More on Wheaton

Well, I’m glad that Al commented on the last post to clarify that the fellow theologians don’t consider me a real theologian. I wonder if that has more to do with the powerpoint, or that I haven’t finished my dissertation (or that I didn’t wear a tie). At least Ken Silva has the cojones to call me an anti-theologian. (In fact, I think I like that title!) My thoughts on academic guilds are well known, and it does not surprise me that they esteem me not.

My “paper” went for a bit over an hour, then there were about 40 minutes worth of questions before Vince Bacote and I finally had to cut it off. I’ll likely publish a version of that paper somewhere, sometime, so I’m not ready to give it all away here. But, the gist of it was that I said that orthodoxy doesn’t “exist.” Instead, orthodoxy is an event, in the Derridean/Caputoean sense. That is, orthodoxy happens when human beings get together and practice it (talk about God, worship God, pray to God, write books about God, etc.). There’s no orthodoxy somewhere out there that one can point to and say, “See that? That’s orthodoxy. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”

The thrust of the conference was to talk ancient-future, to bring the patristics to bear on the present. I argued that the way we are faithful the Fathers (and Mothers, and the many marginalized voices in the history of the church) is to be conversant with them as we are attempting to be faithful in our time and place. I suggested that the Council of Chalcedon, for instance, was a messy, political event that eventuated in the “orthodox” rendering of Jesus the Christ as two substances, one person. Now, I don’t reject that articulation of Christ, but I do want to acknowledge that it was a human and political process that resulted in that event of orthodoxy.

I received some comments during the Q&A time, as well as a couple of emails, all suggesting the same thing: I’m opening the door to liberalism. One emailer has asked if I’ve not abdicated all realism to the infinite deferral of deconstruction. But, like he said in his email, liberalism and conservativism are two sides of the same coin. They both rest on foundationalist assumptions that I reject. So I see no fear of sliding into some kind of neo-liberalism.

I used the analogy of a baseball umpire who has to call balls and strikes during a game. While the rulebook declares what will constitute a strike, and the umpire can quote that definition verbatim, there is really no such thing as a strike until the ball is thrown and the umpire declares it. I asserted that, though the Major League strike zone does not accord exactly with the rule book, there will not come a time when batters will be required to swing at pitches over their heads. The community of baseball (umps, managers, batters, pitchers, catchers, fans, and MLB officials) all hold the strike zone in a dialectical tension.

Similarly, Christian orthodoxy is held in tension by you, me, the Pope and Benny Hinn — by all 2.2 billion of us. Plus, we’re also listening to the interpretations of those who’ve gone before us — the church fathers. (Sadly, we don’t have the voices of the mothers and the slaves to guide us, but we’re getting better at that.) As such, I do not consider the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed a perfect articulation of the Christian faith. They are remnants of our liturgical past, and, as such, they carry much hermeneutical weight. However, they as limited as all human language is limited.

My best argument that the “strike zone” of orthodoxy will hold is the 2,000 year history of the church. From the Early Church through the Conciliar Age, from the Dark Ages, through the Middle Ages, the Scholastics, the Reformation, the Modern Era, and until now, the worldwide community of faith has adjusted the strike zone, but also guarded it. Now, wrested from the hands of ecclesial elites and placed in the hands of bloggers and “laypersons,” the same thing will happen: we will all work out our orthodoxy together.

  • josh

    that’s the stuff dude. that’s definitely smart enough for some stuffy academics. there just too stuffy to appreciate it. beautiful.

  • Matt Wilcoxen

    Nice Tony,We’ll all just work out our thing that “doesn’t exist” together. That’s anti-profound. Then we can eat the food that doesn’t exist, and breathe the air that isn’t there. Life-changingly absurd.-MW

  • Matt Cleaver

    MW – First, I could be completely wrong, and I don’t want to give any impression of speaking for Tony. But, it seems to me that Tony isn’t saying that orthodoxy doesn’t exist at all, but that it’s existence isn’t “out there” somewhere in an Aristotelian sense, but is rather found “here” within the practice of the church. Thus, orthodoxy takes on the, what appears to be, more concrete shape that actually bears more semblance to actual food we eat and air we breathe (event) than an ideal form of a chair “out there somewhere” (ideal form).I’m not well read in Derrida or Caputo to know if I’m interpreting the “event” correctly enough, so if not I guess I’ll make it my own thesis.

  • Rick

    tony, i really like reading your stuff, and i think you make a great point. does paul talking about “we see through a glass darkly” apply here? it seems to me it does, and so any definition of orthodoxy, or any systematic theology (there’s been lots of those, and i think many people see the inherent problem with _that_ area) will be liable to the same difficulty.

  • James

    tony, i really like this line of thought because i don’t want orthodoxy to be something that is owned by old, dead people. i think, just as god and christ and the church is alive – so can orthodoxy be…for me – this is already a fine way of looking at orthodoxy. the challenge – again, for me – is in knowing how much weight to give to old writings and to current voices and to personal experiences and to scripture.thanks for the post – looking forward to the published paper :)J<

  • Ken Archer

    Tony,I agree with everything you wrote, except “in the Derridean/Caputoean sense”, which makes it sound like Derrida and post-structuralists were the only ones for whom truth is most present when it is lived and articulated, and not when it sits on paper as a group of words. When you reduce the sense in which truth is an event to event “in the Derridean/Caputoean sense”, you lose any necessary connection between historical events of orthodoxy and our own events (such that the people agreeing with you will primarily be those who “don’t want orthodoxy to be something that is owned by old, dead people”).Maybe a better example than a strike zone, is an ornate cathedral that Christians describe through the ages. As the cathedral has so many levels of ornate detail, no event of description owns the cathedral, but each subsequent event makes distinctions upon the earlier descriptions that bring out new depths of truth about the cathedral. Thus, active engagement with the cathedral is needed for one’s descriptions to be really orthodox, that is, faithful to the cathedral. However, engagement with the most revealing previous descriptions of the cathedral (whether from poets who visited it or from the journals of workers who built it) that together have formed a “canon” in regard to the cathedral is indispensable to really seeing all one can see in the cathedral.

  • Chris Enstad

    Ok look, I’ve made this point over and over again and no one ever engages it. The protestant reformation began over these very issues and ours is not the first generation to try to hammer out our “orthodoxy”. It’s also ironic that the evangelical movement is so full of these “ecclesial elites” when the baptist tradition was supposed to not be about that, wasn’t it?Your friend,Chris Enstad

  • Roger Saner

    Thanks Tony – I like your idea here – and also your rejection of the possibility of sliding in liberalism given a new (?) understanding of orthodoxy.

  • Beloved

    Thanks for the recap.I imagine that most thinking folks, if they allowed themselves to, would concur that “orthodoxy” is an event, or should I say, a string of events potentially resulting in a culmination of some sort. But the thing is, that is the “edge” most people do not dare approach, let alone peer over.Several posts ago, I resurrected the dialogue between objectivity and subjectivity, reasoning that, in matters of immaterial, transient “truth”, objectivity is literally impossible. The goal in pursuing this type of truth–ideological truth–is not to do so objectively (since that is not even an option), but to reduce the amount of “interference” or “noise”, which imperil the reasonableness with which we attempt to interpret our “subjects”. I find the human capacity to reason undeniably preeminent over any sort of revelation, whether Creation, Scripture, vision, the voice of God–as least so far as human perception is concerned. What good would these manifestations be to someone who is–pardon my coarseness–blind and deaf, mentally or otherwise incapable of processing them? I don’t mean to confuse reason with Reason, that is, systematic Reason. But they are closely akin.Whether or not an ultimate reality exists “out there” is irrelevant to us if we cannot hope to perceive it. Put another way, all that matters to us is what we can perceive. And if indeed we are able to perceive it, then it makes all the difference in the world.Ironically, this has yet to lead me down the “liberal” path. I’ve been to the deconstructive valley of despair… and survived, stronger, healthier than before. In my experience, like that of William Elliot (anyone read Falling Into the Face of God?), the “peace that surpasses all understanding” and freedom to fully explore God has climaxed since “going over my edge”–of facing the fact that although the “faith system” of the Bible is not objectively proveable, it is subjectively verifiable enough to matter to me. It makes the most sense out of life for me. It brings the totality of my being to life. And it renders me completely, willingly, joyfully surrendered to its demands on my life.How crazy is that?!

  • Pastor Paul Carley

    Tony if you hold academia in such low esteem, why are you pursuing a Phd. Why not just study for the sake of it without the letters?.Paul in Ireland

  • Anonymous

    Regardless of Tony’s tone, he isn’t an academic outsider; ivy-league undergrad, Fuller Seminary, and now Princeton. Tony’s a bright guy. Sometimes its just more convenient to play the victim. ;)

  • sam andress

    Benny Hinn? Tony…now you’ve gone too far:)!

  • Rustin S

    Tony,The ‘strike-zone’ is a great metaphor! It can be pushed a bit further – a great pitcher who can “hit his spot” gets a little love from the ump when he throws just off the plate. The assumption is that the skilled pitcher is throwing where he intends to throw and therefore what might be a ball for a pitcher with no control is a strike for a Cy Young candidate.The point here is that we can let our best and brightest push the edges a bit without sending them to the bench after one inning – and with a little grace from the “baseball community” we might see some brilliant pitching.

  • Cliff

    I really like the line of thinking here, to a point. But I have a couple challenges:I wonder if your view isn’t all that different from the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ arguments being put out by Web 2.0 types. The problem I see is how we tell the difference between the wisdom of the crowd and the madness of the mob?I think it might be just a little arrogant to assume that our orthodoxy is guided by a kind of composite reasoning. Where is God in all this?

  • Anonymous

    Jones writes, “we will all work out our orthodoxy together.”Will we though? It seems it would be more accurate to write, “we will all work out our orthodoxy on our own” – which is pretty much what the protestant tradition does (and has done).Unless, of course, you are like me and within the catholic tradition (or perhaps the eastern orthodox as well), then your statement would stand. … and I’m not sure one who considers ‘the strikezone of orthodoxy’ to be ecclessial histroy (i.e. church tradition), isn’t a operating from within a catholic tradition. I’ve made my prediction many years ago when I stepped foot inside the ‘new’ church in Linden hills (Solomons porch first year in existence) that is, my prediciton then was, “if this so-called ‘movement’ continues along its current trajectory (which I think it has remained quite faithful to)it will simply lead to (or back to) the catholic tradition) – which is not a bad thing at all.-The Mad Hatter

  • Smitty J

    ok – someone wrote the following,”he isn’t an academic outsider; ivy-league undergrad, Fuller Seminary, and now Princeton.”Let’s not kid ourselves folks. Ok, I’ll give an ivy-league undergrad (dartmouth is it? is that really an ivy-league school? – doesn’t matter, it’s a good school regardless) school its due…but Fuller? Please – hardly a school of academic esteem. It’s a “seminary” – at not a great one at that.PRinceton? Hardley. Let’s not confuse Princeton University (which is a 1st class academic instituion) with Princeton Theological Seminary (of which Tony attends)…PTS is on par with Fuller. I.E. not impressiveCarry-on folks

  • Doubting Thomas

    Orthodoxy as an Event – Fun to think, but it doesn’t quite satisfy. Events are singular; orthodoxy is usually defined by appeal to a tradition. It nevertheless does succeed in capturing the idea that the content of orthodoxy shifts as we grapple with it. The Cathedral metaphor also fails – it assumes that there is a concrete and enduring body of thought that we will all see in pretty much the same things once a feature is called to our attention. You might as well say that God is an old man with a white beard – misplaced concreteness. I prefer to think that God rested on the 7th day, and that the process of creation resumed on the 8th day, and we are to be the stewards of his creation. It means that we have to grow, intellectually and spiritually, and as the rules that might be necessary for children change as they mature, our orthodoxy needs to mature also.As long as Tony is dipping into Foucault, he might sniff of the Bordieu. Doxa is a state of unconscious consenses. Once heterodoxy emerges, doxa is no longer possible – the issues have risen to the level of conscious thought. I’m probably misremembering, but I think he said that orthodoxy is the struggle to return to doxa (which is of course near impossible). You can probably find a better exposition of his thought with a web search. The path of a spiritual leader, then, would not be to attempt to force orthodoxy, but to trace out the path of a strange attractor within the phase-space of heterodoxy, to shape the unfolding of belief in time. A spiritual leader like, oh just for example, say Jesus? (He didn’t waste a lot of time on orthodoxy, did he?)

  • Ken Archer

    Bordieu is a model for real engagement across the tradition, from Aristotle to contemporary thought. I think his insightful integration of habitus and doxa actually supports the Cathedral metaphor. The Cathedral is the objective reality that people in different ages engage in the way only humans can engage things (habitus is specific to humans, recalling Heidegger’s claim that man is the spokesperson of Being). Their subjective response, then, (e.g. doxa) cannot be entirely wrong, but always presents the Cathedral in an interplay of presence and absence. So, the “old man with a white beard” view of God contains much more absence than presence, nonetheless this view does present some things that are true of God. Anthropomorphic presentations of God need not be wrong just as Greek myths and great works of fiction aren’t mere myths or simply stories. How do we know that this particular view of God contains more absence than presence? Because it doesn’t reveal for you or I the presence of God we have experienced. Likewise, it has not entered the canon of theological thought, which represents the reflections that the democracy of the dead have agreed present God in most presence.


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