Thoughts on Finding our Way – The Return of the Ancient Practices

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For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. (Rom 10:3 NRSV)

As I read this book, this verse kept coming into remembrance. While I respect many of the things that McLaren has stood for, especially in the realm of social justice and generous orthodoxy, upon reading a complete work by him, I have to wonder if that respect was not misguided. I do not intend to step upon the personal piety of those who have thoroughly enjoyed his work, but I found it lacking in real substance and often times, seems to be still searching for what I only assume is his own redefinition of θέωσις, as his understanding of it doesn’t match the understanding which I have seen from Eastern theologians. But, this is not the first of his series of ‘reunderstandings’ that McLaren offers, most notably, his redefinition of liturgy (p101) or his entire notion of what the early church used as memorization.  I would think that McLaren should spend some considerable amount of time reading Mike Aquilina, but I suspect that he would simply reevaluate those works to suit himself.

I fully sympathize with his notion that for many, especially in the West, even among Weslyans, Christianity has become more of a system of beliefs, rather than a way of life (p3). He is right that Christians have given up the walk with God mentality of our ancient forbearers and replaced it with a codified legal system which has only served to separate us from the Kingdom of God. Again, I enjoyed his take on the Imperialization of the Church with Constantine where soon afterwards, being born a Roman citizen counted as being born a Christian. Finally, I empathize with his feelings that had he been forced to remain in his previous denomination, he would have left Christianity (p58). Yet,  McLaren notes these problems and offers solutions meant only to mimic what he believes is a return to ancient practices, as he calls them. There is no depth to his solutions, no substance to his call to return. He offers meditative prayers and the belief, sound as method but completely unfounded as a practice, of preparing yourself for the indwelling of the Spirit of God and to be made ready to share the divine nature (1st Peter 1.5), although, again, he attempts to redefine this doctrine to suit his attempt at charisma.

What he calls ancient practices is a hold-over from monasticism interpreted through the eyes of the New Monastics. There is no real history presented for these practices and what he does give history to, I would question. I try to keep in my mind the fact that this book is a primer to the serious which will entail the call to ancient practices, but to be honest, after reading this book, I have no real desire to read the other ones. Further, while I count myself a Christian Liberal, I reached the limit of it with his constant elevation of Islam to Christianity. The limit to my liberality is the exclusivity of Christ. While he may have meant other things, his constant appeal to an application of what he assumes are Christian precepts to the allowance of other religions is beyond my level of tolerance. Had he meant something else, which I don’t think he did (p6; p21, et al), he should have explained what he meant. As he noted, our ancient practices are meant to draw us to Christ and to a closer relationship to God in Christ; yet, he notes that the same practices draw other religions closer to their religious figures. His regulation of Christ to that of Moses and Mohammed didn’t help the matter either (p22). I make note again, that while this book is intended to be an introduction to the series, it doesn’t make me want to read the rest of them.

Could a book like this be used in local church ministry? Perhaps. With all of its negatives, McLaren focuses on Community, although generally without Scripture in said Community. He is not one for an individualistic faith which often helps to create that system of belief lifestyle and pushes us further away from the ancient practices. The first ancient practice to be recovered should be community and here, McLaren drives home the point continuously. Further, he makes room for divergent practices among believing Christians, such as the high church of Rome and the East, the low church of Baptist and Brethren, and the loud church of Charismatics and Pentecostals. He understands the appeal, across the board, and encourages believers to unite with others for fellowship. But, this is the limit of the usefulness of this book for local church ministry.

Post By Joel L. Watts (10,153 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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8 thoughts on “Thoughts on Finding our Way – The Return of the Ancient Practices

  1. I never read McClaren’s start to the Ancient Practices series, but I did read one of the other books in the series – Nora Gallagher’s “The Sacred Meal”, on communion. I would have to say it was no better than what you presented here. It made a mockery of communion, reducing it to a mere shadow of its real value, though it too highly elevated the “community” aspect. In the end, I felt the only positive I could relate was that Gallagher knew how to use pretty-sounding words.

    I don’t intend to go any further with this particular series – which is unfortunate, because I had high hopes initially that it could be a brief introduction for new believers with questions.

    • George,

      Thanks for responding and confirming what I imagined for the other books in the series. I am all for the return to the ancient practices, but what I found presented was not a return to them, nor an understanding of them, but more of a, as you nicely nailed it, a mockery, a mere shadow of these things which once caused the Church to grow because of the Spirit in the community. He regulates memorizing Scripture almost to an incantation against evil and, as he says, a way to keep sane.

      It has made me realize, however, the limit of my Christian liberality.

  2. It is all just koolaid from my experience with his work. John MacArthur had a devastating critic of McClaren’s work in The Truth War. The guy has his own version of the Bible, called The Voice. So, of course, he would just reinterpret anything to his own belief.

  3. In response to your thought: Of the Ancient Practice:
    November 30th, 2010: Roxbury College.
    By Dr. A. J Nkomo
    I am mindful that God is not in man understanding operation! God understanding has nothing with man’ understanding either! Your understanding about God is based in your social influence on the self-willed! God is not involved or anticipate with human perspective-views. Man often times side with human sinful nature that separates him from God, the Creator of all goodness!! Every individual person is born with God’s goodness; but the exposure where each individual is exposed matter!! Therefore, it isn’t an ancient practice or modern practice, but sinful nature within humans matter!
    Finding our way; it required to reconnect to God the organ of all goodness! You need to practice this daily! In your own exposure, you need value/love and qualify rather than quantity! You cannot change anyone, but God can because God knows the basic change within the individual as the creator of all goodness. Initially, you need God in the radiance of Jesus Christ, the firstborn fruit, quality fruit ever exist! He is the ultimate Judge on Earth and brings the perfection that God built in the beginning. God will restore his goodness in the radiance of Jesus Christ. It is theological, biblical, and prophetic truth!!
    You ignore it on your own wicked risk! God will judge the earth once again, in the radiance of Jesus Christ:

  4. God judged Adam &. Eve: [Gen 3:19]
    Logic: Greek Hellenic and ancient philosophers: Theory of sound thinking: Aristotle: Plato reasoning sound: Logic, the study of valid inference, was developed by ancient Egyptians/Greeks philosophers as a result of their interests in arguments of every kind topics through their social influences on the self-willed, social perceptions, and social cognition etc: No resolution could be attained until this day in the modern age: Moreover, these genius philosophers so, they claimed to be; are all dead for good! But God the Creator of all still live with all resolutions;

    The Lord made all for Himself! Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom!” [Prov. 16: 4] Words of purpose/meaningful to everyone else ears and truth: The judgments of the Lord are true and just altogether! Jesus Christ is the ultimate Judge! Genesis language parallels links: God has set up a day for His righteous judgment such as that of Adam and Eve: God judged the ancient world: Also God will judge the modern world:

    The Book of Genesis constitutes of judgment! The beginning of every good and evil acts and aspiration: See [Acts 17: 30-32]: Everything is precisely sealed up for the Second Advent intervention: It is crucial for the modern world history.

    The first technical term for what we now call logic was used by Aristotle, Plato and other westerns tradition philosophers such as John Lockey, Jean Rousseau and this was dialectic: It is meaningless and un-purposeful. Let us face this truth that all men on earth shall face Jesus Christ Judgment’ Seat on the Last Day! [2 Corinth 5: 10]:

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