Generous (evangelical) Orthodoxy: Creedal

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.

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.

This is our “orthodoxy” story.

Here is our “generous” story.

Generous

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.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3455857 chris

    I’m enjoying and learning a good deal from your posts. I’m wondering–with all of this generosity going around–what place you think something like Gnosticism has in the church today? I suppose they might not meet the creedal requirement, since from what I’ve read many creeds came about as a way of refuting Gnostic ideas. Just curious what you think about this. Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Chris,Gnosticism has no place within the boundaries of the creeds. Yes, you’re right, the creeds were a response in part to the gnostic ideas.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/9527070 John Haller

    chris has swerved into the problem of the big tent: if it’s outside the boundaries of the creeds, generosity is a questionable response. In fact, it is unliveable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3455857 chris

    Thanks for the response, Scot. I don’t want to come off as being an advocate for Gnosticism, but…Just wondering if this is a convenient way of not engaging with Gnosticism (or other divergent movements within Christianity…are there others comparable?) From what I understand, the Gnostics have their own creeds. Having read Elaine Pagels and Harold Bloom and others who say Gnosticism is or has been creeping into mainline Protestantism (maybe it never left or, as some suggest, is closely aligned with some Protestant movements–particularly those that advocate an “inner light” notion), I’m wondering if anyone has seriously considered Gnostic ideas from an orthodox point of view. That is, one that doesn’t dismiss it as a heresy, and that treats the whole demiurge and Old-Testament-God-as-Satan thing with some critical judgment.Is there a place for the Gnostic narrative?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3455857 chris

    Thanks, John, for pointing that out. A Gnostic (and I’m not one…I don’t think!) might say that the Catholic church wasn’t very generous to their movement when they were mounting crusades against them. I think my point is something like this: If we’re going to go with this emerging church idea, and part of that entails both moving forward and looking back, then do we look back to a pre-creedal time in the church when many different notions of Christianity were circulating? Particularly, as Scot verified, since “creeds were a response in part to the gnostic ideas”?I’m only using gnosticism as an example. As I mentioned, they have their own creeds (I think). Brian McLaren came up with something called the “Jesus creed” (http://www.anewkindofchristian.com/archives/000231.html). So is there room for new creeds (even if they’re old)?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3455857 chris

    Scot, having revisited your post, I’ve got a couple of thoughts:1. Does catholic (“universal”) mean the Catholic church plus the Protestant church? In other words, does it discount other movements before Protestantism came along?2. Does gnosticism fall under the rubric of “the whole Church with all of its sillinesses and wrong turns and blatant failure”?3. You ask, “should I say we ‘add’ to the creeds above?” What are the qualifications for new additions? Is everything in the traditional church creeds scriptural, or are some notions derived from an interpretation of scripture (I know you also mention that the creeds are not “absolute or infallible” as such).A Google search turned up this: http://wikisource.org/wiki/The_Gnostic's_Creed. It’s easy to see where this differs from orthodox creeds, but can something useful be recovered from it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/4226999 Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Scot,”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.”I can see this very trend strongly within the missions agency I am a part of. On one hand, I see our mission as a wonderful example of believers (most of which are young) manifesting orthpraxy that would often “confound the wisdom of the world”. It is something I believe we do very well.However, that being said, because we fail to be informed (in-formed) by the creedal orthodoxy, we fall pray to an equal share of arrogant posturing, with the all the unfortunate results.My question is this: How can we bridge the gap in a church/organizational culture that is so distracted by its “success” that it fails to see their need to be rooted in orthodoxy?If you want to weigh in, that would be great, but I honestly don’t think you will want to tackle this monster in this context. Rather, it is an expression of my frustration and longing for my missional community.Peace,Jamie

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Chris,To consider Gnosticism from an orthodox point of view is to reject it. I think that is pretty plain. Why? Essentially because its story is a denial of the Incarnation.One of my points is that we can’t go back to a pre-creedal time; we are a product of the creedal time, and can’t pry ourselves loose from it. Catholic with a small ‘c’ can mean lots: I mean by it what is universal, always, everywhere, by all. Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant — all who live within orthodoxy.Gnosticism is outside orthodoxy.Your #3 is too big of a question. My point is simpler: we are a product of the whole catholic tradition, including Protestantism and Evangelicalism. We can’t deny it without denying our own story.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Jamie,Your question is a good one, and as you note a big one. There is a very readable book on this called Postmission. One of my former colleagues, Bill Taylor, was involved. It is a book about the frustrations with the younger generation with the older when it comes to missional work. Short, by different authors, and mostly informative at each point. Maybe this can help you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6967765 -the pilgrim-

    quote: “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”Therefore the emerging church ought to get over (or think more carefully about) its ‘anabaptistic’ tendancies and read more deeply into the first generation of the “magisterial reformers”. Protestants who took themselves to be protesting catholics. Who critiqued the “papal party” for being insuficiently catholic. From how I see things right now, the beginings of the anabaptistic Christian tradition was the seedinig of what came to fruition as rank fundamentalism (of the 20th century, close-minded, mean spirited, post “Princetonian” variety). The fundamentalism of the great Princeton theologians seems to me to be of an entirely different fabric than what most people think of when they think of fundamentalism over the last 70 years.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/4660809 Kerry Doyal

    Scot – loved the two parent analogy – good stuff. Paul told – warned – Timothy “watch you life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim. 2). Beliefs & behaviors… makes you want to sing “Trust & Obey.”Of the creeds you wrote: “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. … it makes them the witness of the Spirit in the Church. And who are we to ignore such a witness?”Yes, I hear you. CS Lewis rightly accused us of chronological snobbery. Yet, could some one not have said what you did after the first great creed was crafted some 1600+ years ago? Could it not be a new creed could emerge not as an act of arrogance, but as part of the Spirit’s ongoing witness to the church?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Kerry,Love that comment.Two comments back atcha:first, the great creeds were big church events, out of necessity, and came to a consensus. (Yes, I know the debates.)second, any “new” creed can only be continuous with these great creedal traditions.


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