I was reading today on the Anglican Communion Official Website that one of the guest speakers at this Lambeth Conference is Brian McLaren. The page says, “Brian McLaren is an American evangelical, the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church, a prolific author, and an internationally recognised contributor to post-modern thought and culture. Dr McLaren is also an activist, serving as chair of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, a US-based evangelical social justice ministry. He is also a founding member of Red Letter Christians, a group of evangelical leaders who work to apply Christian values to issues such as poverty, environmental care, and peace.”
Some of you might remember that I was quite moved and motivated b y his book, A Generous Orthodoxy about a year or so ago.
I was thrilled to hear that he is speaking at Lambeth. I am not sure if the bishops that are there gathered will be ready for his message, but I do believe that those who lead the church need to hear him now more than ever. Here is a sampling:
"Perhaps our ‘inward-turned, individual-salvation-oriented, un-adapted Christianity’ is a colossal and tragic misunderstanding, and perhaps we need to listen again for the true song of salvation, which is ‘good news to all creation.’ So perhaps it’s best to suspend what, if anything, you ‘know’ about what it means to call Jesus ‘Saviour’ and to give the matter of salvation some fresh attention. Let’s start simply. In the Bible, save means ‘rescue’ or ‘heal’. It emphatically does not mean ‘save from hell’ or ‘give eternal life after death,’ as many preachers seem to imply in sermon after sermon. Rather its meaning varies from passage to passage, but in general, in any context, save means ‘get out of trouble.’ The trouble could be sickness, war, political intrigue, oppression, poverty, imprisonment, or any kind of danger or evil."
This calls the church to an understanding of its mandate to feed the hungry, save the lost, cloth the naked, etc. In many ways we need to be saved from ourselves. The question becomes are the bishops ready to heed that message.
McLaren has a refreshingly open approach to orthodoxy.
"Ask me if Christianity (my version of it, yours, the Pope’s, whoever’s) is orthodox, meaning true, and here’s my honest answer: a little, but not yet. Assuming by Christianity you mean the Christian understanding of the world and God, Christian opinions on soul, text, and culture I’d have to say that we probably have a couple of things right, but a lot of things wrong, and even more spreads before us unseen and unimagined. But at least our eyes are open! To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed, and mounted on the wall."
Again, this is not radical, as much as it is common sense. Yet the church leadership continues to treat the truth as an element that they we have captured and mounted in our dens. We live in a present climate where we have one arm of the Anglican Church willing and ready to lop off the arm because of ‘orthodoxy.’ My grandparents were Salvation Army. I had a discussion with an Anglican Priest a few years back who told me that because of the lack of baptism people who are Salvation Army have ‘doomed souls.’ DOOMED! I asked a follow-up – of course. What exactly does that mean for my Grandfather (my Grandmother was baptized prior to joining the Army)? The answer was definite and quick, “HELL.” I was stupefied to be honest. I did not need an outsider’s assessment of my Grandfathers state of Salvation. But more stupefying to me was the attitude of a young priest in the latter part of the 20th Century who was prepared to have such pure control over orthodoxy and the truth. It was clear to me that he owned it, and that our church (as well as a few others he would acknowledge) had it. The real question is where did a young priest learn such a thing? – From a bishop, and from the church!
You see I think we get all excited and jump up on our high horses when we hear Pope Benedict XVI declares that there is one true church. We get all hot and bothered when we go to a Catholic Mass and are refused communion. It is legitimate that we should be angered by such exclusions in Christianity, but let us be clear that we suffer the same attitudes in our own Church, The Anglican Communion. The next couple of weeks will see us read countless media reports about Lambeth and the impending schisms in the church. There will be bishops speaking of ‘orthodoxy’ as if they own it. I am not sure they are ready for Brian McLaren. In the meantime I am thrilled that they will have him speaking and hope that they might heed a word or two.
McLaren in a PBS Special about Emerging Church said this about salvation, "The church has been preoccupied with the question, "What happens to your soul after you die?" As if the reason for Jesus coming can be summed up in, "Jesus is trying to help get more souls into heaven, as opposed to hell, after they die." I just think a fair reading of the Gospels blows that out of the water. I don’t think that the entire message and life of Jesus can be boiled down to that bottom line." I hope that Lambeth has an opportunity to hear this man speak to them about a loving and compassionate man named Jesus. I hope they get to hear about how that man was God’s very essence and that he offers salvation for us all, loves us all, and wants us all to know that we are precious. I hope that they hear Brian McLaren talk about how we can make change a reality in the church if we focus our attention on Love and on the loving actions of this Saviour. Jesus who did not come to just count up souls for heaven, but Jesus who ate with the sick and the rejected; Jesus who visited with the lonely and put shirts of the naked. I hope they meet Jesus in McLaren and in his words and I pray that our leadership would then walk away from rigid arguments about ‘right belief’ and embrace an opportunity for ‘right action!’
A Prayer for Lambeth
“Pour down upon our Church, O God, the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that those who prepare for the Lambeth Conference may be filled with wisdom and understanding. May they sense at work within them the creative energy and vision which belong to our humanity, made in your image and redeemed by your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”