A Generous Orthodoxy

After discussing how Jesus is no longer treated as “Lord and Teacher” despite our sermons and songs to the contrary, McLaren writes: “If we were to try to reinstate Jesus as Lord/Teacher, we would have to go outside the world of popular modern theology to find ways to think about the meaning of Lord/Teacher…. Tradition means a whole way of practice or way of life that includes systems of apprenticeship, a body of knowledge (of terms, history, lore), a wide range of know-how (skills, technique, ability), and something else — a kind of “unknown knowledge” that philosopher Michael Polanyi calls personal knowledge: levels of knowledge that one has and knows but doesn’t even know one has and knows.

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A good friend of mine let me borrow his copy of Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. (You know a friend is a “good friend” when he or she lets you borrow a book as well as talk through your stuff. Thanks, Steve!)

A lot of people have already read and blogged about McLaren’s book. And although I’m a little late to that party, I wanted to post a quote from the book that (to mebrings everything back into sharp focus. After discussing how Jesus is no longer treated as “Lord and Teacher” despite our sermons and songs to the contrary, McLaren writes:

“If we were to try to reinstate Jesus as Lord/Teacher, we would have to go outside the world of popular modern theology to find ways to think about the meaning of Lord/Teacher. We would go to the world of arts and trades and notice how a master violinist, a master carpenter, a master electrician, a master of martial arts passes on her mastery to students or apprentices. The only way to learn this mastery is through the disciple’s voluntary submission to the discipline and tradition of the master.

“In this sense, tradition doesn’t just mean ‘traditions,’ such as a way of bowing before a karate lesson or after a violin performance, although ‘traditions’ are included in tradition. Tradition means a whole way of practice or way of life that includes systems of apprenticeship, a body of knowledge (of terms, history, lore), a wide range of know-how (skills, technique, ability), and something else — a kind of ‘unknown knowledge’ that philosopher Michael Polanyi calls personal knowledge: levels of knowledge that one has and knows but doesn’t even know one has and knows.

“Imagine an adult human with a double Ph.D. in engineering and ornithology trying to use grass, feathers, scraps of paper, and mud to build a common robin’s nest. His fingers and thumbs form a muddy blob that would crumble in the first rainstorm. Then imagine a robin building the same nest with nothing but her beak. The robin (as far as I can tell) doesn’t know that she knows how to build a nest and doesn’t know how she knows, but she knows; she has a feel for it, as we see every spring. She can do something the certified, lettered expert human can’t. Her unknown knowledge illustrates the deepest level of human knowledge that is learned not just from a ‘teacher’ but from a ‘master.’ If you ask, ‘How do you do that, how do you know that?’ — the only answer can be, ‘I don’t know; I just know!’

“This is the kind of inwardly formed learning that Jesus, as master, teaches his apprentices; a knowledge about how to live that can’t be reduced to information, words, rules, books, or instructions, but rather that must be seen in the words-plus-example of the Master.

“Not only that, but the master’s students continue and expand the master’s tradition so that one learns the way of the master most fully by being in the community of other students, including those who can remember and tell the stories about members of the community long departed. These gone-but-not-forgotten members are re-membered (kept alive through memory as important, ongoing members of the community). In this way, the master-apprentice relationship is not merely individual tutoring but membership in a learning community that lives around the globe and across generations, as well as around the corner or across the street.”

This is the core of everything we should be trying to be and do — apprentices of Jesus, who are learning to become by grace, what our Master is by nature. Everything else is mere periphery until this vision captures and reshapes our imagination, our thoughts, and our daily lives so that like the robin easily and naturally building her nest, we easily and naturally live and work in God’s kingdom.

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