Regarding Generous Orthodoxy: An Open Letter to Brian McLaren

Dear Brian,

We’ve met a handful of times, but you don’t know me. The first time we met, in 2008 at a conference in Kansas City at Jacob’s Well, I introduced myself then blubbered through a thank you. See, when I read A New Kind Of Christian in 2000, while the youth pastor at a Baptist Church, it set my life on an entirely new trajectory.  After reading that book — and subsequent books of yours — multiple times, you became my spiritual father of sorts.

I met you again a couple months ago in Minneapolis at Solomon’s Porch, and even though I wanted to thank you again I refrained for the sake of my own pride; I didn’t want to cry again, but knew I would.

When I met you the first time, I was in the early, heady days of planting a new church that had sprung organically and unforeseen out of the tight bond of a group of friends. We read ANKoC together and it — along with Generous Orthodoxy — became the common language of our young church. In fact, your ideas were so important to us that when we sat around my dining room table discussing the core ideas that would give definition to our community, the idea of generous orthodoxy became core to who we are as a church.

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We are committed to historic, orthodox Christian faith as found in the Apostles’ Creed. We are committed to a generous orthodoxy under a banner of love and grace. As such, we commit ourselves to faithful reading and study of the Bible, finding new and creative ways to live out what it teaches.

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It’s been 8 years since we crafted that statement for our little church here in Peoria, and about 10 since you wrote the book. And I still deeply believe in a generous orthodoxy. I think it’s a sad statement about the Body of Christ that since the Protestant Reformation, we feel like almost everything is worth dividing over. There are a lot of great things I was taught growing up Baptist, but one of the ugly things I learned is that when you disagree with someone, you move away from them.

But I don’t think this is the way of Jesus. In fact, I’m more convinced than ever that tension and disagreement have always existed side-by-side in the church. Peter v. James, Paul v. Jerusalem Church, Paul v. Barnabas, James v. Paul…  Throughout the Scriptures, I see our church fathers arguing with each other over the nature of what it means to follow after Jesus. We’ve always had “disputable matters” (as in Romans 14) that have caused us to question our brothers and sisters.

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Over the last couple of months, our church has been engaged in a conversation over the role of LGBT persons in our church community. Some say that, of course, “generous orthodoxy” extends to the LGBT persons in our church, prohibiting them from nothing; others say that we can be generous, but this lies outside the lines of “orthodoxy,” and should therefore limit their participation in certains facets of our ministry.

And while we’ve always made space for gays and lesbians in our church, we’ve been intentionally ambiguous about the specifics. But it’s now time for us to address what “generous orthodoxy” looks like when it comes to the role of LGBT persons.

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Here’s what I see, Brian, that bothers me and it’s the reason for this letter. In some of the churches that I admire, who have moved to an “open and affirming” position, there is no generous orthodoxy, only a new orthodoxy. In other words, it feels like some have only changed their minds about what the Scripture affirms or denies, without maintaining the spirit of graciousness that I’ve seen modeled by you in your writing. And so a church “affirms” one group that was formerly ostracized but now tells another group they’re not welcome because of their beliefs.

And it’s not just churches, it’s people. It’s people who have changed their view on what the Scriptures condemn or allow and are now just as ungracious being “liberal” as they were when they were “conservative.” It’s like they’ve completely forgotten their own journey and the sometimes slow process of changing one’s mind.

So, my question is, even if we expand our “orthodoxy,” how do we maintain generosity? Even if we feel like God is calling us to accept people that the church didn’t used to accept, how do we maintain a spirit of generosity towards those who just can’t get there yet, and perhaps never will?

With Great Admiration,

Charles

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Okay, it’s doubtful to me that Brian McLaren will ever read this post. But I’m curious, what do you all think about the relationship between generosity and orthodoxy? What do you think about “orthodoxy” changing, as it does from time to time? What are some of the specific practices you believe a local church should employ in order to create a space of “generous orthodoxy?”

And even if you don’t want to engage in the discussion here, please drop me a line and let me know if this post is beneficial and thought-provoking. Over the next couple months, we’ll again be exploring the idea of “generous orthodoxy” at Imago Dei Church, and I’m intending, from time to time, to “spill” some thoughts over here to my blog.

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