musings on orthodoxy…

Most of you know that I’m currently working on my Masters of Divinity. While I love the cohort that I’m having discussions with, I’d love for some of those conversations to be continued in a larger forum, so occasionally this year I’m hoping to repost some of my thoughts here for your reflection and interaction. Enjoy!

Magnetic Chess - Opposites Attract by johnthurm, on Flickr

This past week we had a discussion on orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right action) and how/if they interact. We read a variety of articles that I reference…hopefully the essence is still conveyed even though you’ll be missing some of the context.

Question: Can we really do without orthodoxy or orthopraxy? If not, what is their relationship? If we can, what would that look like?

I would affirm that orthodoxy and orthopraxy are fundamental elements of our faith.  However, a few things that this week’s reading reminded me of and shed new light on were that they are not so easily separated, that we must take care in how we use them, and perhaps they’re a bit more mysterious than our systematized preferences would desire.

First, to separate out belief from action would seem to miss the point of having the right belief in the first place.  McLaren explicated this well in his introduction.  Oden as well seemed to unintentionally intimate this idea as well when he stated that “(Heresy) implies choosing one’s own personal will over and against the truth.”  By employing your will, you are putting ideas into action.  The problem of heresy isn’t just a wrong belief but how that belief ends up playing itself out in your life.  Having orthodoxy without orthopraxy is like having the trail map but staying at the motel down the street.  You’re missing the adventure.

If this is true, may I suggest an alternative word: orthoproxy.  Proxy is the action of representing something, in both word and deed.  We stick with ortho because it implies the rightness of this representative duty we’re taking on.  Further, this reminds of us our responsibility as imago dei.  Finally, It’s also a nifty combination of doxy and praxy and it’ll keep me from having to continually write out both in the rest of this conversation, when I strongly believe that both are to be employed together.

Second, some people seem to think that orthoproxy is bludgeon with which to beat those who disagree with them into submission.  They use their pious acts or lofty language to belittle rather than build up.  True orthoproxy ought to be magnetic, though, in the same way that the person of Christ was/is magnetic, in the same way that truth is magnetic.  It doesn’t mean there will be automatic agreement, but it will engage people rather than distance them.

This hammer versus the magnet, in some ways, is what the conversation between Oden and Mudge represented to me.  From my vantage point, Oden seemed more intent on using the term heresy as an opportunity to exclude, whereas Mudge wasn’t averse to the idea that there are such things as heretical beliefs, but would rather draw people toward Christ than exclude them.

Finally, continuing along the lines of humility, we must keep in mind that there is great mystery in orthoproxy.   Orthoproxy must be approached similarly to Dr. Brunner’s suggestion of how we study Christian history: with humility.  I greatly appreciated McLaren’s statement that orthodoxy is “”what God knows, some of which we believe a little, some of which they believe a little, and about which we all have a whole lot to learn.”  Yes and amen…I have much to learn.

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4 Responses to musings on orthodoxy…

  1. Adam Lehman says:

    Love the word “orthoproxy.”

    When one is acting as proxy for the other, the proxy bear full power and rights of the one they represent. Seems to mesh quite cleanly with the idea of being Christ’s body.

  2. CHiP says:

    Good musings, Joel.

    I especially like the line,”to separate out belief from action would seem to miss the point of having the right belief in the first place.” Well stated.

    And, I like the word “orthoproxy.” It may be a bit emergent, but it creates tension in the mind of the reader…which some say is where learning comes from…

  3. joeldaniel says:

    @Adam – thanks for reading. Yes…that is exactly the idea I am getting at in “proxy”. In the last couple semesters I’ve learned a lot about our role as “image bearers” and it’s basically, in modern day terms, acting as God’s proxy on earth, living out lives as he would live them, representing him to all of creation.

    @Chip – thanks! you are absolutely right…tension is good. which is why we need people like those found in the emerging conversation to give us modernists something to grapple with 😉

  4. brgulker says:

    It’s impossible to separate these terms; they are interwoven and flow into and out of each other in the moment-by-moment nature of our existence.

    In some moments, we are motivated to act rightly because of something we believe, e.g., we stop to help a hurting neighbor like the good Samaritan.

    In other moments, we are caused to believe something differently because of something we do (or observe another do), e.g., rightly come to believe that all of humanity is my neighbor because I witnessed the Samaritan aid his helpless neighbor.

    Conceptually, we can benefit from drawing a distinction. But practically, there simply isn’t a way to do so.

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