The Question of Orthodoxy

I found this to be an interesting depiction of the various components of Christian orthodoxy in the 21st century (of course everyone THINKS they’re orthodox!). I came across this recently in  a post by C. Michael Patton.

Why the labels? I find it very worthwhile to categorize (even if we don’t get it exactly right). Theology – and defining (and re-defining) orthodoxy –  are important. Having said that, no one is going to arrive at the pearly gates having gotten it right. Therefore it’s important to take theology and orthodoxy seriously, but not ourselves…

So, what is orthodoxy?

Patton says this: Historic Christian orthodoxy refers to the sine qua non (the “without which not”) of Christian belief. This belief is held, to paraphrase Augustine, “by all Christians, of all time, everywhere.” In other words, it is not limited to time or geographical region. Therefore, it would be found very early in some sort of articulated fashion, though not necessarily in formal document, in the early church.

Historic orthodoxy did take a few centuries to articulate in thought and word. It is unthinkable that in the first few centuries Christians would have developed in their understanding beyond a seed form of the basics below. They were too busy trying to stay alive, legitimize themselves to hostile Jews and Romans,  and encourage the local congregations. These basics were handed down in tradition (the regula fide) and Scripture.

Doctrines developed in understanding, people began to part ways in their interpretation of these doctrines. Traditional orthodoxy takes time to develop since it comes primarily as a result of controversy and challenge. There is a Catholic orthodoxy, Protestant/Evangelical orthodoxy, and Eastern Orthodoxy traditional orthodoxy.

Historic Protestant/Evangelical Orthodoxy

  • Deity of Christ
  • Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Sovereignty of God
  • The historicity of physical death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
  • Hypostatic Union (Christ is fully God and fully man)
  • The sinfulness of man in corrupt nature, imputed guilt, and personal sinfulness
  • The necessity of the vicarious substitutionary atonement on the cross
  • Salvation through grace alone by faith alone on the basis of Christ alone
  • The reality of the body of Christ (the catholic [universal] Church)
  • The authority of the visible local bod[ies] of Christ
  • The infallible, inerrant inspiration of Scripture alone with final authority on all matters of faith.
  • The canon of Scripture made up of the Old (39 books) and New (27 books) Testaments
  • The future second coming

My own studies have led me to believe that we need to critique both modernity (wherein much of current protestant and evangelical orthodoxy was forged) and postmodernity (where much of emergent theology is being forged). (Check out a good article on the differences here.) My thoughts are that we are to be conservative in our theology (that is to conserve the essential elements of orthodox Christianity) and (be) liberal in our practice of that theology. For me that means we are to contextualize the gospel appropriately and actually live out the good news (instead of just talking about it).

I’ve just started reading GK Chesterton‘s Orthodoxy at the gym (it’s free on Kindle). It’s about 100 years old and it speaks fairly specifically to the modern/postmodern dilemma. Chesterton speaks to the “twin insanities of hyper-rationalism and hyper-emotivism.” Matthew Lee Anderson in a blog at First Thoughts says, “Chesterton’s poetic-prose articulates a vision of Christianity that is as artistic as it is analytic, and as such is a more effective antidote to the prevailing post-modern sensibilities than any other book I have found.”

Anderson goes on to say, Chesterson “artistically defends the existence of the truth and grounds Christianity in the pre-rational experience of story without jeopardizing truth’s existence or fallaciously opposing reason and emotion…In sum, [Orthodoxy] remains the single most effective articulation of a Christianity that is intellectually robust, artistically engaged, spiritually sensitive…”

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