James Emery White thinks evangelicalism is teetering over a precipice, and his new book — Christ Among the Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges
— probes topics that are in need of serious discussion.
Orthodoxy is one such topic.
Orthodoxy is a shibboleth — that is, it is something that one can either pronounce or not. That is, something one either affirms or does not. In this sense, it has a level of objectivity about it.
It also divides. It also unifies.
White presses into an issue that is at work today: tolerance. He sees three kinds:
Social tolerance: I accept you as a person because you are a person.
Legal tolerance: You have the right to think and believe what you want.
Intellectual tolerance: all ideas are equally valid.
White thinks intellectual tolerance has too much influence among too many evangelicals and it is cutting into the fabric of its integrity, and in particular into its orthodoxy.
But what about Jesus? Did Jesus believe in orthodoxy as a test case to be his follower?
“The idea [for many today] is that Jesus did not have a statement of faith — he was about calling people into trustworthy community as opposed to cognitive assent to abstract propositions” (47).
Let’s pause right here: is it fair to say that Jesus did not believe in propositions? (The word “abstract” is a red herring.) The issue here is did Jesus think someone had to believe something about him — something propositionaizable [no word, I admit, but it might work here] — in order to be a genuine follower?
So what is “orthodoxy”? White: “to be in alignment with the Christian faith as revealed in Scripture and as conveyed in a heritage” (50).
It has to do with determining what is Christian and what is essentially Christian.
Which to me [SMcK] means this: it must be entailed in the gospel. That is, to be orthodox means to be so connected to the gospel that the denial of it means undercutting the gospel itself.