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.