Support the Café

Search our Site

Observations on “orthodox” Christianity

Observations on “orthodox” Christianity

We follow Bishop Greg Brewer on Twitter and yesterday he had this to say:

Intrigued, we followed the link:

The post is by James K.A. Smith and Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College and Editor of Comment magazine. Here are some of his observations on “orthodox Christianity” –

Contrast this with most invocations of “orthodox Christianity” today. In some contexts, the use of the word “orthodox” seems to have nothing to do with these historic markers of Christian faith.  Indeed, in many cases “orthodox Christianity” means only one thing: a particular view of sexuality and marriage. Indeed, in some books of late, the adjective “orthodox” is only invoked when talking about morality, and sexual morality in particular.  In fact, in some of those books the historic markers of orthodox Christianity as summarized in the creeds make no appearance and almost seem irrelevant to the analysis.  So when people are said to suffer for their “orthodox” beliefs, or when we are told that “orthodox” Christians will be hounded from public life and persecuted in their professions, a closer reading shows that it is not their beliefs in the Trinity, Incarnation, Virgin Birth, or Resurrection that occasion these problems, but rather their beliefs about morality, and sexual morality in particular.  There don’t seem to be any bakers refusing to bake cakes for atheists, and I’ve yet to hear of Silicon Valley CEOs being fired because they affirm the Incarnation of the Son or the resurrection of the dead.

I note this only to observe that this deployment of the term “orthodox” is recent, innovative, and narrow.  Ironically, it reflects a trait of modernity that those who use it would abhor: a tendency to reduce Christianity to a morality (see: Kant).  One could forgive Martian anthropologists who, parachuting into contemporary debates, concluded that “orthodox Christianity” just is a sexual ethic.

But it is surely also worth pointing out that conciliar standards of orthodoxy do not articulate such standards. If the adjective “orthodox” is untethered from such ecumenical standards, it quickly becomes a cheap epithet we idiosyncratically attach to views and positions in order to write off those we disagree with as “heretics” and unbelievers.  If “orthodox” becomes an adjective that is unhooked from these conciliar canons, then it becomes a word we use to make sacrosanct the things that matter to “us” in order to exclude “them.”  And then you can start folding all kinds of things into “orthodoxy” like mode of baptism or pre-tribulation rapture or opposition to the ordination of women–which then entails writing off swaths of Christians who affirm conciliar orthodoxy.

Read it all.

Added: Giving Smith the last word,

wherein he retweets this tweet,


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JC Fisher

I hate to quote myself, but…

Just here

we were told “changing what “the Church” is to the extent that the Episcopal Church (TEC) have done would reasonably suggest to us that the original builders/gift makers would likely not recognize TEC as “the Church.”

And my question was: when did TEC drop the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (about as “orthodox” as one could wish for—w/o kissing the ring of the Bishop of Rome, I suppose).

Then again, that’s what that whole erstwhile “Anglican Covenant” thing was about: a way to FORCE homophobia into an “orthodox” definition of Anglicanism. Thank God (Hallelujah!) a critical mass of Anglicans, worldwide, weren’t having it…

JC Fisher

John A Miller

I was asked to be a reference for a priest being considered for a new call. I was asked by the interviewer if the priest was “orthodox” and I answered promptly and without hesitation, “Of course he is!” Only later did I discover that the term “orthodox” was local code for “racist, homophobic, and misogynistic.” He got the job, but didn’t last long!

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café