Tuesday, March 24, 2009

326. the atheist bus - orthodoxy vs orthopraxy

I learned from a post on my pastor's blog that a version of the Atheist Bus is going to be making a showing in Seattle and in the comments section of his post there are a bunch of responses (most of them positive last time I checked) to the idea.

In writing about all the money that went into the campaign (and the likely additional money that some church will put up to counter the atheist ads), my pastor jokingly suggest we start a third campaign spearheaded by the website:


A great point which gets at something I've been thinking a lot about lately.

What's more important - orthodoxy or orthopraxy? That is to say, is it more important to believe the right things or to do the right things?

Of course I think the answer is "both" but then what happens if a person only gets one right?

I mean which is "better" or "worse:"

- the athiest who (by the standards of Christianity isn't in line with orthodoxy) works hard to combat global poverty and injustice (and therby practices a kind of orthopraxy)?


- the Christian who believes all the right (orthodox) things but fails to invest in anything outside his own church and his 401k (orthopraxy fail)?

Because behind my pastor's faux-website is the idea that maybe the debate between theism and atheism is a luxury we can't afford right now. There are far more concrete problems in the world that need our attention, our money, our intellect, and our creativity.

And I agree with that wholeheartedly. Which is why I struggle with the orthodoxy/orthopraxy thing.

Again, the ideal is clearly to have both but we can't always have both and so I guess the thing that I struggle with is this:

If doing the right thing is more important than believing the right thing then why "waste time" trying to convert atheists or other non-christians who are doing good work around the world?

Honestly, I'm not sure.

I do have an idea, though I'm not sure how strong it is and I'm even less sure that it's possible to implement.

But it's all I have and so I'll share.

I think orthodoxy is more important BUT I think we need to work on the orthos (right, true, straight) part of the word a lot harder. Because if we truly had right belief then right action (including working for local/global justice) would inevitably follow. That the question, "what's more important, orthodoxy or orthopraxy" even needs to be asked suggests that we're not getting the orthodoxy part right.

In my own personal utopia, here's how things would work.

It starts with this premise. The plan of rescue and redemption, as laid out in the narrative of the Bible and lived out through the life of Christ, is the ideal way to bring about the restoration of the world.

If you don't buy into that premise then everything else falls apart but if you do, then keep reading.

I think it's vitally important to see the primary work of God's revelation in the Bible as one that is about bring healing to a fallen world. Salvation and evangelism is a part of that work, but only a part, not the whole.

With that in mind, here's a kind of grossly oversimplified idea of how I think things should look.

Everyone (christians, non-christans, people of all faiths or non-faiths) who can should work at doing what they can to fight problems like poverty, human trafficking, AIDS, clean water, etc.

Now some groups will be more successful than others and I believe that christians who operate out of an examined, holistic orthodoxy (which includes orthopraxy), informed by the Bible, will be the most successful in the long run. They will be more successful because God's plan is the best one since he's the one that got everything started in the first place. Because of the successes of christians, other groups will sign on to be a part of the Body of Christ (little to no evangelism necessary) and everyone lives happily ever after.

And I realize that's an extremely arrogant scenario to lay out, but if my premise is correct then isn't something like what I lay out a possibility?

And maybe the thorniest part of my idea is the bit where I say that evangelism is only a part of what we as christians are to be about because that's not how things appear in the Bible. In the New Testament, in particular, there are tons of references to preaching the Gospel and people joining The Way.

But here's what I think.

I think the first century church looked a lot like that little scenario I laid out above. When those first new christians believed in the Gospel, they were signing on to a movement to redeem the world - to bring food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, justice to the oppressed. They became christians to be a part of the radical idea that maybe revolution is possible not at the end of a spear but by turning the other cheek, by going the extra mile, by giving up your life in order to save it. And they joined because they saw that the christians' way of doing things was actually working.

So when the NT talks about the apostles preaching the Gospel, what they were preaching was not just accepting Christ, they were talking about accepting the whole of what Christ was about and that included accepting his call and challenge to redeem this fallen world.

And so yes, the NT does talk about evangelism, but where a lot of evangelism falls short today is where it only speaks of believing in Christ - it fails to go on to say that accepting Christ means carrying on his call of redemption and reconciliation. Anything less is missing the point.

I don't know.

This post has veered a log way's off from where it started. I've laid out some pretty bold claims and I've painted them out in broad strokes, failing to build them up in any systematic way.

But it works for me.

Welcome to my world.

Now if only my own version of orthodoxy would lead to more of my own orthopraxy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey there LT,

I realize this is a 1/2-year old post, but I came across it through some searches and wanted to say thanks. To me, this debate isn't so much a "luxury" as you put it, but instead it's a joke that's just gone too far. I have my own opinions and have drifted further and further away from orthodoxy, but I have doubted so much less my responsibility to do good actions.

So, thanks again. Take care.