Orthodox redux – again

According to one of my commentators, I appeared somewhat hostile in a recent post, and that, I suspect, centered on the phrase, “Those who are so almighty intent on being “orthodox” in every way might want to take a turn in toward Philippi and leave behind the road they’re on.”  Perhaps it’s time to talk a bit about my take on the word ‘orthodox’ as presently used in North America.  First, I want to exclude any sense of the word as it applies to the Orthodox Churches of the East inasmuch as they have their own disagreements about what it means for them.  I’m more interested in the way it’s used among North American Protestants and especially among Anglicans.

My first observation, based on attendance at two of the more contentious national conventions of the Episcopal Church, is not so much about belief as about behavior.  Those who loudly proclaimed themselves to be ‘orthodox’ did so with obvious contempt for any and all who disagreed with them in any way whatsoever.  For them it seemed that there were only two camps: the ‘orthodox’ and ultra liberal heretics. If you were not one of them, then you must be among the other. They were blatant in their disregard for the agreed upon rules of decorum and debate.  And their public statements were rife with anger and hostility.  It was Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich politics polished with a few amens.

My second observation is that there are only a few agreed upon tenets of this ‘orthodoxy’:  condemnation of homosexuality, rejection of, or at least anxiety about, ordination of women, and a fixation on one and only one way of understanding Jesus as Lord and Savior.  There seems to be a lot of divergence on other issues that tend to define the so-called conservative camp: inerrancy of scripture, whether there can be salvation for non-Christians, abortion, and things like that, so that beyond these few central points there is not much coherence.  On the whole, there is little in any of it that relates very much to the classical Christianity of the Western Churches, to the teachings of Jesus Christ, or to the central doctrines of the faith.

My third observation is that North American Protestants who believe they are the only orthodox believers operate in the midst of a dilemma that cannot be resolved and that they do not recognize. On the one hand, they proclaim rejection of the way of the world and adhere to the idea that they may be in the world but not of the world.  On the other hand, they are culturally interwoven with a conservative political ethic that wallows in a self-serving mythic story of national identity conveniently ignoring more of history than it acknowledges.  I don’t want to call that hypocrisy because I believe to be a true hypocrite you have to have some awareness of the falsehood you put forth.  I think they are simply blind to exactly how deeply embedded they, and all of us, are in that which makes us North American Europeans. 

One of the phrases that Protestant ‘orthodox’ like to use is “biblical world view.”  Seems to me if you want to have a biblical world view it might be helpful to turn to the bible.  Doing that with any serious intent has got to lead one away from the hubris of claiming a unique and exclusive orthodoxy and toward the sort of Christianity to which Paul called the people of Philippi.

Having said all of that, be cautious in your judgments.  Nothing I’ve said in any way reflects poorly on the core of Evangelical practice that rejoices in an awareness of a powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit, nor on Pentecostal practice that finds that indwelling expressed through physical outpourings of charisms in various forms.

If you want to know where I stand on all of this, it’s a little to the theological left of N.T. Wright and quite comfortable with the writings and teachings of Rowan Williams, which is not the same thing as his leadership of the Communion.

1 thought on “Orthodox redux – again”

  1. It is interesting that so many of the \’orthodox\’ can \’faithfully\’ disagree about so many things! I wish we Episcopalians could learn from that kind of attitude. Too often have we experienced schisms over small things like whether we should make the sign of the cross with three fingers or two. Like the \’orthodox\’ we should learn to live together in Christ and be able to disagree over some things trusting in the goodness and faithfulness of the other. (Yes, I was a little sarcastic there. I think it appropriate to point out the contradiction in their tolerance of each other\’s theology with no regard for the diversity of opinion in The Episcopal Church on homosexuality). Spot on, CP, about the real tensions and contradictions in American Protestantism. The vitriol in language doesn\’t even fall under the guise of prophetic witness- it\’s just plain destructive and demonic. And as much as the \”orthodox\” want to condemn \”non-orthodox\” people as surrendering the Gospel to modern culture, they seem to surrender the Gospel to blind \”patriotism\” (I don\’t think patriotism can be blind and still be patriotism). At the end, I think, it boils down to the question of culture and Christianity. Are there limits for Christianity to adopt secular culture? Should it do it at all? Or should Christianity set itself apart from secular culture? How does the timelessness of the Gospel find itself applied to a culture and worldview which is mutable and rooted in history? And, the hidden question, can secular culture inform the Gospel? Does secular culture have anything of value to offer the Gospel? -the religion major who now resides in Omaha

Leave a Reply