One of the more provocative books I’ve read from the Emergents is Doug Pagitt’s Church Re-imagined (aka, Reimagining Spiritual Formation). Within the pages of that book Pagitt discusses how Solomon’s Porch deals with the creeds because, as Pagitt informs us, it wants to be continuuous with the great creedal traditions of the Church (spell that the catholic Church as in the whole Church). (“catholic” means universal)
I like this because this is the only story a catholic Christian can really tell: if we embrace the work of God in this world, we embrace the whole Church with all of its sillinesses and wrong turns and blatant failure as well as its glories and wonders and amazingly encouraging movements.
That Church has expressed itself always, everywhere, and by all (antiquity, ubiquity, consensus) in creedal shapes. Much could be said right here, but this is not a post on the need for creeds. But this one comment: the singular most arrogant posture a Christian can take is to pretend (and that is what it is) that he or she can “start all over again” and do so by ignoring the creeds and the voice of the Spirit in the Church.
Don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t make the creeds absolute or infallible; it makes them the witness of the Spirit in the Church. And who are we to ignore such a witness?
Now, to the orthodoxy and generosity of a creedal shape to a generous (evangelical) orthodoxy.
Two observations. First, the creeds begin in the Bible (Shemai to the Jesus Creed to 1 Cor 15:3-5, etc) and come fully clean in the 4th to 8th Centuries AD: Nicea and beyond. The basic shape is clear. God the Father, Son, and Spirit; the Church; forgiveness of sins; life everlasting. If we are living in the tradition of the Church, we embrace these creeds — not as absolutes but as the witness of the Church to its story.
Second, any embrace of the catholic Church is an embrace of the Protestant Church, too. The Reformers aren’t a breaking of the Church; they called the Church to its foundations. So, this means we embrace as part of our creed — should I say we “add” to the creeds above? — some lines about the priority of Scripture over tradition (without pretending to annihilate the latter) and necessity of personal faith, which spawned pietism and the evangelical revivals up to the modern-day. Which means that an orthodoxy today will mean embracing the whole Church, including evangelicalism. It is easy to find fault with what we’ve been or where we’ve been or what we’ve seen; it is harder (but nobler and more Jesus-like) to embrace even those whom we find most annoying.
Here is our “generous” story.
Two very important points.
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.
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.
Second, orthodoxy is a human construction of Christian gospel truths. It is grounded in Scripture, and in tradition, and in culture. Because we can’t have the first without the second and third, everything we articulate about theology is an approximation. (After all, only God can know God absolutely and perfectly.) Because all of our theological constructions are approximations, we must be humble about our claims.
Which means when we differ about theology, we listen to the other because we will learn from them, too. There are some who are so out of sync with the Great creedal traditions to have a voice that is nearly unrecognizable, but you would be surprised at how many theologians have something to teach us. This is why the recent exploration of the variety of theological traditions in the Church is so encouraging and so helpful. There is much to learn from those who are on the journey behind us.
Which means we too will have the obligation to frame gospel truth in our world for our day — but we will do so in light of the great creedal traditions.
Generous (evangelical) orthodoxy proclaims the truth of the gospel of the love of God in Christ and through the Spirit, but only teaches its theological articulations.