2. Doesn't being preoccupied with our own individual salvation put us in danger of being like selfish people on the Titantic who were scrambling for the life rafts, more concerned about themselves than others? Doesn't it make us less concerned about the possibility of saving the whole ship? Doesn't it reinforce exactly the kind of 'sanctified self-centeredness' that the real Jesus would have condemned?

3. Doesn't the very importance of my personal salvation pose a kind of temptation - to want heaven more than I want good; to want to escape from hell more than I want true reconciliation to God or my neighbors? An overweight man was concerned about his weight, so he had a stomach bypass surgery, after which he continued to eat unhealthy foods. In the end he died sooner from a heart attack than he would have died from obesity. Couldn't this approach to salvation tempt us to be like this man? By wanting thinness more than he wanted health, he ended up with neither - this is the danger of wanting personal salvation above all.

4. And doesn't the preoccupation with hell tempt us to devalue other things that matter? In other words, isn't hell such a grave 'bottom line' that it devalues all other values? It so emphasizes the importance of life after death that it can unintentionally trivialize life before death.

No wonder many people feel that 'accepting Jesus as a personal Savior' could make them a worse person - more self-centered and less concerned about justice on earth because of a preoccupation with forgiveness in heaven. Again, although I believe in Jesus as my personal savior, I am not a Christian for that reason. I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus is Savior of the whole world."

(quoted from A Generous Orthodoxy, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004, pp. 106-9)

Regarding the goodness of creation, McLaren offers this insight:
"For much of Western Christianity, the doctrine of creation (a biblical term) has been eaten alive by the doctrine of the fall (not a biblical term). In other words, creation's downfall resulting from human sin has eclipsed its original glow as God's handiwork, radiant with God's glory. Make no mistake: Human sin is awful and reprehensible beyond words, and the whole earthly creation suffers because of it. But if, due to an exaggerated doctrine of the fall, God's creation loses its sacredness as God's beloved artwork, we have magnified human sin beyond sane bounds - and in fact added to its sad effects. As a result, in many circles, about the only time the word creation comes up these days is before versus evolution. The God-affirmed goodness of creation, the beauty of creation, its priceless preciousness and meaning as God's own handiwork - these values are seldom heard. Instead more discouraging words are heard - about the ruin of creation via an 'ontological fall,' a concept that conveniently seems to degrade God's inherently valuable handiwork into man's bargain resources for profitable exploitation. It's far easier to put a price tag on a fallen creation than on a still-sacred one.
Many of us have grown uneasy with this understanding of 'the fall' (and with it an exaggerated understanding of the doctrine of 'original sin'). We are suspicious that it has become a kind of Western neo-Platonic invasive species that ravages the harmonious balance inherent in the enduring Jewish concept of creation as God's world. So we are looking to the Eastern Orthodox tradition and to emerging narrative theologies where creation is still seen as sacred, 'good,' 'very good,' and, in fact, ongoing." (pp 264-5)

And, on the radical inclusiveness of Jesus, McLaren offers a quote from a friend and some of his own thoughts:

"My friend Neil Livingstone once told me that Jesus didn't want to create an in-group which would banish others to an out-group; Jesus wanted to create a come-on-in group, one that sought and welcomed everyone. Such a group came not to conquer, not to badger, not to vanquish, not to eradicate other groups, but to save them, redeem them, bless them, respect them, love them, befriend them, and embrace them.

Or, put another way, Jesus threatened people with inclusion; if they were to be excluded, it would be because they refused to accept their acceptance. If people rejected his acceptance, he did not retaliate against them, but submitted himself to humiliation, mistreatment, even crucifixion by them. Missiologist David Bocsh said it like this: ' . . . it is when we are weak that we are strong. So, the word that perhaps best characterizes the Christian church in its encounter with other faiths is vulnerability . . . The people who are to be won and saved should, as it were, always have the possibility of crucifying the witness of the gospel." (p. 279)
Profile Image for Joel.
56 reviews10 followers
April 24, 2019

I find it quite funny that I am reading this book. I first learned about McLaren from some very outspoken and unloving neo-reformer types. They assured me in no uncertain terms that people like McLaren were the cancer that was eating away at the corpse of modern Christianity, and yet all that I have experienced since then would testify to the reversal of this indictment.
McLaren does not seek to deceive, and reminds the reader numerous times that he is “under-qualified” and has not got the shiny credentials in theology which others flaunt.
The grand irony herein being that the more that I study in theology, and the more credentialed that I become, the more that people like McLaren tend to make sense. Their positions seeming more mature and in line with what appears to be at the heart of the faith tradition.
McLaren writes in a whimsical and cheeky manner which makes for an enjoyable read, (a prime example being the unfinished ending found in the chapter “Why I Am Unfinished”).
He has mapped out his chapters to show a generous spread of viewpoints, and suggests holding a dynamic tension of “both/and” rather than “either/or” when it comes to many of the theological persuasions. In doing this he does not appear to cross any mainline dogmatic boundaries (although he facetiously flirts with doctrinal borders - which is the main aim of the book.)
His writing style actually reminded me a lot of Stephen King in his memoir/grammar textbook, “On Writing.” This connection added to the enjoyment as I am a big King fan. It’s also interesting to note that both authors are English literature majors.
Ultimately I enjoyed McLaren’s work and can’t help but notice that the generous orthodoxy being described in this book seems to be quite similar in function (and potentially in confession?) to what I would say that I experience at my church already. Hopefully this review can be a cautionary tale to those who have strong thoughts without ever reading the object of those thoughts.

Profile Image for Kelly.
85 reviews1 follower
October 1, 2019
A good friend shared this book with me. After the first chapter, I wasn't sure I could wade through the depths with the author. To be fair, he noted this was the hardest part and urged me to go on. I am so glad I did.

The book left me with a new perspective, sense of optimism, and a very open mind about what it can mean to be a Christian. It's a nice thought that individuals don't need to fit in one small box: by denomination, political affiliation, and the like. Most fortunate, we don't have to be done growing. We can be unfinished, and that is where we will glorify our creator (whoever you believe that to be).

As a result, I am identifying as a less judgey, more thoughtful, more introspective, growing, learning, seeking, hopeful, and grateful Christian who embraces my newly opened mind and open heart.
Profile Image for Greg Diehl.
149 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2022
“Generosity without orthodoxy is nothing, but orthodoxy without generosity is worse than nothing.” Hans Frei

McLaren's perspective is nothing if not generous and I believe him to have something real and substantive to say (genuine "orthodoxy").

This work is no exception. For me, at the heart of Christianity is the longing to ascend to higher and more inclusive plains of both community and transformation. But that longing also needs to be restrained/tempered by an abiding understanding that we never plant the flag on the summit of our own growth and development (call it humility) - and that we can never make the journey alone (call it generosity + orthodoxy).
Profile Image for Melody Owen.
3 reviews2 followers
July 27, 2022
Though this book is almost 20 years old I sense that even then Brian is on the right track. I think what I have experienced over the last 20 years fits the trajectory that this book is going. I think my explanations would be different for some of the categories that he covers but would still argue similar things.
Profile Image for Jonathan Downing.
187 reviews
October 8, 2022
This is ground-breaking stuff. His latter chapters do drag if you're reading through it straight and they aren't on topics particularly sensitive for you, but on the chapters with issues I already cared about he was absolutely excellent, so maybe I should've actually taken it slowly. Either way, probably in the top five most challenging books I've read.
May 10, 2023
A Generous Orthodoxy Review

McClaren believes that a generous orthodoxy is emerging and that each arm of Christian expression (in the various denominations) has value to give to the entire catholic (universal) church as well as offerings, which he finds dubious or at least that he questions. Of course, I agree that he is onto something having tasted from many of Christianity’s samplings.

"The Seven Jesus’ I have Known” (Chapter One)
The Conservative Protestant Jesus saves by dying.
The Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus saves by his powerful presence in this present moment.
The Roman Catholic Jesus saves by rising from the dead (the risen Jesus encounters his followers through public worship and the sacraments. “The Eucharist is a constant celebration of good news, a continual rendezvous with the risen Christ...” (Saves through the sacraments.)
The Eastern Orthodox Jesus saves by being born; by showing up among us.
The Liberal Protestant Jesus is a focus on the words and story of Jesus and what he did in the world. (But they are modern.)
The Anabaptist Jesus also saves people through his teachings and example. (They reject modernity.)
The Jesus of the Oppressed saves people through their political liberation.

“Jesus and God B” (Chapter Two)
The belief in the trinity was a formation of church thinking over time. “Eventually, after a few centuries of reflecting on God as revealed and experienced through Jesus (in the context of some major controversies with varied forms of Greek philosophy), the church began to describe God as Father-Son-Spirit in Tri-unity. For them, God could no longer be conceived of merely as “God A”, a single, solitary, dominant Power, Mind, or Will, but as “God B,” a unified, eternal, mysterious, relational community/family/society/entity of saving Love.”

“Would Jesus Be a Christian?” (Chapter Three) The Brian McClaren Jesus?
Is Jesus our Lord or our mascot? “But Jesus comes as a liberating, revolutionary leader, freeing us from the dehumanization and oppression that come from all “the powers that be” in our world (including religious powers). His kingdom, then is a kingdom not of oppressive control but of dreamed-of freedom, not of coercive dominance but of liberating love, not of top-down domination but of bottom-up service, not of a clenched iron fist but of open, wounded hands extended in a welcoming embrace of kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, and grace.” “Confessing Jesus as Lord means joining his revolution of love and living in this revolutionary way.” A master in a vocation is someone with great experience and knowledge to impart. Jesus is our master in how to live his way.

“Jesus: Savior of What?” (Chapter Four)
Salvation is rescue. Jesus saves his creation by rescuing it.
Jesus rescues his creation by judging to bring justice to every person and to the earth.
Once we are convicted, Jesus saves us with forgiveness. We are judged with mercy.
Then Jesus saves us by teaching us and revealing the way that we should live.

“Why I Am Missional” (Chapter Five)
This is a generous third way beyond conservative and liberal Christianity.
McClaren defines “missional” in this way—“To be and make disciples of Jesus Christ in authentic community for the good of the world.” The gospel is not primarily about my personal salvation. It is about Christ’s mission to save the whole world (including the entirety of creation). The gospel invitation should be “do you want to join us in the saving mission of Christ?” “Do you want to be part of this?” If the gospel begins with personal salvation alone, then the tendency is for folks to say, “what’s in it for me?” We need a reversal of evangelical Christianity’s focus on personal salvation, which begins in a giant circle of me and might then extend to the whole gospel. McClaren’s view of the gospel: Jesus saving the world—Creates the church to that end (to work in partnership with)—Invites individuals to become disciples and thereby participate. “Those who want to become Christians (whether through our proclamation or demonstration), we welcome. Those who don’t, we love and serve, joining God in seeking their good, their blessing, their shalom.” “I think that the missional way is better: the gospel brings blessing to all, adherents and nonadherents alike.” “My call is to be blessed so that I can bless everyone.” We join Jesus to express God’s love for the whole world.

“Why I am evangelical” (The Conservative Protestant Jesus) (Chapter Six)
Theological Schematic – Jesus was Born to Die (His death cancels out all human guilt.)
McClaren was raised as an evangelical. He describes the lives and work of both of his evangelical grandfathers. He lauds evangelicals for their passion—saying that evangelicals don’t let a lack of seminary credentials get in their way—if something needs to get done, they find a way. He loves this evangelical passion. McClaren lists four characteristics of evangelicals: high respect for the Bible, emphasis on personal conversion, belief that a personal relationship with God is possible, and sharing their faith with others. They are busy working in missions around the globe. His beef with evangelicals is their identity as the religious right, and he writes that he disagrees with… “a foundationalist epistemology, assenting to something like a dictation theory of biblical inspiration, upholding a sectarian and elitist approach to non-fundamentalist Christians, and identifying judgementalism and anger as fruits of the Holy Spirit…”

“Why I Am Post Protestant” (Chapter Seven)
The protestant reformation was part of humanity’s transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age. The protestors changed their view of where one finds true authority. Instead of through papal succession and church tradition—authority flowed from the scriptures, and God spoke directly from the Bible’s words to individual people. This was the point in time in which we began to see the ascendency of the individual. However, a problem of Biblical interpretation arose. Whose interpretation was correct? Who got it right? As these debates raged, the church continued fracturing, and denominationalism was born. But where was it to end? At some point, a person might believe that their denomination or theological insights were completely correct and then the person moves from the being a protestor to a defender! Arrogance and defensiveness result. (Not fruits of the Spirit). Restorationism was one of the last movements within the protestant time period. Select men became dissatisfied with the lack of communion among the various denominations and wanted to take their flocks backward in time. These men wanted the Christian faith to be as it had been in the early church. Several denominations were born of this movement: The Church of Christ, The Disciples of Christ, The Plymouth Brethren & Seventh Day Adventists. McClaren writes that post-Protestantism will issue forth over time as we all focus on loving our neighbors instead of focusing on the minor issues about which we disagree.

“Why I Am Liberal/Conservative” (Chapter Eight)
“What good is it, liberals ask conservatives, to have an inerrant Bible if you have no inerrant interpretations and if as time goes on, the errant interpretations multiply and divide rather than move toward agreement?” “Meanwhile, liberals had another set of problems. Just as conservative biblical interpretations “prove” almost anything, free liberal inquiry questions everything. Their questioning and research could arrive at conclusions that left the Christian faith severely—some would say fatally—wounded, depleted and drained of content.”
Liberal Christianity dominated our social politics in the early part of the 20th century. At some point it became like a Christianized version of leftist politics; so conservatives got to work forming think tanks/coalition etc. and by the 1980’s they became dominant in the public square. Liberals trailblazed on Civil rights, Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights while conservatives have stuck to the promotion of their brand of the gospel; faith is separate from and more important than other issues. The divisiveness between the two worldviews was a reaction to the world going modern. Now the world is going postmodern and if the church doesn’t grapple with and adapt to that reality, then both conservative and liberal Christian worldviews will become relics.

“Why I Am Mystical/Poetic” (Chapter Nine)
“Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess players do…Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination…The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits…The madman is not the man who has lost his reason, The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason…Materialists and madmen never have doubts…Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have the mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.”
J.K. Chesterton
“At the heart of the theological project in the late modern world was the assumption that one could and should reduce all revealed truth into propositions and organize those propositions into an outline that exhaustively contains and serves as the best vehicle for truth. If not on the scholarly level, this assumption ruled supreme in the minds of many rank-and-file Christians. But just as medieval cathedrals now serve more as history/art museums than houses of worship, Barth anticipated the day when the common sort of systematic theology would become a historical artifact.”
C.S. Lewis saw the Bible as a launching pad to knowing God…” language can be a window through which one glimpses God, but never a box in which God can be contained.”
“A generous orthodoxy, in contrast to the tense, narrow, controlling, or critical orthodoxies of so much of Christian history, doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is humble; it doesn’t claim too much; it admits it walks with a limp.” The Bible contains very little expository prose!

“Why I am biblical” (Chapter Ten)
McClaren’s loyalty to the Bible is often challenged by his evangelical friends. But the author states that he loves the Bible, studies it, and attempts to live by its teachings. He doesn’t however believe that the Bible is an answer book like an encyclopedia or phone book. And he doesn’t believe that the Bible is a rule book that pronounces unchanging rules that are applicable to every single culture. He sees the Bible as a story about how God is working in his creation over time. He says that modernism with its scientism, and its foundationalism caused the trajectory in which a section of Protestantism claimed that the Bible was error free. Reformation’s sola scriptura transferred authority from popes/tradition to the written word. It’s so interesting that this only could have happened after the canon was formed. Modernism was a reaction and a move away from the medieval when everything was questioned but no answers could be found? Modernism/Foundationalism said, “we will find the answers.”
We will know. It was a new way of knowing how to know. Scripture is something that God “has let be”. Cause and effect reality? When a biblical writer uses the term “word of God”, he/she is not referring to the Bible because the Bible had not been compiled yet! The Bible was not dictated by God, but neither is it strictly human. “We need to reclaim the Bible as narrative.”

“Why I am charismatic/contemplative” (The Jesus Movement Jesus) (historic mostly-Catholic Contemplatives) (Chapter Eleven)
The Jesus Movement of the 1960’s and early 1970’s brought McClaren into contact with the Pentecostal Jesus. This Jesus was personally available, and he saved people through the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives but McClaren didn’t like the speaking in tongues requirement of this group. (I was a part of this!) He writes, “I think it’s safe to say that many charismatics believe that the Spirit of Jesus can be experienced one step beyond the normal.”
As McClaren aged however he discovered that Catholic contemplatives …“believed no less fervently than charismatics that the risen Jesus is present in Spirit and can be experienced.” His goal became to know that Jesus was with him every moment. McClaren tells us that contemplation isn’t only for passive people but that it’s a vital tool for people critically engaged in missional activism. I find this quote from page 197 to contain a truthful irony. “Catholic contemplatives, it seems, have an easier time with joy than non-charismatic Protestants, preoccupied as they tend to be with modern rationality, abstract theory, and depressing topics of total depravity.” He ends this chapter discussing the best way to possess things, which is through grateful contemplation rather than grasping to meet one’s consumeristic “needs”.

“Why I Am Fundamentalist/Calvinistic” (Chapter Twelve)
According to McClaren Fundamentalism was a reaction to the splintering caused by the ubiquitous protesting among Christians. “As Protestants were frantically dividing into more and more fractious denominations, some wise people said, “Let’s stop this splitting frenzy. Let’s affirm the fundamentals of the faith, the essentials that bring us together.” But instead of fighting for love and unity many fundamentalists began fighting against their loss as the favored religion of the empire, and against abortion, divorce, profanity and promiscuousness. Next, McClaren talks about “on the street” Calvinism. He talks about the way that it folds in neatly with all the rest of the deterministic views of the modern age. (I can come to this very conclusion myself.) “But after Calvin’s death, I think a terrible convergence occurred, something like the Perfect Storm, when the massive low-pressure system of theistic determinism (Calvin-the next-generation via Beza & Co.) synergized with the strengthening hurricane of mechanical determinism (Sir Isaac Newton) and then drew strength from the high-pressure system of rationalistic philosophy (Descartes and others). The perfect storm produced a whole new landscape where mechanisms were seen as the ultimate reality, and where God was promoted to chief engineer, controlling the whole machine. I do not believe in this modern mechanistic God of this closed, mechanical universe. I do not believe that this universe is a movie that’s already “in the can,” having been “produced and shot” already in God’s mind, leaving us with the illusion that it’s all real and actually happening. I find it hard to imagine worshipping or loving a deterministic, machine-operator God.” McClaren writes that Reformed Christianity met the high mark as far as intellectual rigor, and that fit was good for modernism. Calvin wrote The Institutes of the Christian religion (at age 25), which was a lean and purely intellectual system of doctrine. This might fill the power gap caused by leaving Catholicism. McClaren writes that the church must continually reform as it adjusts to the culture in which it finds itself. He is very much of the mind that reformation is necessary today in our postmodern world. “Our mission is ongoing, and our context is dynamic.” “I can’t see church history in any other way, except this: semper reformanda, continually being led and taught and guided by the Spirit into new truth. Next, the writer describes the way that Calvinism made for a rigid concept of rightness and privilege, which lead to the unjust treatment of various people groups. In this way, it seems that Catholics and Reformers were joined in complicit wrong. McClaren ends this chapter with a revision to the old TULIP acrostic: T=Triune Love, U=Unselfish Election, L=Limitless Reconciliation, I=Inspiring Grace, P=Passionate, Persistent Saints.

“Why I am (ana)Baptist/Anglican” (Chapter Thirteen)
McClaren said that the Anabaptist movement was a reaction to infant baptism, which was rejected. Adults should be baptized of their free will. But this meant that the protest would be limited in time span because the children of anabaptists were not baptized as infants, therefore, the protest had proved efficacious except that it created a whole new group—those who baptized when a free-will decision could be made. Anabaptists were radical and hated by the conservative arm of the reformation (Lutherans & the Reformed). Anabaptists were more concerned with a way of life than the academy. Anabaptists have been contra modernity. Land, community, and extended family remain more important than industrialism and technology. Post-modern Christians can learn from anabaptists how to function on the margins. Anabaptists interpret Paul through Jesus. The words of Jesus are the greatest treasure in the world. The followers of Christ should turn the other check, hence conscientious objection! These values have caused anabaptists to isolate from the culture instead of penetrating it.
Anglicans sought a middle way—retain the good from medieval Catholic Christianity but also embrace the good from the emerging Reformation movements. For Anglicans scripture is in dialogue with tradition. Theological disagreements are tempered by the deep beauty of liturgy. Thus “Anabaptists and Anglicans withheld their full allegiance from modernity. For this reason (and others) they have much to offer all who seek a generous orthodoxy beyond modernity.” “…the more I follow this Anabaptist/Anglican path, the more real God becomes to me, the more brilliant and revolutionary Jesus seems to me, the more precious life becomes to me, the more warmly I feel toward my neighbors.”

“Why I Am Methodist” (Chapter Fourteen)
Methodism started in England in the 1700s. George Whitefield along with John & Charles Wesley preached to the unwashed masses with the result of “…tears, shrieks, groaning and trembling.” God met people right where they were, and thousands of lives were transformed. Originally operating like Alcoholics Anonymous with individual reaching down to individual in a kind of mentorship, the movement too quickly reverted to a static hierarchical power structure. McClaren writes that “Not until the Wesleys did anyone do for spiritual formation what Luther and Calvin had done for doctrine: create a system to replace what had been rejected from Catholicism.” (i.e., the church hierarchy).

“Why I am catholic” (Chapter Fifteen)
Theological Schematic – In Roman Catholicism the “Christus Victor” theory of atonement is emphasized. “Jesus saves the church by rising from the dead.” “The Eucharist is a constant celebration of good news, a conti
Profile Image for Annie.
183 reviews1 follower
March 1, 2018
This book came to me at the perfect time. Refreshing, insightful, and yes, generous.
Profile Image for Rena Sherwood.
Author 3 books30 followers
April 15, 2016

Although considered a crucial book in the development of the emergent church, Brian McLaren’s book is filled with convoluted sentences, lack of organization and perhaps the world’s worst subtitle.

For a time, my brother and I did not get along. We were both raised Born-Again Protestant Christians. He still is and is part of the emergent church movement. I’m an atheist. In 2005, my brother send Mom a book that he thought was one of the most important books in the history of Christianity – Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan; 2004.) I read it in 2005 and tried reading it again this year but during the second reading gave up at page 200.

“But You’re an Atheist.”

I claim that this book sucks not because I have problems with McLaren’s flavor of Christianity or with his belief in God. The problem is that I haven’t the slightest idea what he believes or doesn’t believe in. This book is poorly organized, poorly written and has perhaps the world’s worst subtitle. The entire book title is this:

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant+ liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/Calvinist + Anabaptist/Anglican + Methodist + Catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian

The book jacket and introduction praises McLaren for being a new G. K. Chesterton. But even though Chesterton was a pompous bore on the page, he could clearly make a point. I’m not even sure McLaren knows what a “point” is.


Since I was raised Christian and spent grades 4 to 12 at a Christian school, I’m a tad bit familiar with Christian jargon. But even a life-long Christian will have trouble keeping up with all of the “-isms” presented in this book, let alone someone brand spanking new to the faith. A glossary would have really helped.

McLaren spends the entire first chapter explaining about how bad of a writer he is and how unqualified he is on writing a book about modern Christian orthodoxy. He certainly doesn’t disappoint in these points. McLaren claims to have been an English teacher. I really cringe at thinking how his students must write.

Usually a sentence contains one concept. Not McLaren’s. By the end of the sentence, he’s talking about a subject different than the beginning of the sentence. Perhaps he was trying to be hip or trendy, but a writer should not sniff at comprehension, especially in the subject of Christian apologetics.

In Conclusion

If you want to know what the emergent church movement is all about, avoid A Generous Orthodoxy. It confuses more than it enlightens to the point where reading it becomes borderline excruciating.
Profile Image for Thomas Freeman.
61 reviews6 followers
October 1, 2009
This book is an apologetic for exercising a "Generous" "Right Thinking" (orthodoxy). Brian McLaren basically considers every category of Christian view that claims exclusive truth. From denominations, movements and even doctrines Brian will try to persuade you to blur all the lines for the box you fit truth in. However, he never confronts the fact that he feels he has the answer on truth that lead him to blur the lines on truth. I do not recommend this book because it has no true substance.

At times, I felt that Brian addressed some legitimate concerns. This is probably why we see an "emerging" movement that champions these strengths but distances itself from the Emergent movement's unwillingness to consider any revelation from God as absolute truth.

Brian was probably one of the first post-modern theists to purposefully be "raw" and "in your face". One of his most often quoted statements on page 87 is "often I don't think Jesus would be caught dead as a Christian where he physically here today." Another statement designed to illustrate his belief that salvation is to reveal evil to us so we can live better lives: "To recap: we live in danger of oppression and deception, so Jesus comes with saving judgment. When God shines the light of justice and truth through Jesus, the outcome is surprising: the religious and political leaders often turn out to be scoundrels, and the prostitutes and homeless turn out to have more faith and goodness than anyone expected." IN a statement like this Brian uses extreme options to indicate "guilt by association". Religious & Political leaders (who give us absolute truth) are all corrupt and simple people try to scratch out a better life no matter what morals or ethics they break are actually good!

Brian has hole heartedly embraced deconstructionism in his writings. He says things like "Why I am evangelical." But then deconstructs the meaning to what he wants it to mean. So being evangelical is not Evangelical. Communication has broken down.

This book deals with legitimate concerns but provides NO substance in answers.

Not recommended.
Profile Image for Stephanie Clark.
Author 16 books2 followers
November 13, 2009
There has to be some sort of term for why a self-deprecating man who then makes statements redefining what terms should mean so that he can now embrace them in his generous orthodoxy is an illogical argument. One might pick up the book and say, "Wow, he claims to be some sort of Charismatic, or some sort of Calvinist." But no, he lays out what they believe in a sentence, or even in a few paragraphs explains what the worst that those groups can sometimes believe, throws that out, and then gives the terms new meanings to fit into what he truly believes a follower of Jesus should be - i.e. some sort of mashed up missional, narrative theologian, who is redefining salvation as some sort of holistic cleansing for one and all including the whole earth, oh and he might not believe in hell or heaven - but he will never give a definitive statement on that. Just a twinkle of the eye, and *poof* he is gone up the chimney.

I had a Catholic friend even pick this book up and read the chapter about Catholics/catholics, and he was like, "This guy isn't even engaging in anything Catholics believe, he is dismissing us entirely. He's not Catholic or even catholic!" Mmmm, yes, my friend, I believe that you are correct.
Profile Image for Misael Galdámez.
110 reviews3 followers
November 2, 2021
3.5/5 stars

It's not that I didn't like this book. I generally like Brian D. McLaren's approach to the faith. But did this book have to be so long? I felt like I got his point by chapter 8 or 9 and I still had over half the book to go. It felt a bit repetitive and the references were definitely dated.

In general, however, his desire for a more generous Christianity is welcomed. This quote in the last chapter sums up what I enjoyed about the book:

If orthodoxy always culminates in an unending, joyous astonishment that erupts in gratitude and honor and humility and delight in response to the perception and contemplation of the truth about God, then these things are never finally "right" or achieved or completed with technical correctness (that's not the point).

It's not about right thinking (although it is). It's about experiencing the joy and gratitude that comes from knowing God. We'll never fully arrive and our faith is about more than maxims. It's more a way of life than a dogma. Not to say truth doesn't matter. It does. But our character and way of living also matter, at least as much as what we say we believe.
Profile Image for Chauncey Lattimer.
47 reviews1 follower
August 9, 2011
This book was my introduction to the writing of Brian McLaren and, I must admit, it was not what I expected. Though I do not agree with all that McLaren postulates, I found the book to be very provocative and thought-engendering. If McLaren can be put into any box it would have to be one that opposes almost any 'us/them' distinctions. McLaren fulfills his statement regarding he purpose of the book - i.e., that he is writing "to try to help us realign our religion and our lives at least a little bit more with that someone."

I appreciated his candor regarding his own spiritual journey. There is a huge value in realizing just how much we have been influenced by the current worldview and how much previous writers were likewise influenced. His positioning of himself as post- appears to be an honest attempt to deal with finding a place where the proposed polarities or dichotomies of theologians fail to match the experiences of life. I will read more of McLaren because of the growth and reflection brought on by my reading of this book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 294 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.