A Generous Orthodoxy

Generous Orthodoxy is a term created by Yale theologian Hans Frei. It is also the title of a wonderful book by Brian Mclaren, who thinks about A Generous Orthodoxy in the following ways: strong ecumenical interests, a desire to move beyond the liberal/conservative divide, and a willingness to think through old questions in new ways that foster the pursuit of truth, the unity of the church, and the gracious character of the gospel. The centrality of Christ is the single unifying force. Generous orthodoxy seems oxymoronic, doesn’t it? Like a “heavy lightness”, a “dark flash”, or a “dry rain”. Orthodoxies of any certain tribe don’t generally show much generosity toward others who think differently.

My favorite chapter of his in the book is “Why I am Incarnational”. He says, on page 247:

“My friend Neil Livingstone once told me that Jesus didn’t want to create an in-group that would banish others to an out-group; Jesus wanted to create a “come-on-in-group”, one that sought and welcomed everyone. Such a group came not to conquer, not to badger, not to vanquish, not to eradicate other groups, but to save them, redeem them, bless them, respect them, love them, befriend them, and embrace them.

Or, put another way, Jesus threatened people with inclusion; if they were to be excluded, it would be because they refused to accept their acceptance.”

Threatening people with inclusion — that phrase seems oxymoronic too! generally exclusion is a much greater threat, it seems. To be shut out is much more a fear for a human being than being welcomed in. Inclusion, especially the radical inclusion Jesus preaches and embodies, rubs the ways of the world (and the church) the wrong way. This is especially difficult for the religious community that is most focused on orthodoxy — what is true and right.

Somehow, in ways I’m struggling to understand, and have contributed, we have landed and settled on this idea in the church that orthodoxy is incompatible with inclusion. And scripture can be read and interpreted to message orthodoxy’s tendency toward exclusion on our journey toward holiness. The problem is that right in the Bible’s middle is this Jesus, who is God incarnate, in a human body, entering the dirty waters of baptism, showing his glory only to set it aside to wash his disciple’s feet, engaging in a ministry of redemption that is the most inclusive act the world has ever known. What to do, when he looks at us, loves us, and says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me…I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Among the mightiest of struggles is for us, you and I, to accept that in and through Jesus we are accepted. That’s grace. It’s challenging because it’s news that is too good to be true. And grace’s very nature is that it be shared, lavished on others, else we have not yet come home to it in the way God invites us to.

Called to faith, and faithfulness, YES! inclusion does not negate orthodoxy, but calls all others around us to all the challenges of life with the Living God. We need to wrestle with this idea that inclusion is the orthodoxy that reflects the God of the Bible, and if we are so convinced, let the good news of the gospel come alive in this message that all are welcome, and all belong who will come to Jesus in repentance and accept that they are accepted.

What would it mean for us, filled with the love of Christ, to threaten people with inclusion? Is this not the way of Jesus Christ our Lord? I wonder.

Peter Hawkinson

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