McLaren: The Final Word. (Maybe)

Just finished Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy.

We kicked off this conversational review here, and then dropped in for a quick update a couple days ago. You might want to read those first. 

After finishing his initial exposition chapters, I expected to skim the bulk of McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy, but I found his later chapters to be provocative and insightful.

I think at this point in my life, I am more interested in reading/listening to people who think differently than I do rather than soaking myself in works that reflect my own viewpoint. McLaren offered a surprising mix of agreement and disagreement with my perspective on the Church and her mission. I can’t really quantify what exactly I agree with and what I would reject. I think his thoughts need to marinate in me for a while . . .

Overall, I think McLaren is essentially on the mark with his critique of what my friend Sam calls “churchianity.” The religion of Christianity is not equivalent to the Kingdom which the Triune God is hard at work creating on this earth.  Our Christian “religion” continues to alienate folks, including many of our young people.

The Church in our 21st century, Evangelical expression has grown fat and comfortable in her neighborhood of (fading) Modernism. Yes, yes, there have been cosmic battles between liberal and conservative theology, vast disagreements over methodology, and a spectacular opening salvo known as the Reformation.  But our emergent understanding of the world is now postmodern, not Modern. We are too steeped in our own modernist context to be able to critique its faults. Somehow McLaren mustered the necessary objectivity to stand apart from the Church Modern to envision the Church Future. (Some of you will find the word “objectivity” ironic in that sentence about a man who is attempting to encourage a postmodern incarnation of the Body.)

I am tired of doom and gloom preaching; me-centered theology and mission (“Come to Jesus! He’ll make you feel better!”); narrow-minded judgmentalism; and a refusal to work now for the world that will exist 500 years from now (because deep-down, even the Reformed seem to live a Left Behind theology of Christian vocation and mission).  (Was that a narrow-minded judgment? LOL)

Is McLaren right?

I don’t know. But one thing is certain: postmodern Christianity (the good kind) will be as markedly different from what we see now as the Protestant Church was to Medieval Catholicism.

It’s going to be a wild ride….

thinking about The Table

Awhile back Coart and I were acquainted with a guy who studied at the Reformed Episcopal seminary in Texas. He was an interesting fellow, brimming with ideas about music, art, theology, philosophy which shook the little pillars of my worldview. I haven’t heard from him in quite a while; we need to track him down.

Anyway, since meeting Mark, we’ve been curious about the REC. I don’t know much about the denomination other than it’s been around more than 100 years. They’re Calvinist Episcopalians. (If you remember your Anglican history, you’ll recall that the Church of England adopted Arminius’s view of salvation and theology in the 1600s, offering yet another reason for the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell to view the Anglican church with disfavor.)

Being the curious folks that we are, we tracked down a congregation while on vacation in Phoenix and visited their Eucharist service last evening.

There’s not a whole lot to tell about the service itself; we worked our way through a long liturgy that included candles, vestments, and many Scripture readings (which are chanted instead of read). The rector’s sermon was what one expects from an evangelical pastor, with perhaps a bit more historical theology thrown in (a brief discussion of Trinitarian heresies). The small group of believers were very friendly.

But what stood out to me most was the Eucharist itself.

EucharistAfter so many years in conservative Protestant circles, I find myself longing for something “more” in worship practice, especially at the Lord’s Table.

Our fear of Catholic transubstantiation has led us to evacuate Communion from any real meaning in our lives …. other than, perhaps, an excuse for a guilt trip once a month for our inherent sinfulness. If your mom welcomed you to Christmas Dinner each year with a review of your recent failures, I doubt you’d get much pleasure out of the meal. No wonder many Christians stay home on Communion Sunday. 

NCC is the first church I’ve ever attended that treats the Lord’s Supper as a celebration instead of a judgment. Even Mt Calvary, whose silent meal followed by soulful singing, was far more focused on judging yourself for sin instead of on the Grace of Christ which frees us from that sin.

I think the Lord’s Supper does impart grace to the taker. Now I’m not talking about “saving grace (ie: I don’t think taking communion saves you). But in another sense, the grace is salvific — if we recognize that salvation is a process and not a point in time. The Gospel which translates me from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His dear Son (Colossians 1) is the same Gospel which works itself out over a lifetime of sanctification and miraculous transformation from sinner to “new creation.”

I think that kind of Grace is imparted to us at the Table. This sacrament of the Church (it seems to me) must be more than a simple memorial of past events.

An illustration: Protestant views of Communion seem to treat the event like a visit to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: A really meaningful opportunity to increase my appreciation for America’s veterans who sacrificed themselves for Freedom.

But let’s be honest. I might miss something by never seeing the changing of the guard at Arlington (I haven’t), but that doesn’t mean I can’t come to a deep and real appreciation for the military’s sacrifice. Basically, I can take it or leave it. Should I never pass by Arlington again, I will die a complete and “total” American.

I have a hard time treating the Lord’s Supper like a mere memorial with no real affect on the believer who partakes of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  …. There’s something wrong with that picture….There must be something more.