Monday, February 27, 2006

A Generous Orthodoxy

McLaren is undeniably generous, but can’t generosity and rationality be friends? I sure hope so.

Once again, McLaren has charmed me with his humility, his graceful writing and insightful anecdotes. How can I be angry with a man who is so self-effacing? And that teddy bear face! I enjoyed the book and found myself agreeing with about 90% of his ideas (this surprised me). Am I emergent?

McLaren attempted, near the end of the book, to recount the genesis of the “emergent” locution, which was quite eye-opening for me. Consider an analogy. Hydrogen and oxygen molecules display neither “wetness” nor “liquidity.” However, fuse them together and voila!, you have something altogether new – a new whole that does not resemble the parts. “Wetness” and “liquidity” emerge, as it were, from the constitution of this new substance. Some say that consciousness emerged at some point in the evolution of homo sapiens – a completely new phenomena that could not have been predicted simply given a mass of neurons and electrical charge.

The word-picture of choice for McLaren is that of a tree. Cut away a cross-section and you can inspect the concentric rings that reveal a tree’s age. Each ring represents an emergent layer that is unique and different from the previous ones. It encompasses the inner rings, but it represents something new. The tree continually emerges, growing and changing over the eons. In this way, McLaren claims a kind of continuity with the past traditions and doctrines of the church. Emergence is natural, not revolutionary. The snake who sheds her skin is the same snake that emerged from the egg a year ago.

Unfortunately, this illustration reveals the fatal flaw in McLaren’s thought. The emergent movement, or at least his Generous Orthodoxy, fails to share the roots of the ancient church and its theologians. Specifically, McLaren sees little significance in debates over doctrine and rational arguments. His apparent epistemological humility, however, is a thin veneer over the skepticism of post-modernity. Like the prodigal son, he has walked away from the hearth of objective truth and reason that has given light and warmth to the church since the beginning. Paul, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Augustine, Athanasius, Anselm, Aquinas – all of them were raised on the knees of love and truth. Their writings overflow with passionate argument, vilification of heresy, and dexterous use of logic and reason. The existence of objective truth is assumed, not questioned – but with humility, love and an overarching desire for the glory of God.

The movement embodied by A Generous Orthodoxy, is not a new ring on the tree. It is a sapling, sprouted nearby from a seed of the ancient tree, but quite separate.


Anonymous Ann said...

Hey, Chris. I am still in the middle of this book. I have so much to talk about. A lot of the concepts are intriguing to me, some i agree with, others i would like to see scriptural support. In application, Chris i think you are more emergent than others i know. You in more ways than one have brought heaven to earth by your love and faithfulness to your brothers and sisters in Christ. And you are way more evangelical than Evangelical. :)

7:56 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Wow. That may be the kindest thing anyone (besides Kristin) has ever said to me. My heart feels so blessed!! Thanks, Ann. We miss you guys already. There will be no goodbyes in heaven.

8:30 PM  

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