I’m about 2/3 through McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy and still find myself agreeing (or tolerantly nodding my head) to the vast majority of his ideas. Maybe I’m finally old enough to yearn for people who think differently than I do, instead of wanting to read people who think just like me.
[If you missed my first post, you might want to start there….]
My biggest gripe with McLaren so far comes from his chapter on the Bible. Overall, I appreciate his pull toward recognizing the purpose of the Scriptures: to thoroughly equip Christians to do good in this world. He’s right that we ought not use the Bible as a moral proof-text source or weapon for pounding over the heads of people who disagree. Point well taken. But his understanding of the value and perspective of the OT is atrociously lacking… especially his tendency to fall into the old liberal sand trap of setting up the OT (with its “violent, angry God”) against the Jesus of the Gospels (who is “loving and nice to all His enemies”). That’s just really bad theology, folks.
In his chapter on Fundamentalism and Reformed theology, McLaren suggests that the Reformed churches might lose out the worst as the planet shifts from Modernism (Enlightenment thinking — rationalism and empiricism) to Postmodernism. Of all the “streams” of Christianity, Reformed thinking has adapted the most to the Modernist world of evidence and argumentation (just take a look at apologetics over the past 50 years).
According to McLaren, Reformed thinkers tend to forget one of the basic Reformation battle cries: semper reformandi– “always reforming.” If Reformed theologians do not recognize the shift in epistemological thinking and adapt, they will be left behind.
I think McLaren here displays one of his primary weaknesses. It’s not a damnable one, but it’s a serious weakness.
He’s right that Christianity must and should adapt to the times, reflecting a deep understanding of the postmodern worldview that unconsciously affects everyone born since the 1960s. But he’s wrong to forget that the Scriptures stand outside and above all human movements and worldviews. The Truth is not changed by postmodernism any more than it was altered by the movements before this one.
Now, McLaren would respond, “How can you possibly know anything like ‘truth’ apart from your historical context? Even if the Bible is timeless and above philosophical movements, how would you possibly know that?”
And I’d have to agree that he’s right in his criticism … but I’m not budging from my epistemological belief that Truth — to be “Truth” — must live above human movements.
Adjusting our understanding to accomodate developments in human thought does not change our core beliefs … it means that we must wrestle to find new “clothes” for Truth to wear.