A 2Way Conversation :: The priority of orthopraxy


Suppose you and I were conversing and you shared with me that you had found the most phenomenal stock tip ever known. Suppose, then, that you encouraged me to invest in that option because of the results that you were sure were coming. At that point I would most likely ask you how much you had personally invested in the stock and suppose that you answered, $0. I think it would be safe to say that I would find your sales pitch hardly believable.

When one looks at statistical data concerning the traditional church they might be convinced that although orthodoxy has been trumpeted as a priority, it has only occured at the expense of orthopraxy. Church members are attending church, involved in “ministry” even, but cannot articulate a biblical worldview or even a concise understanding of what it means to be a believer of Jesus Christ. In other words, the sales pitch rings hollow. When looking at the Emerging Church movement, there is a passionate attempt to rediscover a commitment to orthopraxy which I think should be celebrated. Now, I also have a bit of critique for the approach, as it is fleshed out in some contexts, but I’ll save that for the end of the article.

T.S. Elliott once said

“The greatest proof of Christianity for others is not how far a man can logically analyze his reasons for believing, but how far in practice he will stake his life on his belief.”

What seems to be driving much of those involved in the EC movement is founded in a violent reaction against the perceived failures in the Evangelical church. On top of that list of frustrations would be the lack of changed lives by those who claim to be adherents of the Christian faith. They read passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:17,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

and they wonder where the new is? I would argue that their concern is more than legitimate. Scot McKnight, who is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois) and is also widely considered a premier researcher of the EC movement, recently wrote the following, which seems to adequately sum up the thoughts of many within the EC movement.

First, orthodoxy is nothing without orthopraxy. Believing right things, and grounding our ideas solidly on solid scriptural studies (and knowing what is important from what is not) is good; but if we do not “perform” that orthodoxy in an orthopraxy we are clanging cymbals and noisy gongs. [Found Here]

There is little doubt that the traditional evangelical church has embraced “church growth” in many ways so thoroughly that they have rejected any attempts at defining authentic faith as well as listing expectations for those who want to join their faith families. Rather than raise the theoretical bar, so to speak, they have lowered it in an attempt to gain as many as possible. Before you think I am only critical of those who embrace “church growth” (btw, I’m of the opinion that there is significantly more good in the CG movement than bad), we should also be reminded that in traditional churches that there seems to be a great concern that leads us to shy away from offending our “brothers and sisters” in such a way that we will simply avoid any attempt to call sin in the camp exactly what it is, sin. This lack of church discipline and heightened expectations has driven the evangelical church away from its roots of discipleship, or sanctification. This two pronged approach to church life has helped move us to this current place where our churches may be filled with as many non-believers who are convinced that they are believers as we are filled with authentic followers of Jesus Christ. As such, many within the EC movement have embraced the pursuit of orthopraxy.

Now, having established the strength of embracing orthopraxy, I want to critique many within the movement as well, who take this thought process to an unnecessary, and biblical unfaithful, end. Let me start by offering the second half of McKnight’s quote.

I see a move in the younger generation that is fed up with the orthodoxy that is not performed, and I see some tendencies to debunk the former in favor of the latter. And I don’t blame them. But, at some point we realize we need both — like needing two loving parents. Both orthodoxy and orthopraxy are good and both are loving, and when they kiss we become what we are meant to be. [Found Here]

McKnight is absolutely right in that orthopraxy cannot exist apart from orthodoxy. Just as orthodoxy apart from orthopraxy is wasted and pointless, orthopraxy cannot exist without some absolute truth explaining what “right behavior” looks like. There are some within the EC movement who have moved so far that rather than simply embrace orthopraxy, they have done so at the expense of faithful orthodoxy. Consider, for instance, the words of Tony Jones who serves as the National Director of Emergent, a more liberal organization within the EC movement.

“Orthodoxy is a happening, an occurrence, not a state of being or a state of mind or a statement.” [Found Here]

Inherent within this unfortunate position is a rejection of any propositional truth, rather it lends itself to situational ethics and personally defined morality. Just as with any other beliefs found within the walls of the Christian faith that stand apart from biblical truth, this must be rejected. It’s funny to me that this is said by one who would purport to support the claims of scripture which is, by definition, a collection of statements of fact.

Regis Nicholl, recently wrote the following,

Orthopraxy? By all means. We Christians need to do a better job of aligning our hands with our heads. And that begins by making sure that what’s in our heads is aligned with a biblical worldview.

“It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” [Found Here]

Once again, the point is well made. Our actions must be changed actions if we are to be called followers of Christ and for that we applaud the move towards orthopraxy. Those movements, however, can only exist as holy actions if they do so after being informed by God’s words, hence the necessity of orthodoxy. So, let us together thank many in the EC movement for their reminder of the importance of right behavior, but let us together endeavor to not miss the significance of right belief as well.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

18 thoughts on “A 2Way Conversation :: The priority of orthopraxy

  1. Head and heart and hands–all captive to Christ…Jesus as Savior and Lord…Galatians hand-in-hand with James. . . Thanks for your thoughtful blog.
    And having commented much too often lately, I look forward to shutting up and reading what you and others have to say.

  2. It kind of sounds like liberalism all over again. Accusing conservatives of high morals but never actually helping anyone.

    If those involved in the EC movement believe that the tradition evangelical church have orthodoxy right but are not putting it into practice (and I’m not at all convinced that is true), why start a new movement? Can faithful evangelicals not be taught and led to live out what they believe?

    I wonder if those in the EC movement have certain things they are looking for in terms of orthopraxy. For example, traditional evangelicalism has worked very hard in the area of sanctity of life, whether against abortion, or euthenasia, or embryonic stem cell research. That is a big battle that has and will continue to require much effort. Would that not be considered orthopraxy to emergants?

  3. Les- I believe you are quite accurate.

    Dennis- First I would say that those within the EC, in my studies, never started out to begin a new movement. Rather they wanted to reform the current forms of Christianity, as they saw need. That has developed into a “movement” if you will, but a very informal one, at best.

    To answer your final paragraph, there would be those in the EC movement that would stand on both sides of that debate, just like there are those within Baptist life that stand on both sides of that debate. My point is that we must judge each church/pastor on the merits of their theology and practice and not simply based on whether they call themselves “Emerging” or not.

  4. Within Southern Baptist life? I thought most of the other side of that “debate” headed left on the CBF train.

    I’m still really struggling with the question of why a Bible-believing conservative orthodox Christian would want to call themselves “Emerging”. I’ll keep reading….

  5. Dennis- Notice I didn’t say “in Southern Baptist life”. I specifically limited it to “Baptist” as a point of reference. The EC movement is as broad and as diverse and as unaffiliated as is “Baptist” life. Within the EC camp there are a variety of streams just as there are within Baptist life, and each stream represents a differing theological viewpoint. The problem most people have with the EC movement is that they hear about the liberal wing (aka Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, etc.) and aren’t as familiar with the more conservative portion.

    Southern Baptist heavyweight Ed Stetzer wrote about the varying streams in an article that was posted on Baptist Press. I would encourage you to check it out. You can find it by clicking here.

  6. Dennis- As you search for answers, Mark Driscoll is an excellent resource concerning emerging, contemporary application coming from a conservative viewpoint, theologically speaking. I ran across this article today and highly recommend it as a good starting point. Click here for the article.

  7. Maybe that’s a good comparison for me. There are several groups that call themselves “Baptist”. Each has a particular thing that attracts them to that name, whether it is the cooperative but autonomous thing, or the priesthood of the believers, or whatever. And other than that one thing, some of these groups have very little in common with each other.

    Perhaps it is the same with the Emerging Church – that there are several groups that call themselves by that name because they see something in it that attracts them, even if they differ greatly from others that use that same name.

    But you point out that the reputation of the Emerging Church is dominated by the liberal wing. So I will keep trying to figure out why a conservative would want to risk their reputation by associating with the EC name.

    Thanks for your patience with me, Micah and readers as well. I’m a little thick sometimes. 🙂

  8. Dennis- As a way of helping understand, let me try and say this. You state: “So I will keep trying to figure out why a conservative would want to risk their reputation by associating with the EC name.” You seem to presuppose, by asking this question, that many in the movement looked at the movement and intentionally joined knowing that it includes many prominent members who are liberal, theologically speaking.

    What is probably more accurate, particularly since the EC movement is so young, is that many of these leaders involved in the movement grew at the same time in the movement and have been identified as part of the movement and have taken on characteristics that differ from one another. In other words, they haven’t looked at the movement and signed on, but rather many of them have been involved in the movement from before it was really definable (not that it’s clearly understandable now) and as they have progressed the movement has taken on a different reputation than what they are comfortable with.

    Mark Driscoll, for instance, has taken great pains to publicly communicate that he is not associated with McLaren and that bunch. He does not want to be defined in the same breath as the “Emergent” stream.

    I hope that’s not too confusing.

  9. Dennis, I’m with you on this issue. I think the emerging church is known best as a liberal movement. I don’t know if you guys have the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) channel. Our pastor is pretty accurate with preaching the word of God in its context and giving us practical ways to apply it. But I can’t figure out why the TBN ministry excites him. Alot of those ministers are prosperity teachers and claim to have prophesies from God. Our pastor invited Chris Hill to come and speak at our church. Chris Hill is T.D. Jake’s youth pastor. If I were a pastor I don’t know that I’d want to be associated with those types of ministers. I know John Piper wouldn’t think twice about that one. If you go on youtube.com John Piper has an awesome message on the prosperity gospel.

    Micah, If orthopraxy means correct practice then that correct practice has to be applied with the correct interpretation of scripture. It’s sad to me that it had to take a movement like this to get orthodox christians jumping. We should’ve kept up on how to reach the next generation by keeping close relationships with our young leaders. Also take into consideration that the world doesn’t understand the grace of God. They don’t understand that when you become a new creation in Christ that it’s a process. We are going to make mistakes which may appear to the world as hypocrisy. For the mature christian there’s a higher standard because we’re held accountable to what we know about God’s word. We too are going to make mistakes and I hope that the mature believer who has come to realize that they have neglected how to reach the next generation would sincerely begin a process on how to grow in that ability, but it all must line up with God’s word. Most or almost all Emerging churches do not line up with scripture. Sure they want to find better ways of reaching the world but I also believe that they are afraid of conflict.Perhaps you may not want to assiciate youself with them but rather come up with your own ideas on how to reach the world. I suggested in an earlier article of yours that asking people the question, “Can I pray with you about something,” is one way to reach the world and young people. That’s one way to express the love of Christ.

  10. Monica-

    I think you’re missing a couple of things in your thought process. First, many of these churches are not trying to be called “emerging”, they are simply trying to move towards incarnational ministry that presents a holistic view of scripture and that communicates well to postmoderns and in doing so they have become labeled as emerging. Your argument hinges on “emerging churches” intentionally attempting to identify themselves as “emerging” when, in my experience, many of them are not doing that at all. They are, however, being labeled as such.

    Secondly, your statement Most or almost all Emerging churches do not line up with scripture. simply cannot be quantified. It is a point of view argument that you appear to assume based on your anecdotal experience. My anecdotal experience has been that more ec churches are trying to accurately interpret scripture, which would contradict your anecdotal argument. While I think it is very wise to attempt to critique proper belief (i.e. orthodoxy) and to consider the activities of those churches who claim the name of Christ, at the same time, to make broad, sweeping claims like that which cannot be quantified is unhealthy, in my opinion.

  11. Micah,

    Thanks for sharing the good insights. (By the way, no problem with viewing the post on my laptop as to the formatting. I think the earlier problems are due to the desktop at church running an older version of IE). I just finished reading Dan Kimball’s “They Like Jesus but not the Church” and would strongly recommend it. I think his perspective is balanced and he contributes a lot to the conversation. He has his finger I believe on the pulse of 20-somethings and those in their 30s as a result of time spent interacting with them. He doesn’t trash on the church for its shortcomings, but does urge us to listen to the criticisms of the church coming from this age group.

  12. Micah, the churches that are trying to move towards incarnational ministry why don’t they have another name for themselves that way they can be identified separately from the emerging church? Because whenever I find an article on the emerging church it’s always something bad. Do you have any sources. As far as the emerging church itself, the only good I can see in it is that I think God uses churches like these to get a foot in the door with people. Hopefully they are led to a solid Bible teaching church eventually. As far as the type of churches that you’re thinking about that’s great if they can reach the world without compromising scripture.

  13. Monica-

    I understand your concern, and I appreciate it. Dr. Mark Devine, Theology Professor at Midwestern Seminary, is one of the preeminent researchers in the SBC dealing with the EC movement. I would encourage you to take a look at the following articles he has written.

    Southern Baptist’s, Missouri Baptist’s and the Emerging Church

    Mclaren and Driscoll: Homosexuality, Culture and the Bible

    Chapman, Morris-Meek and Mild: The Emerging Church and Southern Baptist’s

    McLaren and Acts 29: Making Distinctions Among Missional and Emerging Voices

    I would also highly recommend three lectures given by Darrin Patrick, pastor of Journey Church in St. Louis. They include 1. The History and Streams of the Emerging Church, 2. Popular Terms of the Emerging Church and 3. Q & A.

    You can find them here.

    Finally, I would encourage you to read the article by Dr. Ed Stetzer, who is Director of Research for LifeWay and is closely affiliated with many in the EC movement. I referenced the article about 10 comments above this one. It’s another good resource.

  14. Micah, I’m sorry for being so difficult. You’ve been so gracious and patient with me. I don’t know what it’s like being in your position, but I do trust that your trying to honor the Lord our God in all that you do and He will honor you for that.

  15. BenMonica- You haven’t been difficult at all. My passion in life is to encourage people to think biblically and help them to grow in their relationship with Christ. I love helping point you to biblical resources.

    It’s my pleasure. 🙂

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