Focusing on the practices of the church is all the rage these days.  Professor Smith’s excellent and thought provoking book is only the latest volley in a long list of theologians attempting to reorient the center of Christianity away from its doctrinal content.

Standing against the tide is Nicholas Healy, who offers some interesting cautions in his article, “Practices and the New Ecclesiology:  Misplaced Concreteness?”  Healy’s article is older–2003–but he does a nice job of highlighting some of the troubles that arise through viewing Christianity as constituted by its practices.

Healy’s leading critique is that the language of practices obscures the central role intentions play in both individual and communal actions.  His central thrust is that the emphasis on practices fails to account for why they fail to shape us in the ways proponents claim they should.  In other words, the Mainline Protestantism problem.

But his more trenchant critique is the theological one:  most accounts of practices (and specifically Stanley Hauerwas) fail to locate the practices of the church beneath the doctrine of God. He writes:

In order
that church practices and the theory that supports them may be properly modified
for Christian theological use, they need to be brought within a broader theological
context. Put another way, we need to recover the traditional notion that, while
theology is indeed a thoroughly practical form of inquiry, it must proceed on the
basis of contemplation.57 We need, in short, as we need from Hütter, a more robust
Practices and the New Ecclesiology 301
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2003
55 Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe, p. 212.
56 Developing such an account within which to talk about the church and its practices does
not necessarily resolve the questions I have raised here, of course. Robert Jenson locates
his ecclesiology within a well-developed doctrine of God in his Systematic Theology
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997–9). Whether or not one goes along with his
argument, he is to be commended for making it possible properly to assess his version
of the new ecclesiology.
57 In ‘Hooks: Random Thoughts’, p. 93, Hauerwas says that he believes ‘that theological
claims are practical from beginning to end’. While that is true, I think he would agree
that our claims are often not directly practical, but need to be construed, and thus ordered
and located, in such a way that their practical import may be properly appreciated by
the church and its members.
account of the doctrine of God – the triune God – as the starting-point for
ecclesiological reflection.

In order that church practices and the theory that supports them may be properly modified for Christian theological use, they need to be brought within a broader theological context. Put another way, we need to recover the traditional notion that, while theology is indeed a thoroughly practical form of inquiry, it must proceed on the basis of contemplation.  We need, in short, as we need from Hütter, a more robust account of the doctrine of God – the triune God – as the starting-point for ecclesiological reflection.

And:

Without such an account, the new ecclesiology may seem too reliant upon an overly abstract and thus flawed philosophical and sociological apparatus. As a consequence, it becomes rather too easy to interpret the emphasis upon the church and its practices as if it reflects the view that Christianity is all about being Christian, and the gospel is broadly identifiable with the church’s practices and doctrines. A Christian is one who is disciplined by the church’s practices so as to be transformed into the visible communal embodiment of the Gospel. The objective component of witness, that to which one witnesses, is thereby confused with the subjective component, the form of witness. It may then seem to those less than charitably disposed to the new ecclesiology that it has made a turn to a communal subject constituted by its particular set of abstract practices. Like the earlier turn to the experience of the individual subject, which it is intended to counter, this turn also threatens to collapse the object of faith into ourselves. Our proclamation becomes rather too much about us and what we over-optimistically think we do. The message becomes rather too easily identified with an ideal account of the medium.

Healy wants to account for embodied practices within the working of the Holy Spirit, but not tie the Holy Spirit’s working to those practices, lest we be unable to account for Mainline Protestantism.

While I think Professor Smith escapes the first critique by focusing on liturgies and not practices, and on what’s done in the practices and not what’s meant by them, I think the second has some force for his project.  Or it at least I think it provides a more promising solution to the Mainline Protestantism progblem than the one he hints at in a footnote.  From page 208:

At this point, I suggest that my account of secular liturgies might be able to provide a framework for explaining why the practices of Christian worship don’t seem to transform those who participate in them.  For instance, I can think of a congregation gathering week in and week out for historic, intentional Christian worship that includes all the elements discussed here; and yet, from the perspective of shalom, some of its parishoners are unapologetic and public participants in some of the most egregious systemic injustices.  Does that falsify my claims here?  I don’t think so, at least not necessarily.  Rather, we will need a more nuanced account of how some liturgies trump others; in this case, we could suggest that though these parishoners participate in Christian worship, their participation in other secular liturgies effectively trumps the practices of Christian worship.  Such a line of investigation might also require that we attend to empirical realities, drawing on a theologically informed psychology, sociology, and ethnography.”

I honestly don’t know what to make of the suggestion that some liturgies could possibly trump a liturgy where we encounter God in Himself, given to us.  But more significantly, Smith’s solution strikes me as a horizontal one–we need to identify and eradicate those liturgies that are stifling the working of the Triune God.  When, in fact, it seems that our problems start at the top.  If our practices are not changing us, we might do best to look at the way we are performing them and our understanding of God that undergirds them.

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • I.J. Reilly

    When I was Protestant this was one of the primary issues that led me to serious reflection about the veracity of Protestantism as a whole. I take it that the nature and essence of the Church does not change. The deposit of faith was given once for all. What Jesus and the Apostles established is normative and authoritative for all time. The fact that all of the Fathers believed both the episcopacy and Apostolic Succesion to be Apostolic in origin, and which are both intrinsic to the Church, made me rethink everything I had presumed as fundamentally true.

    Why should I listen to a 21st century academic pontificating a ‘new ecclesiology’ when I have Ignatius of Antioch and Ireneus bearing witness to what all the Fathers accepted as authoritative? These were 1st and 2nd generation disciples of the Apostles themselves. They all believed the Apostles understood there to be One Visible Church in the earth and that Christ promised the gates of hell would not prevail against her (Calvin was the first to posit a merely invisible Church of the elect). It seemed to me that perhaps all one need do is find that Church.

    Best,
    I.J.

  • s-p

    “…we need to identify and eradicate those liturgies that are stifling the working of the Triune God. When, in fact, it seems that our problems start at the top. If our practices are not changing us, we might do best to look at the way we are performing them and our understanding of God that undergirds them.”

    Doesn’t this beg the question: “How can we know these things”? What is “stifling the working of God” and what is “changing us” are subjective at best and totally solipsistic at worst. Isn’t this what has given us 4 services a Sunday morning from “traditional” to “what the heck”, each claiming to be and accusing the others of being just those things… and all flowing from a “right understanding of what God is and what He wants”? If one submits worship to “orthodoxy” and not just dogmatics, then the question I think I.J. is posing is “how far back are you willing to submit?”.

  • Guys,

    I love me some tradition….but I am a Protestant, so go easy on me. : )

    That said, I think Healy is actually Catholic. So that’s worth noting.

    But I’m not sure why we’re going down “Whose tradition?” road. It seems like there are questions of ecclesiology that can be worked out independently of that one, even between people who locate “Tradition” in different places in their ecclesiology. After all, simply saying, “Our tradition gets the practices right (if that’s the claim), so come on over” doesn’t in fact explain WHY those practices are right or more efficacious or superior in whatever way we want to call it.

    But S-P, I don’t think that the language of “stifling the working of God” and “changing us” is all that problematic, or even inherently subjective or solipsistic. The “fruit of the spirit,” after all, have a public character that is identifiable as the fruit of the Spirit. So I don’t see the specter of individualism (though that shouldn’t be a dirty word, either!) lurking. At least not yet.

    matt

  • I.J.Reilly

    By definition tradition means a handing over. Therefore Apostolic Tradition is what the Apostles passed on. If we can ground our ecclesiology, especially in first principles, in Apostolic Tradition shouldn’t that be normative for all the faithful?

    The answers provided by Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Irenaeus seem to me to bear clear witness to the authority of the episcopacy and apostolic succession. This is certainly consistent with the New Testament and is ubiquitous in the Fathers.

    I felt this was compelling and far more credible than Calvin’s proposal that the Church is the invisible society of the elect, which is the basic ecclesiology of all of Protestantism. Calvin also was driven to this formula by necessity, not a good way to determine doctrine.

    Am I really to believe that it took Calvin to discover that this was the nature of the Church, especially in light of the formidable and consistent witness of so many disciplined minds in history? Augustine and Aquinas missed this?

    Best,
    I.J.

  • I.J.,

    My point is simply that there are other ways of looking at the question of ecclesiology other than that of Tradition, such as the relationship between the “Church” (however we want to define that) and the doctrine of God.

    There’s nothing in the post that necessitates making this an issue of the Protestant “invisibility of the church.” Which is why I pointed out that Healy is Catholic. If he can have this conversation without making everything about Protestantism versus Catholicism (or Orthodoxy, or anything else), we should find that instructive for how we dialog about the issue.

    One point about Healy’s essay: in the final section, he actually articulates Aquinas’ view of the church as a solution to the orientation around practices. So I think he’s okay on that front.

    matt

    Best,

    matt

  • stirfrymojo

    I.J., from what you say I gather that you believe the worship of a sincere believer in the Catholic liturgy is more pleasing to God than any other. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood–please let me know if I have. But out of curiosity, if we were to compare an insincere/bored believer’s rendition of the liturgy to a sincere believer’s non-liturgical worship, which would you say is more pleasing to God?

  • s-p

    Matt and sfm, The “worship wars” are tough to engage without sounding “triumphalistic” or condescending, especially when someone knows your tradition. One of the things that the EO apologists don’t readily acknowledge is that the EO has had innovations and changes in worship from day one, but they are informed by and structured around a core of what it believes to be an apostolic foundation. I don’t know if one form or style of worship is “more pleasing to God” than another, or if God is happier with someone who “gets something” out of a particular type of service. I’ll be the first to admit the EO liturgy is often tedious, repetitive and difficult to attend to for me. It is spiritual work to worship sometimes. I agree that our theology of God and by extention our anthropology (I believe our view of God truly determines our anthropology whether we realize it or not) will in a significant way, determine our understanding of worship, its forms and their meanings and purpose for the human being.

  • I.J. Reilly

    Matt: I guess the purpose of dialogue for me is to arrive at the truth; and in order to arrive at the truth of these questions one must proceed from an “orthodox” ecclesiology.

    The fact that I know both traditions from the inside and thoroughly gives me a point of view to what I think are the real points of tension. I think that Protestantism has left out a necessary ingredient to arrive at an answer to the question. There is no solution for Protestantism, only an endless series of opinions and discussion, as you say above. But what you are asking me to do is not point out that something critical is neglected but carry on the dialogue anyway. Why?

    It is because I care about the questions and care about Christ’s Church that I point to what I think are the things that need to be, and very seldom are, carefully considered.

    On a blog that operates on a platform of “mere orthodoxy” (if your platform was “mere Protestantism” it would be another thing entire) I don’t think it is inappropriate for me to ask whose ecclesiology is orthodox. I arrived at my commitment by principled decisions based on careful reasoning animated by a desire for the truth. If my reasons for doing so can be shown to be inadequate or faulty I am always willing to listen to critique.

    But when I point out that Protestant ecclesiology is not orthodox, and is in fact novel and insufficient, I don’t think it helps the quest for truth to brush aside that judgment in favor of pursuing peripherals. It is first principles that matter. No ecclesiology can have a legitimate claim to being “orthodox” which is in fact novel. I don’t think this is a controversial point. When Protestantism posited an ‘invisible Church’ and denied the episcopacy and apostolic succession they proposed a radically different ecclesiology. If you are going to accept such an ecclesiology the justification for doing so had better be airtight. I could hardly find any credible justification at all.

    Who is the arbiter of ‘orthodoxy’? If the common witness of the Fathers and so many disciplined minds during the first 15 centuries of the Church does not form a de facto orthodoxy in ecclesiology I can’t imagine what does.

    Best,
    I.J.

  • S-P,

    Thanks for that, and I agree with both the substance and tone of your point. I also find evangelical worship at points tedious, and at other points enormously edifying and uplifting.

    I.J.,

    This is going to be my last comment directly on this subject.

    You say “orthodox ecclesiology” as though there has been one ecclesiology that has been set down as orthodox and all others are outside the boundaries of the Christian faith. That’s more than the Catholic Church says, especially in their post-Vatican II theologizing.

    If you truly think that Protestants are, in fact, heretics by virtue of the disagreements on ecclesiology, then…okay. You’ll be happy reading elsewhere, and you can be spared tossing your pearls of Catholic Orthodoxy before we lowly Protestant swine.

    Too harsh? Perhaps, but I’d prefer you take Edward Oakes approach here: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2007/12/who-are-you-calling-a-heretic

    But this is in fact, ALL BESIDE THE POINT. And that is my point. To take the above post in the direction of Protestantism and Catholicism suggests a sort of theological myopia that reduces all the questions of ecclesiology to that one–a problem that Healy clearly doesn’t suffer with, given that he’s a Catholic who can learn from Barth as well as Aquinas (may their tribe increase). If what was at stake in my post was which ecclesiology was orthodox, then perhaps your points might be pertinent. But it wasn’t. So I simply don’t see why you insist on going that direction.

    So let me return full circle. Even CATHOLICS have differences over the proper way to relate God and the Church. Hans Kung does his thing while Ratzinger offers a different take. So while there is the catechism, there are different ways of articulating that within systematic theological systems.

    Best,

    matt

  • I.J. Reilly

    Matt: Where do I imply that Protestants are heretics? Where do I even use the word heresy or heretic? I have never thought that I was a heretic when I was Protestant and I have never thought Protestants were a priori heretics. There is a profound difference between material and formal heresy. My critique is against Protestantism not Protestants. So you are not only harsh but unfair Matt. Who is “unthinkingly hurling accusations”?

    The fact that Catholics like Hans Kung dissent from official Church doctrine says nothing about the veracity of that doctrine, it does say a great deal about the dissenter. Kung has been stripped of his authority to teach Catholic theology. He is certainly not representative of orthodox Catholic teaching and I find it disingenuous that in placing him beside Ratzinger you imply they are on equal footing and hold equally valid opinions. Bad form.

    And now you are also the arbiter of my theological pathology? Who is to say whether, in this case, what you are so anxious to call myopia is not gimlet-eyed? You? This is ad hominem Matt and doesn’t at all address the content of my argument.

    If Healy, as you say, “articulates Aquinas’ view of the church as a solution to the orientation around practices”, then isn’t Healy saying that his solution is grounded in Catholic ecclesiology?

    So what is the difference between his solution and mine? Protestant ecclesiology, being a radical departure, is incompatible with Catholic ecclesiology. Therefore Healy’s solution is incompatible with Protestant ecclesiology. If the two ecclesiologies are incompatible then a judgment must be made between the two. And if orthodoxy is what we are after then I outlined the illegitimacy of radical novelty and how Protestant ecclesiology specifically is novel.

    Is your objection that I make clear and open what is implicit in Healy’s solution? Or that I pose challenging questions that might threaten what are by and large the precritical commitments of most Christians? Are you saying that the radical departures of Protestant ecclesiology have a claim to orthodoxy? I would very much like to see where the Fathers or anyone until Wycliffe rejected the episcopacy, apostolic succession, and posited a merely invisible church. If you can’t show this then Protestant ecclesiology is not a part of the deposit of faith and one must then look to other options, unless of course holding an ecclesiology that conflicts with that of the Apostles is something one feels comfortable doing.

    I am not being myopic Matt. I think s-p will agree with me (however much he may differ in style) that there is no solution to this problem for Protestants. I know it from long experience and reflection and I know it because I can now characterize the systemic nature of the cause. You will discuss it forever and continually morph your practices. It has always been so. It cannot be otherwise. There will be as many opinions, and therefore as many practices, as there are Protestants who think about it, and none of them have any more claim to legitimacy than the next. It is the very nature of Protestantism to produce doctrinal chaos. You may disagree but history bears witness to the truth of what I am saying. Protestant interpretations of Scripture run the gamut from fundamentalism to Bultmann and all have an equal claim to being faithful to Protestant principles. And we are to believe that this is the provision God has made for his people?

    God’s provision is not so arbitrary and if people want a solution that rests on more than the opinion of men they must go back and ask fundamental questions about what they believe with honesty and disinterest. They must listen to the best critiques of their precritical commitments.

    I would suggest the following as the place to start: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/

    Best,
    I.J.

  • I.J.Reilly

    And this will be my last post on the subject. ;) On February 15 Andrew Walker posted an article titled Avante Guard Education,

    (https://mereorthodoxy.com/?p=2388)

    It was a fine fair piece and expressed his opinion clearly. As I commented to him he is basically following Dr. Mohler’s lead in making a serious critique of the ubiquitous evangelical practice of subscribing to what has been called solo scriptura as opposed to sola scriptura. Dr Mohler and Southern Seminary condemn this practice unequivocally (see Dr Mohler’s book The Disappearance of God).

    Andrew does not make as frontal and open a critique but if one knows what Southern is all about (and Andrew makes it clear his commitment to their mission) it is not difficult to deduce that he is merely softening his blow and if pushed would most likely subscribe exactly to Dr. Mohler’s critique. That is all fine and I have no problem at all with it.

    What I want to point out is that this blog has no qualms with operating under the banner of “Mere Orthodoxy” and posting an article that deals with a debate over the nature of the Formal Principle of Protestantism but would recoil in horror if one questioned the basic veracity of either of the formal principles under consideration. Why is that Matt?

    Your problem is that you claim a “mere orthodoxy” that is purely Protestant and yet have as a great defender of the Catholic Faith (Chesterton) and an Anglo-Catholic with one foot in the Catholic Church (Lewis) as your Patrons.

    Every single one of your contributors is a committed Evangelical Protestant. If orthodoxy means to adhere to the traditional and established faith where are the voices that actually have the deepest claim to orthodox Christian doctrine? Why do you have no informed Catholic or Orthodox contributors? And even if you did would you allow them to post an article critiquing the Formal Principle of Protestantism as Mr. Walker so freely did?

    You allow yourself to be controversial in the whole bearing of this blog and then chide me for defending the Ancient orthodoxy of the Faith. Claiming to be “mere orthodoxy” and being purely Protestant is profoundly controversial in itself Matt. This is why I am a gadfly to you. Either abandon Chesterton and Lewis and the claim to “mere orthodoxy” or make it right.

    How can you claim orthodoxy if you never have a discussion about the nature and content of orthodoxy? You love the idea in the abstract but evade it in the concrete. Why? You are already controversial by simply being a Protestant, at least have the decency to openly and freely discuss and dialogue about what orthodoxy actually is and include the Catholic and Orthodox faith in the discussion!

    Best,
    I.J.

  • stirfrymojo

    I.J., I’m sincerely curious to understand the matter better, so please take my question in this spirit. I have my tentative opinions but I want to hear yours, and your reasoning. “Orthodoxy” and “tradition” are quite often treated as one in practice, and there are many good reasons for this. But they’re not quite the same thing, of course. Tradition is literally a “giving over” (a “trans dare”) of one to another over time. Orthodoxy is literally a “straight opinion” about a matter. You have said in effect that nothing which is “novel” can be orthodox, and thus that only tradition has a claim to being the “straight opinion” on any matter. Have I understood you correctly? If so, would you say that something should be considered orthodox precisely because, and ONLY because, it is traditional? Or, what is the relationship between orthodoxy and tradition, in a few sentences? If I’ve misunderstood, please pardon the poor reading of what you’ve said.

    I’m not at all interested in aforementioned “worship wars,” or anything of the sort. I just don’t understand many things, and so I might be wading where I shouldn’t ; ) So if you deem my questions unhelpful, please feel free to ignore them if you like. Seriously : )

  • s-p

    sfm, May I interject an “EO reply” into your question directed at IJ (and he will speak for himself). “Orthodoxy” actually literally means “right doxology” or “correct worship”. But what that means is not forms and structure for forms’ sake. It is worship of the “right God” from a “rightly defined human person in His image”. So the sole purpose of man is union with his Creator and the proper disposition toward Him, which is a proper definition of our selves. Hence “Orthodoxy” by extention means “right doctrine”. From an EO perspective that which is “handed over” is not discreet acts, forms and doctrines but a wholistic, organic life constituted in a community in which a culture, language and ethos is formed by these “orthodoxies”. We do not preserve “traditions” merely for the sake of nostalgia for some glory days of a past era (though that is not a bad thing either…) they are preserved because they are part of a thread of a fabric that has been woven for 5000 years beginning with the promise to Abraham. (Read Hebrews). The Church baptizes the cultures it enters and there is an integration of the human and divine that takes place, this results in changes within the Church but informed and transformed by “Tradition”. So the Church “changes” but it does so excruciatingly slowly and with great care and suspicion of what from the world gets imported into its culture and language etc. As GK said, Tradition is the living faith of the Dead. Its not just an old pile of memorabilia put up as a speedbump to something new and cool. Hence, from an EO standpoint, something might change or get imported into the liturgy etc. on some local level for 50-100 years and then get dropped because it never caught on anywhere else. (Recent example, importing the “kiss of peace” into the liturgy by some Episcopal and Catholic converts, its losing ground in most places now). So we’re not opposed to change, but change has to make sense according to the definitions of “Orthodoxy” that have made the cut and lasted for 2000 years.
    I hope that helps a little. Its a huge topic and I don’t want to hijack the combox with a dissertation.

  • All,

    I had said above that the last post was my final post on the subject. However, given the conversation, I’ll add this one final post to try to clarify my objection to this conversation as it’s proceeded, and to clarify the nature of the content of “mere orthodoxy” as we have conceived of it historically.

    But first, I.J., you are correct. I was wrong to suggest that you asserted that any of us were heretics. You simply asserted Protestantism was heretical. I grant the point, and I am sorry.

    But why you put quotes around “unthinkingly hurling accusations” is beyond me. The language was yours, not mine. I never accused anyone of doing that. I beg you to show me where I said that.

    As for the myopia line, I don’t retract that, if only because your persistence in reducing the above post to the question of “catholic” ecclesiologies versus Protestant ecclesiologies misses the point of Healy’s article and the post above. My whole critique of this conversation is that it is utterly, ridiculously unnecessary. The claims of Catholicism versus Protestantism need not enter into it. I raise Healy as an example of this only because he understands that asserting the prominence of a Catholic (or EO) ecclesiology doesn’t in fact solve the problem that is under consideration, which is why ANY religious practices fail to transform us. In that sense, to say Healy’s solution is a “catholic ecclesiology” misses the point. (Have you read the article? I encourage you to. His Catholicism isn’t even implicit, as you claim. There’s nothing that he says that I couldn’t happily accept as a Protestant. I welcome you to point out what he says that makes you think otherwise.) His is a solution for the whole church, and not necessarily tied to the presuppositions of Catholic theology or Protestant theology. So to continue to persist in turning everything back to the question of Catholicism versus Protestantism is to continue to remind of what divides, rather than unites (which is, I should say, the “mere orthodoxy” of the historic Christian faith).

    What’s more, the myopia claim is reinforced by your reading of Andrew’s post. I will let him defend himself (if he wants) on this score, but I could substitute “Notre Dame” for every mention of his school and the point would be materially the same. So to claim that it was somehow about Protestantism per se misses his (excellent) point.

    Second, your claim that all Mere-O writers are evangelical Protestants is, in fact, false. I won’t say who, as it’s not important, but we have writers past and present from various traditions. The only request I have EVER made with respect to the content they produce is that they refrain from making apologetic cases for their respective faith traditions, though they are free to think theologically from their respective vantage points as a means of helping the whole Church at large. It is a request that they have all respected, for which I am grateful. They are welcome to write here because I know them to be reasonable people who do not have animus toward Protestants or Protestantism, despite their disagreements, and because they are invested in the stated goals of Mere-O.

    And here we come to the nature of the “O” in Mere-O. Our goal has been to get behind the division at the Protestant reformation to offer a creedal based, conservative orthodoxy–that is, right WORSHIP which is oriented toward God. Hence, our goal is not to focus on those ecclesial distinctions that divide us, but rather to affirm together the content of the creeds and the content of Scriptures. We all arrive at that in different ways: for those of us who are Protestants, we give them a different sort of authority than our Catholic and Orthodox brothers, and we analyze their origins in different ways.

    Now, that criterion of orthodoxy may be too narrow for you. You might want to toss Protestantism into the ‘heresy’ camp and claim that any articulation of “orthodoxy” isn’t sufficient without a proper articulation of the church. That’s fine. But don’t expect me to answer your questions. That’s simply not why I am here. I am attempting–vainly, sometimes–to orient us around what unites us, which is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And a la Lewis, the ‘mere’ in front of the ‘orthodoxy’ points to an orthodoxy that is primarily interested in the classical, creedal hallway of the doctrine of God and not entering any of the specific rooms of denominations. That’s fine if you disagree, but that’s our heritage and I am going to stick to that. Defending Protestantism or critiquing Catholicism (something I have NEVER done on this blog, nor will I ever do) is simply not why I am here. If you cannot respect that, then please go elsewhere.

    So to reframe the move that started this, I wrote about the practices of the Christian faith and their relationship to the doctrine of God. Now, there’s actually no need to turn to WHICH practices we have and why, and what makes them authoritative. Those are all fun questions to ask, but they’re only germane to the post above if you really have an axe to grind against Protestants. In fact, the “Mainline Protestant” problem is a problem that ALL traditions seem to have–from my vantage point, Catholicism and Orthodoxy in America aren’t exactly bastions of spiritual health (at least not any more than Protestantism). The question is what the relationship is between ANY practices and the doctrine of God, and that’s a question that Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants can all reflect about from the same vantage point. Which is why Healy is out talking to Protestant theologians in his critique.

    But now I’m repeating myself.

    I hope I have not been unhelpfully divisive. And this really is my last word on the subject. I have tried to clarify the nature of the “orthodoxy” in Mere-O, and to explain why I will not engage in the Catholicism/Protestantism debate here. If you’re unsatisfied with this response or my explanation, please feel free to email me. I will respond–it may take me six months, but I will respond.

    I really do hope you stick around. If you look at the two books from which we derive our name, they are by men who knew how to disagree in love and remain friends with those they differed with. I am a long ways from that, but I am trying to work toward it.

    But they were also books that took shape largely in response to the cultural and philosophical challenges of their day, and as a result they emphasized certain aspects of the Christian faith and minimized others. From my standpoint, we haven’t left their challenges, which calls for emphasizing those things that we agree upon over and against the culture of relativism and post-modernism, and forging alliances between denominations to act as co-belligerents. If for that reason and goal alone, I simply do not have the time nor emotional energy to repeatedly defend my particular ecclesial affiliation.

    Also, I am writing a book. Which means unless it has to do with the body, I really shouldn’t be thinking about it. Which is why if you email me about this, I’ll probably wait six months to reply.

    Lord, have mercy.

    Best,

    matt

  • I.J.Reilly

    I have a couple of comments on the points you direct to me Matt and then I have a following comment that is really the substance of my response.

    You chided me for not having a disposition more like that exemplified and described by Mr. Oakes in the article you linked. The second sentence in this article is, “To be sure, that habit of unthinkingly hurling accusations of heresy at Protestants…” So the language is yours in the sense that you were directing me via Mr. Oakes.

    What I was pointing out to you was your equivocation on the very point you were chiding me about! I never said a word about heresy and you unthinkingly accused me of playing the heresy card against Protestants. To do so is to intentionally be inflammatory and rouse the emotions of those who blindly accept your accusation and who most likely think that if they are being called heretics that any Catholic must also be saying they aren’t even Christians. I think you know this as well as I do don’t you? Follow your own demands is all.

    There is no link to Healy’s article Matt and what is more I looked for it on the web and it is not accessible. So I was simply taking you at your word on what he was offering as a solution. Why do you expect me to read an article that you think you linked but which you didn’t? Check your own post Matt and don’t demand of me what I can’t do.

    The point about Mr. Walker’s article has nothing to do with the school he attends except to reinforce the underlying point of his whole article. Dr. Mohler and Southern are unequivocally against the Formal Principle that is the foundation for a great deal of American Protestantism, a de facto solo scriptura foundation. His latest book is about this very topic. This is exactly what Mr. Andrew’s point really is and if you know what Dr. Mohler is about and you know what Mr. Walker is saying you can easily see this. Yes he soft sells it a bit, I suspect he doesn’t really want to be as confrontational as his thinking really is in the matter. His enthusiasm for Southern and their mission is plainly stated so it isn’t difficult to deduce that if this issue is as important to Dr. Mohler as his book indicates then Mr. Walker is probably no less enthusiastic about the point. I could be wrong; but I would be surprised, if you pressed him to be more specific in his position, if he would not condemn solo scriptura as strongly as Dr. Mohler. Hence his emphasis on confessionalism.

    I don’t know what you think the whole point of his article was about Matt, but I assure you it is about the legitimacy of solo scriptura versus sola scriptura and is therefore a critique of the Formal Principle of much of Protestantism. Is this really hard to see? I am sure you know what a formal principle is. His whole point is that solo scriptura is deficient and unable to function as a proper foundation for the church. So he has implicitly made an “apologetic for his faith tradition”. And is so doing he violated the ONLY request you have EVER made regarding the content of a post and you neither saw it nor commented on it. Am I incorrect in essence Mr. Walker?

    But really this is just a little housekeeping and isn’t completely relevant to what I was trying to say to you as a whole.

  • I.J.Reilly

    Orthodox and Catholics want unity every bit as much as you do Matt. We also want to be reasonable, fair, transparent, faithful to history and the Deposit of Faith. We don’t want to argue people out of Protestantism or have people do anything against their conscience. We do want Protestants (as I am sure you want Catholics/Orthodox) to make a fair judgment, and understanding is the necessary condition for judgment.

    Your stated goal is “to arrive at a creedal based – conservative orthodoxy” that all can subscribe to in good faith. But you refuse to consider, or allow for discussion, whether your goal can be reached at all if pursued according to the principles you have established. And you have put a profound constraint on the method you are employing to pursue your goal.

    By eliminating a fair, honest, and open discussion of the implications of the issues that divide Protestants from Orthodox/Catholics you are taking off the table what we think is the ONLY solution for ever arriving at your goal.

    Our contention is that if you pursue your goal while laboring under the Formal Principle of Protestantism you are doomed for failure. It is, in principle, impossible. It cannot be done and it will never be done. If your goal is a real one, then your mission is completely futile and is nothing but despair. We think Protestant history bears ample witness to this fact.

    And we have a very principled, clear, and profound understanding as to why that is the reality of the matter. The case we make is not difficult to grasp in its essentials, it is not abstract, and it does not take a long grinding effort to come to grips with what we are saying. What we do insist upon is this: If our paradigm is true, then every judgment a Protestant makes regarding Catholicism/Orthodoxy is question begging for the very reason that all of these judgments are necessarily informed by Protestant categories and particulars and our paradigm renders the ground of Protestantism untenable. And so the paradigm we offer must be understood and judged as it stands on its own without engaging in question begging criticism.

    This is why I say you have frozen the Catholic/Orthodox understanding of orthodoxy from any genuine participation. We want to say that if you ever want a solution you have to make a judgment that is unprejudiced, and has intellectual integrity, about something you have forbidden as a topic. You say we can’t talk about it so you secure that your own paradigm remains the ruling paradigm for the whole discussion. This is unfair and equivocation.

    If you honestly think that you have the paradigm that God has established then what do you have to fear from listening to the case that we would make? I do not fear anything you wish to examine about what I hold to be true Matt. If you can be harder on me than I have been on myself I would be absolutely amazed.

    Unless you put on the table, honestly and openly, the novel move Martin Luther makes to the ground of sola scriptura you are hiding from an examination of the only thing that holds out hope for a solution to your goal.

    Our argument is that sola scriptura is fatally flawed and is the necessary cause of the doctrinal anarchy that characterizes Protestantism and therefore your project is doomed. Chesterton himself said it well, “The Bible itself cannot be a basis for agreement when it is a cause of disagreement” (And let me hedge against what I think will be your initial reaction by insisting that Protestantism in fact does/can give authority to the creeds, or the Fathers, or some such. We will clearly argue and make the case that this is a paper tiger). Is it fear that causes you to suppress an honest examination of the issue?

    This is the exact discussion you need to have on Mere-O. Have it and have it fully and I will leave it alone. If you like perhaps s-p will form the argument and run it past you and me to see if we might want to add or change a little from our perspective, then post it and have the discussion. That is the only intellectually honest thing to do it seems to me.

    If anyone cares to begin I suggest the article on Called to Communion by the very irenic, informed, and gracious Bryan Cross titled Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority. This is the issue discussed at the most informed and intelligent level.

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/

    Christ have mercy.

    I.J.

  • I.J.,

    Re: Healy, you are right it’s not available online (that I know of), which was why I didn’t link to it. However, that I didn’t link to it is no excuse for talking about it without reading it. So I don’t expect you to read it. I could care less. I simply expect you to not talk about it as if you had, when in fact you haven’t.

    Re: heresy, you functionally asserted that the only orthodox position on ecclesiology is the Catholic one. Your post mentioned orthodox several times. If I inferred, I did so charitably. And you seemed to grant the reading when you distinguished formal and material heresy, a distinction that need not be made unless you think Protestantism is heresy.

    Re: Walker’s article, given that he never once mentions Mohler, it seems you are seeing stuff that simply isn’t there. You can make the point about solo scriptura if you want, but again, there’s no reason to unless you have an axe to grind.

    Re: orthodoxy. Again, I have NOT precluded Orthodoxs and Catholics from arriving at mere orthodoxy, or from writing from that standpoint. If anything, you’ve a priori precluded Protestants from arriving at it. I said above that we all arrive at ‘mere orthodoxy’ through different ways, but to simply assert that Protestantism makes it impossible ignores the witness (at a minimum) of both Lewis and Chesterton and the visions of ‘mere orthodoxy’ they articulate as Protestants.

    So let me simply say that the vision of ‘mere orthodoxy’ is one that I happily ascribe to as a Protestant and hold to with firmly Protestant convictions. But there are others who write here who ascribe to it out of Eastern Orthodox convictions, and others whom I’ve invited to write here who appeal to Roman Catholic convictions. It simply does not matter to me how people get there.

    Orthodox and Catholics can talk from a standpoint of ‘mere orthodoxy’ without reducing everything they are saying to their method, and hence limiting their audience to only those who subscribe to it. We point to and from a conservative creedal orthodoxy around here because we think it’s true. How we made that judgment is secondary for our purposes. To make it primary misses the point of why we’re here.

    What’s more, Mere-O is a blog, not a church. And it has always had one eye toward the secular culture, as well. And that means that we can all start from the same starting point in a way that we might not be able to if we were, say, a Church.

    I.J., you have made it abundantly clear that you think Protestants are inconsistent with respect to sola scriptura, and that as a Protestant I have no recourse to write from a standpoint of ‘mere orthodoxy.’ I disagree. But I will not have that conversation here because it is beside the point of this blog. Again, our goal is to write FROM that standpoint–and to the extent that we all arrive to that position from different theological presuppositions, we’ll write and think differently. But again, our goal is not to have the “whose church?” discussion, but to do something else completely.

    Which leads me, alas, to this: I have never had to say this, and it makes me enormously sad, but if you persist in trying to pigeon hole Mere-O into something it is not, and to try to force a conversation about something that is not the main focus of what we are doing, then I will simply ask you to go and read elsewhere.

    This is NOT because I am afraid of the conversation. As you personally know, I will email as much as I can and have time about it. So to charge me with being afraid is false, as you well know, given our email correspondance in the past.

    And the invitation to email me is open to anyone. I make my contact information easily accessible.

    I said I was done, and this REALLY is it. I give the last word to you, I.J., or S-P, or anyone else.

    Pax Christi.

    matt

  • I.J. Reilly

    Matt: Before I actually think about formulating a response let me ask a simple question, and this is a question in good faith and can be simply answered I think.

    You say, “We point to and from a conservative creedal orthodoxy around here because we think it’s true.”

    What do you mean by this? For those of us who are creedal in a very defined and particular way this appears abstract and undefined and therefore not very useful in terms of having any power to say what does and what does not constitute Christian Faith over against heterodoxy.

    Are you saying you would hold fast to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381? Or…?

    I hope this isn’t too much to illicit a response. I am really trying to figure out what you mean by ‘mere orthodoxy’ and ‘conservative creedal orthodoxy’

    Thanks,
    I.J.