Should We Be Emerging? Praxis Oriented: Orthopraxy


A notable emphasis of the emerging movement is orthopraxy, that is, right living. The contention is that how a person lives is more important thanwhat he or she believes. Many will immediately claim that we need both or that orthopraxy flows from orthodoxy. Most in the emerging movement agree we need both, but they contest the second claim: Experience does not prove that those whobelieve the right things live the right way. No matter how much sense the traditional connection makes, it does not necessarily work itself out in practice. Public scandals in the church—along with those not made public—prove this point time and again.

This is one of the most powerful points I’ve read in Christian literature in years. I’d always assumed that sound doctrine would lead to sound behavior. But now that McKnight points it out, it’s really been my experience that it very often does not.

We all know people who know lots of theology but who over and over again make worldly decisions. I don’t just mean people who engage in what we normally think of as immorality — sex, alcohol, and drugs — although there’s plenty of them. The deeper problem is Christians who are regular in their attendance but who don’t have the hearts of servants.

Here is an emerging, provocative way of saying it: “By their fruits [not their theology] you will know them.” As Jesus’ brother James said, “Faith without works is dead.” …

Jesus declared that we will be judged according to how we treat the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46) and that the wise man is the one who practices the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). In addition, every judgment scene in the Bible is portrayed as a judgment based on works; no judgment scene looks like a theological articulation test.

Again, that last sentence is important. It’s not salvation by works, McKnight is careful to say. Rather, it’s a faith that produces works — the only kind of saving faith there is.

Although the Churches of Christ have always taught that our doctrine must lead to good works, we have often taken “good works” to refer primarily to sound worship practices and properly organized congregations. We’ve focused almost exclusively on ecclesiology — the doctrine of the church. But the scriptures in fact place the focus elsewhere.

(Phil 2:5-7)  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

We often study the great poem of Philippians 2 to learn Christology — to learn about the nature and work of Jesus. But the passage begins, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus …” Paul’s point is that we need to live and have an attitude like that of Jesus — the attitude of a servant who will surrender everything for the church.

How many members of your church have that heart? I’m sure some do. But how many do not? I understand why new converts might struggle in this area, but why isn’t this the expectation we have for everyone to grow into? 

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to Should We Be Emerging? Praxis Oriented: Orthopraxy

  1. Bingo — This is the place to which I've gotten. While I respect the desire to get doctrine correct. Correct doctrine does not save — it simply clearly defines who is right and who is wrong (and even that is often debatable).

    In effect, we've replaced the word "law" with the word "doctrine." But we treat them as identical. And Jesus has a completely different focus — loving others the way he loved us.

    And we often overlook the last part of that — the way he loved us. That's an incredibly high standard. It's more than enough to consume every moment of our time, just trying to figure that out.

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