The Orthodoxy of Humility

The Orthodoxy of Humility February 7, 2013

I have heard it said that all prayer is heresy, but God in His infinite love magnetically draws our badly misdirected arrows directly to his heart.

Having always considered myself to be a faithful follower of the way of Christ, I have called myself “Christian,” I have called myself “evangelical”. I have considered myself orthodox. As I have continued to grow, I have begun to see that the labels I have worn have very different meanings for different folks. I used to think the slice of the Christian pie that I was reared on was the whole pie; and that my ways of thinking about God and Christ were the right ways. This mindset, that I am all too familiar with, is known as “dualistic thinking”; for my conclusions to be correct, if somebody differs with me, they are wrong. If my beliefs about Jesus differ from someone else’s beliefs about Jesus, one of us has to be wrong. And, because the group I have been a part of agrees with my perspective and my point of view, then I must be right, and other perspectives must be wrong. The problem with this equation is that the other person across the table from me who differs has a group behind them that agrees with them, and they think I am wrong.

So if we were to use the big, scary word “orthodoxy”, which simply means “right thinking” (ortho = right, doxy = thinking) then there would be two orthodoxies sitting at that table – mine and theirs.

Now I have no delusion that I could solve the problem that some of you might be thinking, which is, there can only be one right. Which is right? Which is wrong? Which is orthodox? Which is unorthodox? Here, I would like to elevate the conversation rather than degenerate itThis is where I contend for an orthodoxy of humility.

By humility, I refer to the recognition that my best thinking, and my groups’ best thinking, is limited to a point of view – to a perspective. For me to sit in judgment of another’s beliefs is to take on the role of referee which falsely elevates my perspective over another.

Let’s take a tangible example. I have a close friend that doesn’t believe in a physical resurrection of Jesus. I on the other hand believe in a physical resurrection. Were I to degenerate the conversation into statements of orthodoxy as it has been typically used, I would be left with a black and white decision that that person is a heretic and does not really know Jesus (sadly, this is a typical conclusion in this type of didactic).

The reason I would come to this conclusion is because in the black and white pseudo-orthodox dialogue, the chronic lack of humility only leads to division and accusation. Whereas, if I were able, and I am thankful in a growing measure I can, hear the sincerity of their perspective, and if we were willing, we could see their sincere love of God and Jesus then does it really matter if we disagree? Do we need in any way to correct their thinking? Or, rather than attempting to correct, what if we were attempting to engage? To learn? And to offer our perspective as a perspective?

Here are a few questions for us to consider regarding our thoughts on orthodoxy. Is God really waiting for us to get our theology right? Or, is He eager for us to learn to love through the diversity of thought about Him, to allow our differences to create more dialogue because we humbly recognise that I might be wrong, too? Some might say I am watering down theology with these statements, I think rather I am creating an environment for robust theological discussion, where controlling words like “orthodoxy” are no longer used as weapons.

Rather, we all sincerely struggle together to discover what we truly want – which is a living, vibrant, loving encounter with God, ourselves and others. It doesn’t require me to let go of my beliefs or thoughts on theology; it allows me to wrestle with them on deeper levels where I move beyond fear and into the place of grace; where finally in the end we will all discover that all of our best thinking was far off the mark of what actually was and is.

Coming back to the words mentioned earlier that all prayer is heresy, but God in his infinite love magnetically draws our badly misdirected arrows directly to his heart, what is prayer if not theological thinking directed to God in personal dialogue?

Simply replace the word “prayer” for our words with “theology”. All theology is heresy, but God in His infinite love magnetically draws our badly misdirected arrows directly to His heart.

Please don’t miss the “all” part. I would suggest we not give up on the word “orthodoxy,” we just simply re-frame it. We re-frame it in love which is always humble, always kind.

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  • Bill Gebhardt

    Could it be said that orthodoxy is nothing more than a litmus test given by the gatekeeper of some like-minded group trying to keep the group pure? Given the plurality of faiths – and “Christianity” – is it not better to replace orthodoxy with “It doesn’t work for me, but if it works for you, wonderful.” After all, doesn’t God love both of us.

  • Kevin Fusher

    Sean, your article really struck a cord with me. Funny thing happened the other week; I am a hairdresser in the UK. A guy from Bolivia came in for a haircut and we had a conversation about the world politically becoming ‘multi-polar’. His reasoning being the economic growth in South America, China etc means the west and the US in particular is no longer the dominant world view. Equally no one denominational view holds sway. Today I received an article about Christian terminology and definitions (fundamentalist/mainstream etc) the four players according to article are Catholic, Pentecostal, Evangelical and Orthodox. So that is four polarizations! Then bring in the don’t go to churchers… For myself as an active participant in the type of conversation you describe I have come to the following conclusions: Christians historically and habitually use rhetoric and polemic to discuss faith. Rhetoric is all about winning an arguement, polemics seeks to blow the opposition away, neither works. A third way is dialectics, truth emerging in discussion from various viewpoints. I am not good at dialectics and I need to learn humility! With regard to theology it will always be a provisional view open to question….

  • I certainly tend toward the be humble about your views even when you are sure they are righ approach. How many times in my 70 years have I been sure I was right only to find out that I was partly right in what turned out to be a much bigger picture of reality than I had known so far? Why would the future be any different concerning where I am now? “Looking through a glass darkly” seems to be biblically orthodox and was said by a pretty direct writer.

    Having said all of this, we do need to remember that this “humble viewpoint” approach is the orthodoxy of quite a few of us in our modern western culture, and we are not always very humble about it — especially when we are responding to people making more absolute kinds of statements. We do need to remember that their absolutist statements which are often no more absolutist than the statement absolutist manner in which we sometimes say that humble viewpoints are the only right ones.

    And, to be clear, Sean your article does NOT strike me as that kind of arrogance. Thanks!

  • Thanks for the great comments. Each one has brought a great new dimension to the conversation. A couple thoughts emerge as a result. I do still like the word Orthodoxy, but only in that it continues to remind me that, for me to be practicing “right thinking” I must hold onto a humble recognition that I see only part of the much bigger picture. But the part I behold when added to a conversation is a valid and important perspective, that can help in a growing discovery of Gods love and presence with us. The other thought is much more simple I am thankful to have been released from a heavy burden. I don’t have to get it right, just honest.