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!

December 01, 2005

Displaying 1–10 of 18 comments


December 19, 2005  4:17pm

I love the way both Brain and Tony think outside the box. However, when referring to the statement "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." What are these tough questions? Are they the same questions we have been wrestling with for centuries, but looking for a different perspective, or are there real fresh new tough questions that we have been overlooking?

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Doug Resler

December 15, 2005  11:58am

Transparency demands that I betray my bias from the very beginning. I am a Presbyterian Pastor in a small church in Mobile, AL. As such, I place a high value on theology and the study of church doctrine. Having said that, I am also a firm believer in living out the faith that we profess on a regular basis. I labor among the widows, the orphans, the single moms, the poverty-stricken, the wealthy, the small business owners, and a variety of others from all walks of life. They are my congregation. They are the people I love. To suggest that theology or doctrines like eternal security and predesination do not matter to these people or have any practical significance in their lives is simply wrong. At the same time, to suggest that all these people need is another sermon or Bible study on predestination is equally wrong. To suggest that we have to decide between orthodoxy and orthopraxy is misguided at best. It is a false choice. The faith that we proclaim is a faith that has been "handed over" (a very Biblical idea) to us by the great saints of the past. They were entrusted with the treasure of the Gospel and they proved to be faithful interpreters of it. We should listen to their words and learn from them. We should also follow their example. What will future generations think of us? The reason that Calvin, Luther, and others like them stand the test of time is not because their words are kept alive in the ivory towers of our seminaries. No, these are men who were guided by the Holy Spirit. Their words are not Holy Scripture, to be sure, but they continue to speak to people from all walks of life in every day and age. Our challenge, which is the same that these great saints of the past faced, is how to faithfully preach the Gospel in our context. We too, like the Apostle Paul and so many others who came after him, are charged to "hand over" the faith that has been delivered to us. I sincerely believe that Campolo and McLaren are not suggesting we abandon orthodoxy in favor of orthopraxy. It seems to me that they have set out to correct what appears to be an over-emphasis on doctrine at the expense of actual practice. Whereas I applaud their intent, I think they have escaped one trap only to find themselves caught in another. May God give us all the grace we need to find the right balance between right practice and right belief.

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Minister of Sanity

December 14, 2005  5:07pm

Orthodoxy is Satan, wearing his best suit, stuffing otherwise healthy believers into the box of conformity. God's word is alive and given to you so you can think on your feet and live a long time. The unorthodox questions will be answered by ordinary people, grounded in the relevant and enlightened by God.

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Mark Wright

December 13, 2005  8:41pm

The church today is already quite weak in doctrine. If you don't have a doctrinal foundation for your practice, your house will fall. Campollo might as well say that we don't need the first half of Ephesians, or the first 11 chapters of Romans. I guess their Bible is pretty small – maybe the Sermon on the Mount is enough for them. John Calvin wrote a commentary on almost every book of Scripture. The more I read those commentaries the more I learn about what the Bible means and how it applies to life. Does the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ or the doctrine of justification by faith alone matter anymore? Well, these things matter to God. We don't need to understand the Bible's teaching on the blessed Trinity? The world asks the wrong questions. It is not so much for us to try and answer all their questions and focus on their agenda. Rather, our job is to get them ask the right questions and then help answer them. Such as, how can a sinful human being find grace and forgiveness and salvation and get right with a holy God? These questions need to be asked and answered by every generation. These things are the heart of the gospel and if we drift from them we drift from the Lord. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." 2 Timothy 4:3

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December 10, 2005  9:33pm

Well said Scott!

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Scott Kelly

December 09, 2005  2:20pm

A lot of what Tony says in this and other conversations about "orthodox" doctrine is his great desire to appear to be the "bad boy" of evangelicalism. He revels in it. Frankly, Tony, who cares if you're not a TULIP devotee. I guess much of Scripture which deals with these issues must be mere surplusage. Why didn't God foresee that instead of thinking about eternal security or "the perserverance of the saints", we would be much better off with a Scripture full of stories about a single mother struggling to keep food on the table. I would respect Tony more if he argued for good application of doctrine to contemporary situations rather than for intimating without really saying that some doctrines are unimportant.

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December 08, 2005  9:26pm

"for the Calvinist, this person likely was not yet truly saved in the first place" This is one "Calvinist" who would not necessarily say that. Perhaps they just need to grow into maturity. Perhaps still a child of God living in rebellion toward his heavenly father. etc. God's discipline will be lovingly measured out to His own.

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Nathan Woodward

December 07, 2005  12:02pm

RDM, Jesus spoke to the culture of his time and place, too. When we go to scripture for those 2000-year-old teachings, we ask, "What did the writer mean? What was he trying to tell his audience?" Contrary to what some alarmists would tell us, interpreting scripture with an eye toward its cultural context is NOT a license for complete abandonment of scriptural teachings. Rather, it's a way to remain for carefully faithful to the text's message. It's the reason why we don't think Paul is endorsing slavery when he says "Slaves, obey your master." And that's the Bible I've been talking about. Until the church decides to put Calvin and Edwards into the Canon, I think suggesting that their teachings could take less prominence today is a reasonable suggestion. Moreover, I'm increasingly convinced that the Calvinist/Arminian debate is often about semantics, especially when you use real-world cases. Take a person who appeared to believe sincerely as a child, but has no faith as an adult–for the Calvinist, this person likely was not yet truly saved in the first place, and for the Arminian, this person chose to reject God's grace. While acknowledgeing that only God knows the heart, both would agree that this person needs Jesus, and should be evangelized. Isn't this is what McLaren and Campolo are talking about? Some differences in theology seem to vanish the more we take them out of theory and put them into practice. If Methodist and Presbyterians both want to reach the world for Christ, why should theological differences keep them from working together?

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Rich Tatum

December 04, 2005  11:39pm

Does anyone else think the phrase, "the highest common denominator" sounds great, but is less filling? What is that even supposed to mean? In grade-school math, the "lowest common denominator" is handy for the easy figuring of fractional numbers with an infinite set of possible common denominators (there is no "highest common denominator!"). When we speak of commonalities between disparate groups sure, use the phrase "common denominator." But to apply "lowest" to the "old ecumenical movement" and then to contrast it with McClaren's view–the "higest"–just smacks of empty rhetoric. Claiming the high road when you're on a rabbit trail makes for a great soundbite–let's just hope nobody notices you're off the map. Rich.

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December 04, 2005  10:55pm

"We believe there are questions in our culture today that must be addressed by Christians, and not just by 500 year old answers" How about 2000 year old answers? The only differences between today's world and that of 500, or 2000 years ago involve the speed at which humans can communicate and travel. Human nature is the same. Sin, that thing some of you would like to avoid talking about at all costs is the same. God, for sure, is the same. His Word, for sure is still both sufficient and superior. His Grace is still available to everyone. There is nothing new under the sun. None of the pressures or temptations facing people today anywhere in the world are new or unique to this time. This whole discussion about cultural sensitivity is, at best, fruitless and a waste. God's Word asks us to examine ourselves first, not make broad accusations of the Church, which, by the way, has done much more, corporately speaking, to help the world meet physical needs than it is given credit for here. "I mean, who really cares about the doctrine of predestination or eternal security today outside of theologians?" This is just an attempt to divorce the Church from the Word of God. Let me tell you, I work 63 hours a week at two ten dollar an hour jobs and I am broke but my kids LOVE JESUS and they believe in Him and call on His name for their salvation. So eternal security is more important to me than my next meal and it should be to you too.

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