Monday, October 8, 2007

McClaren on Homosexuality and Christology

So my friend, David, has posted a few comments about Brian McClaren raising questions about his reliability as a Christian teacher. The two points in contention are specifically Christology (our theology of who Jesus is) and homosexuality.

Let me address Christology first. In his comment to my post, "Replies - especially Velvit Elvis and emerging church," David had this to say about Brian McClaren and the Emergent church: "Theologically everything is on the table; from the deity of Christ, to a re-purposed view of sexual ethics, to calling a God a 'chick'. They seem to identify more with Christ as the example of a cause, and pursue social justice as the highest calling. Examples of proponents would be Brian McClaren."
While I think this description fits some in the "emergent church" branch, I'm not sure it fits McClaren. In Generous Orthodoxy, McClaren gives several chapters to stating a very orthodox Christology, including a divine Christ.
On the other hand, while I agree with all of the actual theological and ethical possitions McClaren takes in this book, and I definitely affirm an attitude of generous (ie. humble) orthodoxy, I have questions about some of the philosophical foundations. A few months ago I read How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins (another Emergent guy), and in the forward McClaren said he was a raving fan of this book. Unfortunately, at one point, Rollins actually says that maintaining a demand for orthodoxy is naive. I understand the general thrust of his book -- God is too big to fit into a box. We often have more wrong than we have right. We need to fall down before the mystery of God and admit that whatever we believe about God is not exactly who God actually is. Our words and our thoughts cannot contain God. -- I get all of that, and I appreciate Rollins sensitivity to the disgust which conservative Christian's hardline stances give to nonChristians. McClaren's take on this is that orthodoxy is not so much "believing the right things" as it is "believing in the right way." However, I am concerned that "generous orthodoxy" may dissolve into generous orthopraxy (doing the right things). In other words, it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're living right. While there is a definite appeal to that philosophy, it just doesn't seem to square with the Bible or my conscience.
Even so, my sense is that both McClaren and Rollins actually want to uphold the orthodox Christian faith. However, they are genuinely wrestling with how to do this amid a new (and changing/emerging) way of thinking. They are open to taking risks as they wrestle with the wide range of factors involved in all of this discussion, so sometimes they may misstep or misspeak. However, the sense I get is that they are genuinely following Christ and are overall helpful teachers of how to follow Christ. (Remember, Luther and Huss and Tyndale and a score of others were all called heretics until after the Reformation, and what is happening now is similar to the societal shift that happened then.)

Regarding homosexuality, check out this article by Brian McClaren in Christianity Today: This is what my friend David is concerned about. In terms of McClaren's pastoral response, I think he showed intense wisdom and insightful pastoral care. That couple didn't want a treatise on homosexuality or even a direct statement about "what the Bible says." They just wanted to know if their dads would be welcome to participate in their wedding even though they are gay. Of course, the answer to that question was yes. So often the church drives people away with our quick answers about wrong and right, but we do little to help people integrate these answers into the overall canvas of a God who is in love with all people at all times regardless of their actions or orientations.
In terms of my personal beliefs, I believe that any sexual practice outside of marriage is wrong, and I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman only. However, I also understand that many good Christians disagree with me - even a very few leaders in the Church of the Nazarene, surprisingly. Homosexuality is a complex issue, and as some people have tried to deal with this issue and the Bible's teaching on it, different people have honestly come to different answers. As an attitude of humility, I hold to my reading (and my community's reading) of the Biblical texts, but not dogmatically, not absolutely. I recognize that we still have much to learn here.
I also recognize that few issues have led the church into such dangerous and damaging preaching and arguing as homosexuality and sexuality in general. I want no part of this. I am all for preaching the truth, but simply stating a true fact does not mean we have done so with love or gentleness or respect or humility (all Biblical requirements for preaching and dialog).

Perhaps what we still need to learn the most of is how to address this issue and other polarizing ethical issues with the compassion and humility of Jesus. Or even more importantly, we need to learn how to address and to engage the people involved in these issues with the compassion and humility of Jesus.
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