Every so often, I have heard a critique of Paradoxy which runs something like this:
Sounds like you are trying to tell us that
Orthodoxy (the conservative way) is bad;
Orthopraxy (the liberal way) is better;
Paradoxy (your way) is best.
As though “my way” were just “orthopraxy with a twist”… good old liberal Christianity with marketed with just enough orthodox window dressing to suck in a few naive conservatives. Would that it was as simple as that. It would be a lot easier to develop a loyal following if I were willing to take sides.
But I’m not… and for good reason.
Watching conservative and liberal Christians fight so ferociously for their favored positions on any of a variety of issues, you’d think that the two sides had been in their respective bunkers since Jesus Christ rose from the dead. But while the two sides frequently fight over the precise nature of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they haven’t been around nearly that long. In fact, they are relatively recent creations. Constructs of modernity, they arose from the Enlightenment epistimological paradigm of Foundationalism, which is based on the assumption (flawed, I would argue) that human reason, properly harnessed, could achieve absolute objective certainty regarding self-evident, foundational truths.
Even worse, we engage in the same anachronistic projection with the whole idea of orthodoxy, assuming it always meant what we take it to mean today. Ironically, the meaning of the term “orthodoxy” is one thing on which conservative and liberal Christians agree. Ask either side what “orthodoxy” means and odds are you’ll get the same: that “orthodoxy” is a single, uniform, doctrinally-based, and ultimately conservative way of understanding truth. There can only be ONE right way to believe: chose right and you’re in, chose wrong and your out.
Somehow conservative Christians now “own the rights” to orthodoxy, having taken it away from their liberal Christian brothers and sisters without a fight. Truth be told, liberal Christians were happy to let it go, because if their Conservative sisters and brothers wanted it so badly, how good could it be? Rejecting the rigid exclusivity they perceived in conservative Christianity, which they assumed to be inherent in very concept of orthodoxy, they abandoned it and coined a new term, “orthopraxy” (i.e., right practice), to take its place. Orthopraxy meant living by the principles Jesus taught, which they presumed to be universal. The assumption that all religious practices must spring from a common core of spiritual intention may sound inclusive…but is it really? Or is claiming, for example, that the deepest motivation of the Buddhist search for the detachment of Nirvanah must be the same as the Christian motivation in seeking the presence of the living God just another form of spiritual chauvenism.
What I am trying to articulate in Paradoxy is that these two supposedly opposite formulations of orthodoxy — liberal Christian Orthopraxy (Orthodoxy = practicing the ethics of Jesus) on one side and what I have called conservative Christian “Othoproxy” (Orthodoxy = agreeing to doctrinal propositions about Jesus) are a false dichotomy: that they are not mutually exclusive logical opposites but rather that the are the twin truthes of a paradoxy. Or as Niel’s Bohr once put it:
The opposite of a fact
is a falsehood
But the opposite of a profound truth
may well be another profound truth.
I am suggesting that if we recapture the original, literal meaning of orthodoxy, we will find that it is indeed a profound paradox that both includes and transcends conservative Orthoproxy and liberal Orthopraxy. The reason that the primitive orthodoxy of the early Church was so paradoxical is that it was grounded in the deep paradox of the Incarnation: the human-divine nature of Jesus Christ and the triune nature of God.
In Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, “orthodoxy” literally meant “right or fitting praise” (of God) or “appropriate response” (to God). In this incarnational and paradoxical understanding of the term — which I call Paradoxy — orthodoxy is not about accepting propositions about Jesus or imitating the practices — Jesus, but rather about being in relationship with the incarnational paradox that is Jesus Christ, and in making the appropriate response to Christ’s presence. And this understanding puts us in a totally different ball game.
In a sense, it does not “abolish” Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy but rather puts them in their place. Doctrine and practice are not unimportant, but merely secondary. Our beliefs and practices are important, but only to the extent that we understand theat they are not the common ground of our faith but rather the Church’s way of ask “so what’ to the miracle of Emmanuel (“God with us”).