December 1, 2005
Campolo and McLaren 3: Unorthodox Questions
Brian McLaren has been proclaiming the need for a different, more generous approach to orthodoxy. His critics say "generous orthodoxy" is an oxymoron that exemplifies the problem with the postmodern church. In part three of our interview, McLaren explains what this new approach means for the local church pastor. While Tony Campolo discusses the societal definitions of "orthodoxy," and defends McLaren's call to overcome restrictive categories developed five centuries ago.
Brian, you are pressing for a "generous approach to orthodoxy." What does this mean for the local church pastor?
McLaren: I think it's quite problematic, partly for reasons of sociology. I think a lot of conservative, evangelical churches where formed through a sense of competition with other churches, so everyone formed detailed doctrinal statements in order to defend how right their beliefs were, compared to the other churches. What I'm trying to say is that creating a 72 item doctrinal statement about your beliefs may not be the best why to "make disciples." We need to really assess what the essentials are and allow some latitude for people to think and process their faith.
In A Generous Orthodoxy, I'm trying to help us create a deeper focus on "orthopraxy" and not just "orthodoxy." Our deep challenge then is to invite people to dialogue with us not just about doctrine, but about what a life of discipleship looks like.
This is a delicate and precarious discussion. So, where does "generosity" override or even negate "orthodoxy?"
Campolo: When you use the word "orthodoxy" you have a very complex term. When I hear the word, I immediately think of belief in the Apostles Creed, holding a high view of scripture, and having a personal relationship with Jesus. Now, what has happened is that certain 15th and 16th century theologians tried to interpret their faith to the people of their day, and they did a brilliant job of it, but they did it for people who lived 500 years ago, and it made sense 500 years ago. But, what people like Brian are trying to do is say, we still believe the Apostles Creed, and have a high view of scripture and Jesus, but we don't want to say it the same way Calvin and Luther and Zwingli said it. And furthermore, there may be things that we see today that need to be said that they didn't talk about, or they didn't grasp.
Now, we evangelicals often criticize the Catholic's for their belief in the popes' words as "ex cathedra." But we too have often committed similar offenses when we deviate from the doctrines of Calvin and Luther and call people heretics for that. I'm not differing from the Apostle's Creed, or differing from scripture, or from a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet, some of my ideas and Brian's do differ from Calvin and Luther. Now is that heretical? Well, to many of our brothers and sisters it is!
There are some who would say that if you're not a T.U.L.I.P. Calvinist you're not orthodox, and Brian and I simply aren't there. We believe there are questions in our culture today that must be addressed by Christians, and not just by 500 year old answers. I mean, who really cares about the doctrine of predestination or eternal security today outside of theologians? Most people are like the single mom trying to raise her daughter, or kid's facing the peer pressure of drugs and sex, or the aimlessness of so many people. These are the issues Christians must address.
We are not new gurus, but we do advocate looking at the new questions that our world is seeking answers to. We are not "unorthodox" in doctrine but "unorthodox" in the questions we are wrestling with.
McLaren: Tony, I really like what you just said and I agree! The only thing I'd like to add is that there is a group today bringing together Evangelicals, Mainlines Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox for what they call "cross confession conversation." And they have a term they use which I really like, seeking "the highest common denominator." I think the old ecumenical movement was about finding the "lowest common denominator" which was not helpful. I'm thrilled that we are moving in some good directions. Also, there seems to be an embrace of the idea that "to have orthodoxy without orthopraxy isn't truly orthodox." It's saying, we actually have to love our neighbors, care for the poor, and be increasingly transformed into Christlikeness in our actions. Now that's orthodoxy.