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a Generous Orthodoxy

a conversation about "a Generous Orthodoxy", a book by Brian D. McLaren

Updated: 2018-03-05T16:58:48.994-05:00


A New Kind of Conversation


It looks like Brian will be participating in a new group blog in the Fall. I've posted a link here.

Generous Orthodoxy dialogue


There is a new website called Generous Orthodoxy and its related ThinkTank Blog.

ThinkTank is a collaborative blog for professors and doctoral students. The stated purpose of ThinkTank is “to share information and resources at the cutting edge of academic research.”

These new emergent online works were initiated by Steve Bush of Harbinger Blog, along with Myles Werntz (of Baylor University) and Keith Johnson (of Princeton Theological Seminary).

The purpose of the site and the weblog will be to promote a progressive or postconservative evangelical identity. Steve says that many, many people identify as evangelicals but do not identify with the theological and/or political conservatism that dominates media representations of U.S. evangelicalism.

[hat tip:]

The Last Word (Not Likely!)


Just an FYI... Over at Waving or Drowning? I'm going to blog my way through Brian's new book, the afore-mentioned The Last Word and the Word after That. (There's no Chapter 0 this time 'round, but with the intro that'll be 30 posts. It'll be worth checking out just to see if I see it through!)

Rather than do a "review" I'm taking a point or issue from each chapter and relating to it personally. As always, I'd appreciate feedback and conversation via comments (or email). I've set up a Last Word list on my sidebar for easy tracking.

Brian McLaren, S.D.


Jordon posts a bit from an article wherein Brian McLaren defends his words about being called to Christ apart from Christianity. That notion has been discussed a bit here, so I thought it was relevant...

The Last Word and the Word After That


Brian McLaren's latest book, The Last Word and the Word After That: A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity, is now widely available. This book is the conclusion to A New Kind of Christian trilogy. Read an excerpt chapter online.

Some of us already received an pre-order copy during the past week, and someone even got the unreleased manuscript copy on eBay for $280 (proceeds went to charity, part of a fundraising effort to fight hunger in Burundi). Ken Archer of, our fellow conversationalist here, gets a mention in the acknowledgements.

public dialogue about the book


I've heard from a reliable source that there was a public dialogue on A Generous Orthodoxy at Regent College a few weeks ago [mentioned by Mike Todd here], featuring three theologians (including Stan Grenz, who died a few days later...). The dialogue is now available via their bookstore. It's not all positive by any means.

The CD's name is: Generous Orthodoxy - a Discussion, product number: RGCD3438C. It's not yet listed in their online bookstore, but it can be ordered by calling Toll-Free (US & Canada) 1-800-334-3279. $12.00 (CDN) for the double CD set.

get to the good stuff


Even though I was very excited to get the book on pre-order and started up this team blog, I did not complete reading the book until this past weekend. For those of you already familiar with the emerging church conversation, jump to Chapter 17 and read the last 4 chapters. (Sorry, Jen, I miscounted, it's not the last 3, it's the last 4 chapters!) The first 16 (or 17, if you count chapter 0) chapters are nice; good pep rally for the diversity of Christianity. But the new stuff and mind-wrangling doesn't happen until ch. 17!

Salient sound bite from page 249: 'I originally titled this chapter "Why I Am Buddhist/ Muslim/ Hindu/ Jewish," seeking to echo-- provocatively-- Crawford's words about being linked to all people.' The book went to print with 'Why I Am Incarnational.' I started the chapter expecting his lessons learned from Eastern Orthodox, and turns out, Brian's saying something way different!

I won't write too much more of a spoiler here, but if you're like me, and trudging through the book, skip ahead, get to the end, and we'll pick up the conversation about it soon!

But is it generous to women?


Jenell Paris (The Paris Project) weighs in with a review at the prompting of Zondervan.

quotes from A Generous Orthodoxy


I sent off my copy of G.O. to a friend but I snatched some quotes from it before I did. So I will post a bunch of them in the days to come. My favorite one first. When I want to note something in a book I am reading, I draw a line beside it in the margin. This one got three lines, and it was just in there as a footnote:

Having read this sentence, you may perhaps better understand why 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.

And another related one:

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, which is the dream of God, the wish and hope and desire of God for creation-like a parent's hopes and dreams for a beloved child.

And if your are wanting to reference this and wondering the page numbers, sorry. I scanned the quotes in by taking digital photos of the pages, which only caught a fdew of the page numbers, and so you're just gonna have to take my word on it... it's all in there.

And in the book McLaren points to this article by Joshua Masssey, His Ways Are Not Our Ways. Good read. Kind of a postmodern missiology. Go find out what a Muslim follower of Jesus is.

Book Review by Craig Blomberg


This book review by Craig Blomberg in November's Denver Journal picks up on the divergent reactions of A Generous Orthodoxy, even comparing it to a Harry Potter novel.

Interview in Next-Wave


The November 2004 edition of Next-Wave has An interview with Brian McLaren about this book (and a link to this blog).

part two: what hit you the hardest?


i'm falling down on the job here--michelle, thanks for jumping in here.

i'm wondering if we could just have a shout out for the biggest takeaway idea/thought you had from part two? we could call it highs and lows. the idea that resonated with you most forcefully and/or the one idea that left you scratching your head, thinking, "hmmmm...i'm not so sure." maybe we could add one more category in light of this recent article. at any point did you think, "this isn't anything new"? from there we'll have a posting frenzy from our contributors, highlighting the points of greatest interest. sound good?

i'd love to hear from as many of you as possible. let's see if rss is keeping this thing alive after all! :)

First Impressions


Posting here seems to have ground to a halt recently, so let me jump in quickly with a short one.

My book FINALLY arrived last week (more than a month late), and it was hard to put it down - I finished it in record time! I was left with the "warm fuzzies" after reading it through, with a feeling that maybe, just maybe, we can all see past our differences as Christians, bridge a few gaps and grow together toward God.

I had my knuckles rapped in a few places - a couple of in-grown beliefs were named, exposed, and seen to be perhaps not so correct after all, leaving me cringing and smiling ruefully. I learnt a lot about other perspectives too. There are aspects of the different facets of Christianity that I knew nothing about - until now.

I've recently been through a very dark place spiritually, with seemingly no hope at the end of the tunnel. Reading this book has brought a spark of hope, the feeling that things CAN get better, and an urge to strive toward that. There's a tingling of spring now in my soul, and it has nothing to do with Chapter 16 (Why I Am Green). :)

I've been recommending this book left, right and centre to as many people as will stand still long enough to listen (and a few who won't - I recently used part of it for a devotional time where I had a captive audience...). I suspect my copy is going to end up well-worn. It will take a few more passes for everything to really sink in.

Looking forward to hearing what others have to say. To the next chapter and beyond!

This Interview Doesn't Suck


There's a good interview with Brian over on Church Marketing Sucks.

(Yes, that's what I said. And yes, it generally does.)

Mission, hell, and universalism in Chapter 4


The question of hell comes up a lot in this chapter, which would make sense in a chapter on mission. When I was an evangelical kid at summer camp, we sometimes wondered, in hushed heretical voices, whether the "fire-insurance" we were selling was really what it was all about. I remember some pastors telling us counselors of the incredible value of using the fear of divine punishment for "scaring the hell" out of people. So sometimes a counselor would give their most vivid description of hell in the evening devotion, just before all the ten year olds went to sleep. The salvation count at the morning meeting would always spike well the following day. So lets talk a little about hell and how our view of it changes how we act out in mission. I started feeling my view of hell was incomplete during university, when questions were raised regarding the nature of eternal punishment. The purpose of punishment is correction, so how could God be into punishment forever? What's the corrective purpose in that? That's just God being nasty, and apparently, according to what God says about God, God's not supposed to be that mean. So I kept my ears open for other views of hell. And at this point, there are three that bounce around in my head: 1. Hell as fire and eternal punishment. Basically what I just alluded to, a place that God comdemns you to. The other two are more based on my choice, which makes more sense to me. 2. Hell as a place God sends those who desire to be there. I have heard it described in terms of being cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth". Basically the idea is that God allows people to pursue in the afterlife exactly the path they pursued in life, the difference being that God completely withdraws his spirit from that place. Because in life, even the most screwed up, ugly situation benefits from the spark of light, which is the goodness of God, which works its way into every corner of creation. Even among those who reject God, any good thing they experience, any hint of friendship or tenderness, comes from the light of Christ. In hell that redeeming light is gone. Everyone is free to be as selfish as they desire, cruelty is unrestrained, making it, well, no party anyway. 3. This one is the most convicing to me, and it comes from Eastern Orthodoxy. In that version, when we die, we all go to be with God. But, as James Ferrenberg puts it, some people are simply unable to experience heaven - that to them, God's love and truth is too much to bear. Lovers of darkness who cannot love the them the light is hellfire. So each person in their life makes a choice, to embrace the light or reject it, and that choice determines what your experience will be when you go to be with God. For those who have embraced it, it will be heaven, the fulfillment of all we have have hoped and longed for. For those who reject it, the light of God will be the very fires of hell. C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle would even seem to suggest that it goes in degrees. There, the dwarves who just "sort of" embrace the light just "sort of" experience heaven. For them it is comfortable, but dull and boring. I wonder if that is what the apostle Paul means when he talks about getting into heaven as one "just escaping flames". Or maybe this is what the Parable of the Talents is talking about... Anyway, there's one version I forgot. It's from Father Zossima in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, and ties in with the number 3. Fathers and teachers, I ponder, "What is hell?" I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love. Once in infinite existence, immeasurable in time and space, a spiritual creature was given on his[...]

Quick thoughts sparked by Chapter 3


My mind was drawn to how I prayed when I was a teenage in Mandarin and the constant use of the phrase "Lord" in my prayer. Besides that, I also recall hearing my Indian seminary mate praying, and how the phrases "Master" and "Lord" came up frequently. Then I thought about how all this reflects not only our theology but also our spirituality.

One thing I like about the book in general and this chapter in particular is the "revisiting" of familiar words, like "Lord". And just spending some time unpacking them once again. I suppose we can see this exercise like "opening a box of chocolates" or "opening up a can of worms" but this is necessary. In the past many of us here in Malaysia specifically may just import the "dominating" understanding of the word "Lord" without knowing it, or may use the word with the "absolute control" flavor even withing our own cultures. In the history of China for example, (and for those who watched the movie "Hero" might get a taste of it), Emporer's can be brutle and war-like, others might be wise and loving to the people. It depends ... thus, the unpacking of the word like "Lord" helps.

I thought about the contrasting styles of my country's previous prime minister and the present one assuming for today the primier of the country is like a king in a way. The difference in operation makes me see the possible values underneath the actions on the surface. And so, if in the past the word "prime minister" may be negative, now the word may evoke a different more positive response.

I guess what I'm trying to say is "words" really do matter, but the picture the word evokes matters even more. Is there a hidden challenge there for us in regards to the word "Christian"? (since the chapter is titled "would Jesus be a Christian?")

Pay Dirt in Chapter 2


I once prayed, as a new Christian, that God would change my heart so that I could accept my place as a woman in the Kingdom – a place that I was not experiencing as one of mutuality, egalitarianism or wholeness for women. I cried buckets as I prayed, but I was ready to accept God's answer. Such was my fervor that I donated my extensive collection of feminist writings, including feminist theologians like Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether. But I wanted to believe rightly and do rightly for God. My prayer was an offering that said, “Lord, where I need to change – change me.” Then I went outside and got in my car to drive to work. I put in a tape that I had been listening to over and over again – “Conversations” by Sara Groves. What I heard was “I know that you tore the veil so I could sit with you in person.” Then I heard, “No, Karen. I broke those barriers, tore those veils. There are no second-class citizens in my Kingdom.” And I was comforted and transformed, if still dismayed for the loss of my books. Chapter 2 – Jesus and God B – reminded me of this early episode in my life as a follower of Jesus, an episode that threatened to sink my nascent faith and one that had been a barrier to my conversion for over 25 years. In Chapter 2 I think that McLaren begins to hit some pay dirt. Though the chapter begins with more protestations about his inability to adequately describe Jesus, and his discomfort with those who think that they can, his clear statements regarding the nature of God as being beyond gender categorization really rang true with me. That said, as a person who was steeped in feminist theory prior to my conversion to Christianity it raises a warning flag for me that a thing I find so obvious would need to be so flatly stated in this book (and in italics no less). Have the lessons of the last 30+ years of feminist theology, the ordination of women in other mainline denominations, not to mention the spiritual and social contributions of first wave feminists in the mid-1800’s and early-1900’s, been so ignored by the Evangelical Church that such a statement even needs to be made? Apparently so. This is another of those things that keep the unchurched from full communion with the Body of Christ. We can read that God created man and woman in his image just as well as anyone else and we can’t then understand how the church backs into such policies as “the headship of the male,” or “the submissiveness of a woman to her husband,” or the lack of female leadership in the church in general. I think I’m beginning to understand what McLaren is doing with this book. He’s acknowledging that the voice of the Evangelical Church is, for all intents and purposes, the face of Christianity that most people in the U.S. see, and that, if his brothers and sisters in Christ want to be ambassadors for the faith, they better get a better handle on what that faith really entails. As an unchurched friend of mine asked me yesterday after having heard Jimmy Swaggert’s quote regarding his intent to kill any gay man who looks at him that way, “I don’t understand how he can say that? Isn’t it counter to the teachings of other religious leaders and of Christ?” Bingo, buddy! But that’s the Evangelical Church, fringe element though he may be. It takes a pretty high level of abstraction to divorce one’s perceptions of who Jesus is, and who we can be if we are in relationship with him, from the examples we see of other Christian’s lives. And that is why it is so important for us to live in ways that do not seem to be diametrically op[...]

The Seven Jesuses Brian Has Known


Seven Jesuses! My goodness, that's a lot. I've got seven kids--seven completely different personalities. It can be a bit much to manage at times, but seven Jesuses? If you thought grasping the concept of the trinity was challenging, I can only caution: kids, don't try this at home.

His first Jesus was the Conservative Protestant. How familiar He was, and reading about him left me with a sense of both comfort and fear. This is the Jesus that I always perceived as taking the edge off of the Angry Father God. I met him as a child, reading one of those terrifying Jack T. Chick tracts that were everywhere in the seventies. Enough said.

His second Jesus, the Pentecostal/Charismatic one--now that's the Jesus I fell in love with. This wildly present Jesus was all up in a sistah's life, but I couldn't help but feel that my church was a largely dysfunctional family--the kind that yells and moans a lot, and throws dishes. This Jesus left me as tired, and frustrated, as much as He left me feeling loved and cared for. Or was it Jesus making me feel the more painful feelings? Maybe it was His people, claiming to know Him so well, yet missing the obvious so often. Where was the love and service of Brian's Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Jesus? Where was that love, with busy hands and feet, working in the community, so captivating in Liberal Protestant, Anabaptist, and oppressed Jesuses?

Finishing this chapter, I realized that although I may not have known these seven Jesuses by the names Brian gave them, I knew them all indeed, and more Jesuses than that. They all mingle, and overlap, and intersect, morphing in my heart and head into One Big Jesus, with many faces, still turning his head revealing more faces, more personalities, challenging my ideas about who He is, and what He requires. He is a mystery, ever unforlding. This One Big--and I like that word Big, inadequate as it is, this Jesus continously asserts His sovereignty. He simply refuses to be what I think He is. He outgrows me, every time, and in doing so, He grows me.

Thank God for every Jesus I have known, and every Jesus I have yet to know.

What about you?

jen sets the scene for our brilliant discussion


okay, we've been dragging on long enough. time to get this thing going, don't you think?

but first!
i want to say that i hope this will be a space where a wide variety of opinions will be expressed. you do not have to be a brian groupie to comment on this blog. (no starry eyes required.) you do not have to be emerging (whatever this means) or post-something to be welcomed in the conversation. you also don't have to be an evangelist for your point of view or someone who leaves anonymous posts that are the equivalent of a drive-by shooting. (this will not endear you to anyone) you just have to be actually reading the book and interested in open, honest exchange among cyber-acquaintances who sometimes disagree, but somehow do so respectfully. some of you are wondering how i will be able to participate in this discussion at all. to this, i say, be prepared to witness a whole new jen.

our structure for this discussion will be simple. agenerousorthodoxy bloggers will take turns posting on each chapter with occasional rabbit trails to linger on points that bear more in depth discussion. these will be assigned ahead of time via email in the beginning until we get our groove thing going here. hopefully, our posts will generate good discussion. but. as any good blogger knows, many a fine conversation is initiated by the clever commenter, taking the post in a whole new enlightening direction. i hope this happens a lot.

we won't be posting a jillion separate posts a day--just one--so even the most negligent blog reader can count on their rss feed to keep them completely up to date. this blog will not overtake your life. i promise.

my hope is this blog will result in a honest discussion, between people who might otherwise--in real life, anyway--never have the chance to meet, let alone choose one another for dialogue partners. to me, that's the coolest thing ever.

so without further ado, here goes: how did chapter zero strike those of you reading along who do not know brian personally? bizarre? absurd? funny? mad? i have my perspective, but i'd love to hear yours. what conclusions did you draw if any about what you were getting yourself into? did it suck you into the book or make you wonder what the hell is wrong with this guy? all responses welcome, please.

a Generous Orthodoxy needs a new kind of evangelical


There are some interesting parallels to the chapter why I am an evangelical in a recent article by Tom Sine in PRISM magazine. Tom maps some of the changes ins American evangelicalism that led to the ungenerous polarizing orthodoxy currently driving the evangelical stream of the Christan faith. Is it possible to be an evangelical (being passionate about bringing the good news as Brian defines it) without being polarizing?

Read the book… here’s some more thoughts:


I got it! The book came this week and I gave it an initial read. Favorite chapters: why I’m a mystic, why I am green, and why I am incarnational. My thoughts ranged as far and wide as the topics covered in the book, and here some of them are... I expected that I would be somewhat of a fan, and I was right. One thing though: I am all for humility, but in the early going I was thinking that if you were to delete all of McLaren’s self-deprecation and apologies, this thing would have been a pamphlet! But coming from an evangelical background myself, and knowing what it means to have people look at you like you tiptoe on the edge of heresy, I suppose it may be well justified. But critique-wise, that’s all I got. Other than that, I am just all A’s and A plusses. So for my lopsided, I-love-everything-u-say take on Mr. McLaren , I apologize (because apparently, that is what we do...;-) On a personal level, there were a number of moments, especially in the "Incarnational" chapter, where I felt myself breathing a sigh of relief thinking, "See, I’m not a heretic... or at least if I am he is too, and I think that’s good company. He’s thought about it all and tested it a lot more than I have!" I wondered in an earlier post whether he would speak much about other religions, and he certainly didn’t pull any punches. In fact, the Gandhi quote, to which I have seen some indignant reactions, would have fit very well in that chapter. I think the main recurring theme in the book, the point that everything rests on is McLaren’s particular brand of "fundamentalism". I liked the way he phrased it, because just a few days ago I had described my preferred faith as fundamentalism with just one fundamental - Love. Likewise, McLaren says that his fundamental is the greatest commandment of Christ, parts one and two, love God and love your neighbor. But is this fundamental on which "generous orthodoxy" rests shared by Christians as the most important thing, the prime directive. This is the point that makes me think some of our hope for an everybody-blesses-and-works-with-everyone sort of good feeling interaction between various brands of Christians much easier in theory than in application. Lots of Christians I know wouldn’t agree with "Love" as the bedrock message that they are trying to communicate. I would venture to guess that many it would say it is "Truth" (whereupon I would likely respond that they are one in the same… whereupon the discussion would likely devolve into a confusing semantic argument...). But perhaps a book like this is aimed at subtly altering what we view as our bottom line. I must admit that I monitor within myself a cynicism as I read books like this, a cynicism that sounds something like, "Sure, he talks like this and the books, articles and ideas are good, but does it go any farther than just talk?" There’s a contempt among pomo types (and appropriately so) that has had enough of guys looking for book deals and itinerant ministries so that they can make a living and name for themselves hawking their good ideas. But my next thought is that the majority of that reaction is just my own shit, the part of me that is jealous because I’m the guy with no book and no invitations, just a little-read blog and a big mouth. But better to listen carefully to the flip side of those nasty voices; I will pay more attention to the angel sitting on my other shoulder. Because a book like this inspires in a reader all kinds of practical ideas and possibilities, like read[...]

Confessions of a ragamuffin diva


My name is Claudia, although some of you know me as ragamuffin diva. I am a charismatic. Actually, I am a recovering charismatic, having recognized that my life had become unmanageable, due to the histrionic Pentecostal excesses that I, and those around me, indulged.

My idea of orthodox, I am embarrassed to say, involved a rather beautiful liturgy, ornate garments, and lots of candles and incense. Think Catholic, or Anglican. Think white people who do not scream, cry, and run between the pews—not that there’s anything wrong with that. To this day, recovering or not, I still find few things offer the relief of a good “shout”—that’s a very happy little dance, accompanied by drums, a thumpin’ bass, and an organ(to those who are uninitiated). And please note: literal shouting may be involved as well. ::Sigh:: Some days I really miss it. But I digress. I believe my point was, I am woefully ignorant of all things orthodox.

I’m not just a recovering charismatic. I’m also a recovering Word of Faith, name it and claim it, speak it into existence, and don’t ever be, or *claim* to be, sick, or broke, or otherwise defective. And while I received numerous prophetic words that spoke of the prosperity that would overtake me, I have yet to be overtaken by prosperity (and I sure could use some this week), and I didn’t find the movement, as a whole, to be very generous. Nor did I find many other Christian “movements” that I tried to be generous, as I stumbled about the faith, desperately seeking truth, and an authenticity that seemed to elude me.

A generous orthodoxy? Good heavens! What is that? After bumping about the narrow path of Christianity for 25 years, spiritually wearing black ray bans and seeing through them “very darkly”, I realize, that I know sadly little of generosity, and even less of orthodoxy, but here I am, by invitation no less, ready to learn, and ready to give. I’m just a pilgrim, really, and I can’t wait to talk about all this.

Brian says, “Quite simply, orthodoxy is belief in what is right, and by extension, what is wrong. So how can we act generously in our assertions of our most precious convictions.”

And to this I say, “How indeed?”

Maybe together we’ll figure it out.

Jesus cubed


I got the book right before my recent trip and was able to read the first four chapters. So here are some thoughts.

I love the advisory "for mature audiences" at the beginning. This conversation sometimes gets tough and we need to be willing to tackle the challenging issues like maturing Jesus followers.

Jesus cubed is my take on the three chapters on Jesus. not sure if it was intentional but Brian seems to map the path much of the American church has plod during the modern era.

Jesus to the first power - an individualized Jesus (at least seven expressions) shaped by individual experiences. Though this chapter was pretty non threatening as compared to what comes next I found myself asking "Is there anyway to experience a more holistic whole Jesus?" or "will it be forever driven by context and experience in the western world?"

Jesus to the second power - a codified Jesus, expressed through a cultural lexicon (church jargon)that determines who is in and who is out. Language is powerful. How we talk about jesus is a s important as what we say. How can the conversation be more inclusive without being meaningless?

Jesus to the third power - a fragmented Jesus disconnected from the biblical narrative Christianity is only through the lens of the American cultural context. Would jeuss be a Christian? I don't think so. Besides the problem of his Jewish birth. As Brian points out I doubt if much of what we claim as traditional Christianity would be recognizable as what he taught. How can we reclaim the biblical narrative (especially Jesus teaching, with the modernist interpretation of Paul cold-filtered out) as a starting point for practicing faith today?


Brian's Notes - Part 6 (The Final Episode)


Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read part 3 here
Read Part 4 here
Read Part 5 here

Every writer faces the issue of literary criticism, but in your case it seems that people get most excited about what you’re saying as opposed to how you say it! How do you deal with criticism? Is it a burden to bear, fuel for more thinking and writing, a little of both, or none of the above?

I'm glad you ask this question because it gives me an opportunity to ask for prayer. This book will probably garner more criticism than any of my previous ones, and the one I'm finishing up now (The Last Word and the Word After That - sequel to New Kind of Christian and Story We Find Ourselves In) will probably break recent records for criticism. I need prayer to a) learn what I should learn from criticism, b) not get bitter when some of it is unfair or inaccurate, but rather grow in love for my critics, and c) not be wounded or discouraged in the process. So, I'd categorize criticism for me as a burden to bear, and a temptation or test to overcome.

The criticism that is hardest to bear is not the ranting attacks - most of which don't really understand what I'm talking about, and are expressions of cherished systems being questioned. This reaction is completely understandable and easy not to take personally. But when people who generally agree with me decide to quarrel with some small point - which tends to minimize the big picture - that's tougher. In this regard, I remember the reviews of the movie "Waiting to Exhale." The first reviews praised the film: "Finally a film that does justice to the African-American woman's experience." Then a wave of reviews came out that said, "What a dismal failure at making sense of the African-American male's experience!" One film - and one book - can only do so much, and it's hard when you've tried to do one thing reasonably well to be criticized for not doing everything at once. But that's life, and therein lies my opportunity to grow in character and virtue!

At the end of the day, I really care about my writing and am seeking to tell the truth as I see it. I care about many things far more than how my writing succeeds (however that's defined), of course, and through my writing I hope in some small ways God's kingdom coming on earth as in heaven. That's a messy process and the life of Jesus tells us that what appear to be defeats can be successes. And vice versa. So, even in my failures where I'm rightly critiqued, I hope some good can come - and even when I'm unfairly criticized, much good can come I know.

Thanks Brian for taking the time to offer us a little insight into your writing, and your heart. We appreciate that you are willing to think and write thoughts that have helped bring some order to the confusion. We'll be praying.

Brian's Notes - Part 5


Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here
Read Part 4 here

In your introduction we find this warning:

“…as in most of my other books, there are places here where I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity.” p. 22,23.

Clarity is sometimes overrated. I love that notion! Is that a characteristic of the culture we find ourselves in, or do you believe the very nature of the gospel requires us to hold it lightly, to not look directly at it but use our peripheral vision to “see” it? Is it a tactic, for lack of a better word, of our times, or is it a timeless principle, given the subject?

Great question. I think it's actually a characteristic of the gospel. Jesus himself can't say "The Kingdom of God is...." but rather "The Kingdom of God is like...." And he can't even just say that. He has to follow that up with another simile, and another, and another. And doggone it, birds don't always symbolize the same things, nor do trees or yeast or whatever. It's the same with the prophets. Their language is the image-rich language of vision and dreams, not of math.

We're coming out of a time when engineering language was seen as the most true and believable, so I think it's getting easier to be in resonance with Biblical language again - now that even the physicists have converted from the old Newtonian language of laws and mechanics to "fuzzy logic" and chaos theory and relativity and unpredictability etc.

Thanks Brian.