Back To Detail Page Can you provide us with a brief definition of Generous Orthodoxy?Back to the Top

Brian McLaren: I first heard the term from one of my favorite theologians, Dr. Stanley Grenz, who in turn gleaned it from the late Hans Frei. Frei was imagining an approach to faith beyond the polarities we are so accustomed to – polarities of liberal and conservative, for example. The phrase struck a chord with me, because all my life I’ve envisioned and hoped for a time when Christians from across traditions would bring their treasures to the table – not to compete and brag: "Our heritage is better than yours! Our heroes are better than yours! Our doctrines and distinctives are better than yours!" Rather, they would say, "We have some treasures to offer you, and you have some to offer us. Can we share our treasures in Christ?" Why did you feel compelled to write a personal confession of faith at this point in your Christian journey?

Brian McLaren: For the last decade or so, I have been deeply involved in the global conversation among Christian leaders about postmodernity and modernity. We’ve been seeking to discern to what degree we have already become compromised with the culture of modernity, and at the same time, we’re asking how we grapple constructively with the new challenges and opportunities presented by postmodernity.

Originally, the book was going to be my attempt – admittedly, at a very early stage in the process – to describe what I believe the Christian faith will look like down the road a ways, on the other side of modernity. My first book, which was called The Church on the Other Side, was an attempt in this direction, and I wanted to go further and deeper in this exploration.

Early in the writing process, I realized that I have absolutely no authority to try to propose something like this. Nobody else does either, since our various traditions and denominations tend to doubt leaders from outside our own ranks, and only consider insiders as legitimate. Not only that, but the issues we’re grappling with in this time of transition are quite deep, and it’s hard for nonscholars to access them through abstract, technical, "professional" language. So it became clear that I needed to take less the posture, "I’m the expert, and here’s where we need to go," and more the posture, "I’m just a humble seeker, and here’s what I see. Here’s what I’ve experienced. Here’s how this is coming together in my life, my mind, my heart." I needed to communicate in a more personal and less theoretical voice. About 200 pages into the book, without realizing it, I had drifted into a confessional tone, which I finally acknowledged to myself as well as to readers near the end of the book. You go to great lengths to warn readers about the content of this book. Why did you feel the need to do this?

Brian McLaren: There is way too much fear in our religious circles these days – fear that we’ll be judged for asking an uncomfortable question, fear that we’ll be excluded and shunned if we question an idea or practice, fear that we’ll be gossiped about if we break ranks in some way. Fear is useful for galvanizing a kind of forced unity. It also raises funds. Anyway, this fear seems more characteristic of the Pharisees than of Jesus, but we all know there’s too much of it in our religious circles. With so many fearful people around, I felt a warning was needed so that easily-frightened people would know what they were in for if they kept reading.

More important, though, I believe good communication and deep, creative thinking are hardest when people take themselves too seriously. We pastors learn that fact in many scenarios – from doing marriage counseling to dealing with temper-tantrums among toddlers to managing church politics among cantankerous saints. The more serious people are, the less willing to think anything new or do anything other than dig in their heels and fight. If we can lighten up and loosen up, we just might be able to open up to some fresh air, some fresh thinking. One of the readers of the pre-published manuscript especially made me realize this – that I needed to be less serious, more self-effacing, more playful, and maybe even a little more odd, so that we could get farther in thinking together before reaction and argument set in. So I felt that a chapter that lowered the seriousness quotient would be good – which is why I entitled it "Chapter 0." I found "Why I am Missional" to be one of the most penetrating chapters in the book. Can you briefly describe what it means to be missional?

Brian McLaren: One of the key questions we Christians face is about purpose: is the purpose of the church to seek blessing for ourselves to the exclusion of everyone else? Or is our purpose to be blessed so that we can be a blessing to everybody else? That question is easy to ask, but answering it brings a lot of new questions to light. Being missional means being persuaded that Christians are not intended as "the end users" of the gospel, that we aren’t chosen to be God’s favorite few to the exclusion of everyone else, but rather that we are chosen to be equipped by God to express God’s love and blessing to everyone else. This all resonates with God’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12. I’m glad you found the chapter useful, because it’s probably the most important chapter in the book.

Brian McLaren: From a communal perspective, why is it important for churches to understand that they are not called to merely support missions but to be a mission to the world?

Brian McLaren: This is such an important question, because it raises another question: If we’re not sharing in the mission of Jesus in our neighborhoods and cities, what are we doing instead? Running an institution? Creating subcultures? Baptizing political movements or economic systems? If missions is only a category for something we do across a border or ocean, then what are we doing at home? It seems to me that we’re in danger of seeing our neighbors at home as something other than "sheep without a shepherd," and we’re liable to look on them with something other than compassion. This is, of course, very much what has happened to the church in America. I fear that we speak much more of "culture wars" than we do of our mission here at home. How has your understanding of missional faith influenced your appreciation for various Christian traditions?

Brian McLaren: When I look at our world missionally – not excluding evangelism, but not exclusively evangelism either – I see so much injustice, so much suffering, so much evil, so many ways that God’s will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven. At that moment, I think, "We can use all the help we can get," and I immediately look at other Christian traditions as having resources that we really need in our common mission of love, justice, compassion, and peace.

Of course, there are many other ways I appreciate them as well – in terms of different ways of worship, different resources for spiritual formation, different heroes, even different mistakes – which can be very instructive! I truly believe that if we bring the diverse resources of our varied heritages to the table, we can create a kind of spiritual mutual fund that will enrich us all, and empower us to bring greater blessing to our world than ever before. If I read chapter 10, which is entitled "Why I am Biblical" correctly, you are suggesting that Scripture is not merely a manual that helps us understand salvation, but a guide that both invites us to experience the beauty of new life and enables us to participate in God's mission. If this interpretation is correct, how can we allow scripture to invigorate our mission and guide us towards the Kingdom of God?

Brian McLaren: We need to use Scripture less for purposes it was never intended for – like as a weapon for attacking our brothers, or as a club with which to beat others into acknowledging we’re right and they’re wrong, or as a source for abstractions that we master and organize and use to make ourselves feel superior. Instead, we need to use Scripture for its highest purposes – to encourage and equip us to do good works, to give us hope and assurance to keep serving God even in hard times, to remind ourselves who we are and whose we are and why we’re here. Why is it essential for followers of Jesus to fix their eyes not only upon the growth of the church but also upon Christ's emerging and in-breaking kingdom?

Brian McLaren: Jesus said that if we save our lives, we’ll lose them. It’s too easy to seek to save our churches, to aggrandize our institutions, to enlarge our ministries, and in so doing, actually lose sight of what really matters – namely, seeing God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So, if our churches are growing, but we’re not making a difference outside our walls, we run the risk of building an ingrown religion rather than seeking God’s kingdom, which as you say, is intended by God to break into our world. If we make more and more converts who are not really becoming disciples, whatever we’ve accomplished, it’s not what Jesus asked us to do. But if we make more and more authentic disciples, their effects will be felt everywhere – in neighborhoods, schools, businesses, in entertainment, art, government, science – where they’ll serve as agents or catalysts of God’s kingdom. That should be our focus, it seems to me. How can a "Generous Orthodoxy" help disciples strengthen their relationships with Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Hindu neighbors?

Brian McLaren: One of the downsides of Protestantism is that we got used to arguing among ourselves - about who was the most right in doctrine, church structure, worship style, or whatever. As a result, when we approach our neighbors of other religions, we’re likely to start arguing with them too. If we develop a more missional, generous faith, we’ll take a very different approach. For starters, we’ll argue with each other less, and then we’ll learn to approach our neighbors with service, hospitality, kindness, generosity, warmth, interest, understanding, and compassion rather than argument. That greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll ask us "to give a reason for the hope we have." No matter how good our arguments are, in the end, we may only prove one thing: that we’re argumentative. Jesus said that we’d be known by another fruit, not quarrelsomeness. Over the past several years, you have written a number of influential books, including The Church on the Other Side, Finding Faith, A New Kind of Christian and its sequel The Story We Find Ourselves In. What other titles, or, dare I say, written provocations, can we look forward to reading in the near future?

Brian McLaren: Next year, the conclusion to the A New Kind of Christian trilogy will be released. It will be called The Last Word and the Word After That. It’s a book about hell on one level, but on a deeper level, it’s about justice, mercy, and hope. I just turned in the manuscript, and am very excited about the needed conversation it will stimulate. Next I plan to work on a book exploring the idea of the kingdom of God, tentatively to be entitled The Secret Message of Jesus. I love to write, and my heart and mind feel so full of questions to explore. A Generous Orthodoxy was a delight to write, and I’m thrilled with the response I’ve been getting. Even the first few negative reviews on the internet were quite entertaining, because it was clear the writers hadn’t actually read the book they were critiquing: they were responding to things on the webpage, things that weren’t even in the book. On a more positive note, some folks have created a blog as a place of conversation about the book, in case any of your readers are interested. It can be found at

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