A Critique of Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

by Bob DeWaay

“always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2Timothy 3:7)

My favorite TV show as a teenager was Green Acres. On the show was a county agent by the name of Hank Kimball whose job was to answer technical questions for farmers. Mr. Douglas, a misplaced New York Lawyer and wannabe farmer, would often call Hank for advice. Hank, however, was the master of using many words to say absolutely nothing. His advice would go something like this:

After Mr. Douglas calls Hank for advice about his sick pig, Hank shows up and accompanies Mr. Douglas to the barn.

Mr. Douglas: “I think there is something wrong with my pig.”

Hank: “You have pigs huh; my cousin used to raise pigs” . . . pause . . . “No it wasn’t my cousin it was my uncle” . . . pause . . . “No my uncle lived in town.” . . . pause . . . “I remember now, my uncle had a bunch of cats. They drove my Aunt nuts, but they were sure some nice cats.”

Mr. Douglas: “WHAT ABOUT MY PIG????”

Hank: “I didn’t know you raised pigs. Well some people make a lot of money raising pigs. I think I better get back to town now. See you.”1

Invariably Mr. Douglas would be left frustrated with no answers.

Reading Brian McLaren’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy,2 I thought for a moment Hank Kimball had become a theologian. The subtitle gives more than a slight hint as to why it reads like this: “Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/Calvinist + Anabaptist/Anglican + Methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian.” If this confuses you, welcome to “post-modern” Christianity in the age of despair. This despair is what Francis Schaeffer predicted would happen when man gave up the possibility of validly knowing truth about God and the world He created.3 Brian McLaren speaks as one on the other side of Schaeffer’s “line of despair.”

Brian McLaren recently appeared in Time Magazine’s list of the twenty five most influential evangelicals.4His selection to the list is based on his role as a key leader in the “emergent” (sometimes called “emerging”) church—a movement popular with young people. His book is published by Youth Specialties, a ministry which promotes mysticism as a means of connecting young people with Christianity.5 In A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren tells the story of how he has created a unique version of Christianity by gleaning parts he likes from many sources. The result is what he calls “emergent” Christianity.

The teachings found in A Generous Orthodoxy may sound very unusual to many of my readers because they are. What follows is a summary of these teachings (these issues will be explained in the body of this article). The kingdom as envisioned by McLaren involves holistic, planetary “salvation” without any apocalyptic intervention of God (McLaren despises dispensational theology6). Personal salvation from hell is disparaged as a wrongly motivated “consumer product” that distracts from the more important issue of saving the “whole world” in the here and now.7 Rather than providing Christian hope to a generation of young people who have rejected all forms of Christianity, McLaren undermines the possibility for anyone to have a valid Christian hope based on knowing the truth of the gospel. I say that because he removes the hope of validly knowing anything. I will show that this ill-defined version of Christianity offers a feeble hope based on the idea that God is somehow working in history and creation to bring forth the kingdom of God in this world.

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