APRIL 18, 2002
The Dilemma of a Faithless Faith
-- James L. Evan
We don't hear much about orthodoxy these days. The notion comes from a time when the church was able to exercise control over the beliefs and practices of its members. The idea of a binding body of religious teaching is simply untenable in the modern world. These days, among Protestants at least, we get together and vote on what we believe.
But that may be changing. In his book, The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis, Robert George, a law professor at Princeton University, seems to suggest there is emerging a new kind of Christian orthodoxy. According to Professor George, the new orthodoxy is characterized by a litany of conservative social issues. The list includes abortion, homosexuality, marriage, euthanasia, and expressions of religion in public. These issues are the new orthodoxy, and they are gradually taking the place of traditional Christian beliefs.
It is no longer sufficient to hold to a traditional view of God, to believe in the incarnation, and to affirm the atoning death of Jesus. We may believe all these things, but if our views on abortion, or homosexuals, or prayer in schools, or even which political party we support is at odds with the new orthodoxy, we're considered unfaithful. This new Christian orthodoxy is also changing the face of traditional gospel ministry. Christian activity is now defined as political activism aimed at crafting a social order that fits in with the issues of the new orthodoxy. In short, the new orthodoxy has become the basis for Christian faithfulness. Inclusion within the community of faith depends on believing the right things about these issues, and doing the right things about those beliefs. Failure to follow the official orthodoxy constitutes heresy and may result in expulsion.
For instance, in January of this year, the National Religious Broadcasters elected Wayne Pederson as their new president. In February, he resigned under pressure. Mr. Pederson was not charged with any moral lapse, or of violating the principles of the NRB. No, his sin was expressing his concern that the NRB should make gospel ministry its primary focus. "We get associated with the far Christian right and marginalized," Pederson said in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "We do have a political orientation, but that should not be what we're known for."
Apparently, political orientation is exactly what the National Religious Broadcasters want to be known for. After Pederson's remarks were made public, several leaders in the NRB, including "Focus on the Family" founder James Dobson, began expressing concern about Pederson continuing as president. While the word heresy was never used of Mr. Pederson, the scent of the new orthodoxy was heavy in the wind that drove him out.
This is a devastating development. Christian beliefs are being systematically redefined as pure political ideology. Worship is being replaced by political rallies. The Scriptures are being replaced with a conservative political agenda. What we are left with is a faith-less faith, emptied of its theological substance, and consequently of its significance.
A return to the old orthodoxy is clearly not the answer to this dilemma. But there is something to be said for Christian beliefs and practice having at least some connection to "the faith once delivered to the saints." In the new orthodoxy, that connection is hard to find.
-- James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, AL. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org