Humble Orthodoxy, Not Arrogant Orthodoxy and Not Humble Heterodoxy

Greg Strand – May 30, 2013 2 Comments

One of the EFCA distinctives is that we “embrace a humble orthodoxy in partnership with others of like faith.” This is explained further:

We believe in the spiritual unity of the Church though not necessarily in structural union. We join with other Christians and other denominations of like, precious faith in common goals and ministries to accomplish the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. But we believe that there is strength in diversity and that it is important to preserve our distinctives. We recognize that union in structure does not guarantee unity of spirit.  Our foremost concern is unity of spirit with our Lord, with each other and with other Christians.

The key expression is “humble orthodoxy.” In a sense, it is an improper adjective to use with orthodoxy, because orthodoxy is a body of doctrine, of truth, so it is inappropriate to refer to it as “humble.” But the expression was chosen intentionally to emphasis the manner in which orthodoxy is to be held. In fact, the degree to which we understand and live by orthodox truth is the degree to which we will be humble!

On the one hand, there is no place for arrogance among those who affirm orthodoxy/truth. So the expression “arrogant orthodoxy” would truly be an oxymoron as the two just do not go together. Sadly, they ought not go together, and in principle they do not, but they often do in practice. But, on the other hand, neither is there any place for “humble heterodoxy,” so that one accommodates any and every belief so that there is no solid doctrinal ground upon which to stand.

I greatly appreciate the words of Michael J. Kruger, “Christian Humility and the World’s Definition of Humility.”

Christians are humble because their understanding of truth is not based on their own intelligence, their own research, their own acumen. Rather, it is 100% dependent on the grace of God. Christian knowledge is a dependent knowledge. And that leads to humility (1 Cor. 1:31). This obviously doesn’t mean all Christians are personally humble. But, it does mean they should be, and have adequate grounds to be.

This is also reflected in Joshua Harris’ new book: Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2013). It is an expansion of the final chapter in his book, Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010). He notes, which is the title of the book, that we need to embrace a humble orthodoxy. Harris explains it in this way:

Christians need to have a strong commitment to sound doctrine. We need to be courageous in our stand for biblical truth. But we also need to be gracious in our words and interactions with other people. (3-4)

truth matters . . . but so does our attitude. This is what I mean by humble orthodoxy: we must care deeply about truth, and we must also defend and share this truth with compassion and humility. (5)

We need to care about orthodoxy and right thinking about who God is and how he saves through Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy matters. . . . genuine love and humility of heart before God and other people are essential. Humility matters. We don’t get to choose between humility and orthodoxy. We need both. (5-6)

Harris contrasts humble orthodoxy with two alternatives: arrogant orthodoxy and humble heterodoxy.

there’s arrogant orthodoxy. It’s possible to be right in our doctrine but be unkind and unloving, self-righteous and spiteful in our words and behavior. . . . we learn to rebuke like Jesus but not love like Jesus. (6-7)

Another popular opinion is humble heterodoxy. Heterodoxy is a departure from orthodoxy. So a person who is humbly heterodox abandons some of the historic Christian beliefs but is a really nice person who you’d enjoy having coffee with. (7)

Harris asks a couple of questions.

When I think about arrogant orthodoxy, I have to ask, does good doctrine necessarily lead to being argumentative and arrogant? And when I think about humble heterodoxy, my question is, do humility and kindness and engagement with our culture have to involve watering down our convictions? I think the answer to both questions is no. We can – and we need to – embrace a humble orthodoxy. (7-8)

As he often did, G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908; repr., Garden City, NY: Image, 1959), 31), also speaks directly to this issue during his age, which sound very similar to our age:

What we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth.

Humble orthodoxy . . . Let’s doubt ourselves; let’s be undoubting of the truth!

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

2 responses to Humble Orthodoxy, Not Arrogant Orthodoxy and Not Humble Heterodoxy

  1. Greg, I want to thank you for all the time you spend on this blog. There are many more of us “out here” who are reading it who don’t take the time to respond. You bring up many relevant and helpful “issues” and “conversations”–some of which I haven’t thought about, but should. You obviously do a lot of reading and I appreciate the opportunity of “gleaning” from your “investment.” Keep on brother!

    • Thank you for your kind and gracious words, Wayne. As one serving the Lord and the church through a denominational office, I find great joy and delight in being able to serve those of you on the front-lines of ministry in the local church with helpful and important biblical and theological resources. May God be praised!

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