Friday, May 10, 2013

The "Orthos"

Orthodoxy: Right Belief
Orthopraxis: Right Practice
Orthopathy: Right feeling

Lately I've been noting how the standard evangelical emphasis on Orthodoxy as the way to faith makes me uncomfortable. I have colleagues who seem to think that the primary method to bring people to God is to educate them. As though if they knew more about Jesus, they would naturally want to follow Him. Thus, they spend a lot of time in a basically pedagogical mode: it's all about the teaching. Maybe; maybe not. Often the impact of teaching people about Jesus is that come to the conclusion that "Jesus was a really cool guy," but the essential claims that Christianity makes about his divinity or the implications of his death/resurrection fall flat.

I mean, why would someone want to be a Christian when they could be a Jedi? As long as we compete on historical or purely philosophical grounds we will conceding far too much ground. Yes, there are historical and philosophical claims being made by our faith (and ethical ones, for that matter), but there are lots of other perfectly reasonable belief systems out there grounded in good history and philosophy. So why would we want to fight in that particular ditch? Two possible alternatives are stake a claim in relational space or existential space. That is, "Become Christian because you are one of us" or "Become a Christian because the poetry of our faith resonates with the deepest chords of your soul."

This impulse to focus on pedagogy and orthodoxy comes from the other side of the lay-ordained dynamic as well: many people assume that the next step in their spiritual journey is a "Bible Study" and talk about their desire to know more about God. They tell me how much they admire this preacher or that one for teaching them something new. I've listened to some of these preachers and been frankly disappointed. A good example would be Bruxy Cavey, who often borders on being intellectually dishonest for the sake of clarity and homiletic impact. (Case-in-point: Listen to his preaching on Just War Theory and you'd think nothing had happened in theological ethics since Augustine).

I think that a more holistic approach is necessary, and that approaches that spend too much time on the "teaching" part are problematic because of the inherent materialism of such an approach. I'm sorry, but I don't think there is such a thing as "Five Biblical Principals for a Happier Life." Maybe being a faithful person means your life will be less happy! This version of Christianity gives an illusion of control and sometimes borders on Gnosticism. The worst excesses show up in something like the ridiculous "Prayer of Jabez" fad.

Even in the case of doctrines which are not false, getting people to intellectually assent to set a doctrines (no matter how true or insightful they might be) is rarely transformative. Consider the many people who gain great insight about their problems in therapy, and yet are unable to heal them! Right-belief is important, of course, but goes hand-in-hand with the other "Orthos": practice and feeling.

Here is a good example of what I mean. I commonly encounter people who come to church because they feel anxious, lonely, or otherwise in a state of existential distress. In my opinion and experience, there is much nothing you can teach them that will change that feeling. You can tell them about how God loves them and care for them. You can point to the various passages of scripture in which God tells us that worrying is pointless and un-holy. In all likelihood you are going to make things worse because now their presenting distress is compounded with guilt--"If I only really had faith in God's love for me, I wouldn't worry so much."

Now, check out a possible alternative. Here is Ian Mobsby from the Moot Community in London talking us through the "Welcome Prayer."

This is good stuff. And I've taught something very much like this technique for years. But it doesn't give an "answer" is just a practice designed to engage a feeling. But it is holy, right, and helpful. So how come I'm not seeing more of this kind of stuff among my Fresh Expressions/Church Planting/Evagelical friends?


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