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Gamaliel's Desk
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Stingy Orthodoxy
These past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity in the state of Kentucky that has piqued the interest of good Pharisees everywhere. Even though they lack the purity of faith in my own Pharisee denomination, the Kentucky Baptist Convention is close enough that I try to stay abreast of the latest news. It seems that the KBC has uninvited the noted pontiff of postmodern Christianity, Brian McLaren, from their upcoming evangelism conference. This was so newsworthy it not only sparked comments in the blogosphere but the mainstream media as well.

The reason for the disinvitation was pretty clear – McLaren showed his true colors in his latest book, A Generous Orthodoxy. I thought the disinvitation was prompted by the superb critique by Al Mohler earlier in February, but it turns out that the organizers of the evangelism conference took exception with the passage in the book that says, "I must add, though, that I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. 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." This is such a preposterous statement, it hardly bears discussing. He might as well have suggested that the early apostles were not founding a new religion in the book of Acts but were actually practicing Jews who attended synagogue, worshipped in the temple, kept the feasts and maintained their Jewish customs. Everyone knows that Western American Christianity is the only True Form of the faith that is recognized by God. It is our high calling to not only preach the gospel but also to convert them to our culture. After all, isn't that what the Culture War is all about – making American-style Christians the world over?

He actually does say, "… 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. The ultimate reality is the kingdom of God, and Christianity at its best is here to proclaim and lead people into that kingdom, calling them out of smaller rings, smaller kingdoms. Christianity at its worst, using the definition in this paragraph, can become a sin when it holds people within its ring and won't let them enter the kingdom of God. Jesus diagnosed the religious leaders of his day as doing this very thing…. In the previous chapter, I suggested that Jesus didn't come to start another religion, which would include the Christian religion. I wasn't kidding. I do, in fact, believe that. That the Christian religion formed as it has is not surprising. It was no doubt necessary and in many ways good, and I know God is in it, and I am in it, too. But "the Christian religion" is neither the ultimate goal of Jesus nor the ultimate goal of God, in my view. Rather, the goal of Jesus is the kingdom of God…" Clearly McLaren misunderstands the importance of not just maintaining the Christian religion – but more importantly maintaining the Pharisee version of Christian religion – since all others are false forms of Christianity anyway.

Bill Mackey, KBC executive director, was quoted as saying, "We try to bring dynamic speakers to the Evangelism Conference who will challenge and inspire their listeners." And good for Bro. Mackey for doing so. Listeners need to be challenged and inspired to maintain the status quo, not challenged and inspired to read radical authors like McLaren. My fear is that by banning him, the Kentucky Baptists may have only spurred more interest in him. It is clear that Georgetown College, loosely affiliated with the SBC, is not on board with their fellows since McLaren is still scheduled to appear there. McLaren was identified as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals by TIME magazine. I think he's one of the most dangerous evangelicals because when asked about his position on gay marriage, he replied, "The thing that breaks my heart is that there's no way I can answer it without hurting someone on either side." Hogwash! If he was any kind of Christian he would have had no problem coming out and hurting people on the wrong side of the issue. Hurting people is what the chastening hand of God is all about and if that isn't enough, then we should feel free to be the conduits through which he vents his wrath.

My fear is that books like A Generous Orthodoxy might lead to a decline in spirituality and a loose, liberal, lackluster generous orthopraxy. We all know that straight is the way and narrow is the gate and few there be that find it. True Christians exist as a tiny remnant and it is hard enough for the few True Believers that exist to maintain our doctrinal purity with books like this in print. And we certainly do not need a self-proclaimed "missional, evangelical" heretic in the pulpit corrupting the minds of the young and leading them astray. While McLaren may advocate a generous orthodoxy, I would like to counter it with a "stingy orthopraxy" – a narrow practice that doesn't deviate to the right or to the left but maintains that knife-edge path of proper performance.

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eathing with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: " Why does he eat with the tax collectors and sinners?" On hearing this, Jesus said to the, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come call the righteous but sinners."
Mark 2:16-17 (NIV)

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