conservative, liberal, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, progressive

The Current State of Affairs

“Good news everyone!” (said in the Professor’s voice from Futurama) I finished all my classes for the semester, which means the school year is over. Yay. Now for those summer readings I signed up for. Doh. However, I do plan on posting some thoughts from the readings which I posted off to the side, right over there —>. So stay tuned for torture, theology and current, progressive Roman Catholic theology.

Now for the real reason for this post. After a year at Union, I find my self in an interesting and expected, but also awkward place. And that is to say, I am stuck between orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice) – the tradition I grew up in and that which my undergrad also espoused in contrast to progressive Christianity taught here at grad school.

First, what really is orthodoxy and orthopraxy?

Orthodoxy today ranges from hard-core fundamentalists to progressive evangelicals (and beyond) and while their doctrine (core tenants of belief and other peripheral beliefs) may differ widely, their common link is through the foundational idea of specific, correct belief (orthodoxy). No matter how much a 1611 King James Only person disagrees with someone from, say Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis, it is a disagreement on what is right, on what to believe.

In orthopraxy creativity and imagination are privileged and exalted, and largely it is a creative imagination that constructs a philosophy and hints at the language used here at Union (“using theology”), rather than an imagination that revisits Christian metaphors in a new, descriptive light (or at least it was that way with some, while others do both – use and revisit for a fresh understanding of belief). I have observed numerous times students employing the word “using” when talking about theology, as though theology is there to lead to an ethic or a specific response that the student desires; theology is an imaginative reasoning that is conditioned from the beginning by a problem and must result in the answer the student is looking for. No wonder theology seems formulaic or tool-like and the aim more about the outcome than on the theology itself – it is. Most simply stated, liberal theology is pragmatic to the core.

I think this idea of theology, reasoning towards a specific conclusion, is what grates on me (however, do not get me wrong, I am not condemning reason at all). Perhaps I am still essentially orthodox in this respect or leaning towards a conservative liberal (whatever that is), but I know I felt far more sympathy and companionship with Pittenger (a process theologian) who covered the Trinity, ecclesiology, revelation, the hypostatic union, miracles, and more, than most process theologians. Pittenger largely stayed within a theological framework, describing the classical Christian images, while appropriating Whitehead and sought to rethink the basic metaphors of the Christian faith (Gary Dorrien, American Theological Liberalism: Volume 3, 198). I can roll with a few process theologians, but most seem to annoy me because they seem out of reach – some are more philosophers than theologians.

On the other hand, orthodoxy has its limits it seems to me. Perhaps orthodoxy and orthopraxy are two sides to the same coin. It seems to me that while I simply want to collapse the categories into each other, maybe I ought to be okay with the mystery and tension without dissolving the dialectic. I suppose the rest of my life will be a conversation between the two sides, I am not sure I could have it any other way, but that does not make it any easier. Its hard to have closure (that is if one ought to) when trying to live in tension.


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