Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Over on Experimental Theology, Dr. Richard Beck has a concise rendering of the difference between Christianity = agreeing that certain propositions are true and Christianity = following Jesus as the Way, Truth and Life. I almost always find conservative Christians to be proposing the former and almost always find progressive (and emerging/emergent) and Christians to be proposing the latter.

If you've ever read anything I've ever written, you can probably guess where I stand.


Craig said...


I haven't read the whole article yet, but I've never seen it as an either/or situation. For most folks I know it is because Jesus is who He is/said he was, there are certain propositions that are true, therefore Jesus is "worthy" of being followed as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (or as Lord).

This, IMO, is similar to what seems a false dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxis. I have always thought that the key part of both terms is the "ortho". How can you define something as the right action (orthopraxis) without the knowledge of what makes something right (orthodoxy).

Anyway, I guess I just don't understand what seems like the need to divorce thought from action.

Aric Clark said...

It isn't a matter of divorcing them. On the contrary both sides want to see action & thought functioning together.

The question is of priority. Which comes first?

Conservatives tend, as you did in your own comment, put thought first. First you figure out what is true, then you act on it.

I'm on the other side. First you do what you are supposed to and eventually your thoughts will align with your actions. Hence - first I follow Jesus' commandment to love my enemies by not killing them and out of this commitment comes knowledge of the truth, which is that we are all Children of God sharing in the destiny of the Kingdom.

The first method constantly fails to produce people of virtue. The second method produces people of virtue. Since goodness IS truth, a good person is closer to the truth no matter how intellectually confused, than a clever jerk.

Craig said...


Interesting take. A couple of thoughts.

First, It seems as though you are discounting the thought process that led you to the point where you do the right thing. You can't be suggesting that you put no thought into deciding that you were going to follow the example of Jesus.

Second, While I agree that engaging in actions can lead one in a certain direction, I'm not sure that orthodoxy always follows orthopraxis.

Third, your statement that "The first method constantly fails to produce people of virtue." Seems to be incredibly subjective and unsupported by anything but your opinion. You seem to be saying that almost everyone who you would define as "virtuous" (again subjective) must have gotten there by following the path you chose. In fact, you could be saying that you consider me to be without virtue. Both of these seem like quite a leap.

Fourth, "The second method produces people of virtue." Again you seem to be suggesting that the only way to become virtuous (again from your subjective viewpoint).

Fifth, "Since goodness IS truth, a good person is closer to the truth no matter how intellectually confused, than a clever jerk." I'm not quite sure how you have come to the conclusion that "goodness IS truth". It is an interesting opinion, but it seems to be pretty open ended.

I'd still be interested in how one gets the ortho in orthopraxis without some thought to defining what is actually ortho.

I'm not sure that I would be as comfortable as you seem to be in establishing one path to virtue.

I can see that for some following your preferred path would lead them to (to use your word) virtue. I also see that others may get there in a different, yet equally valid way. I would hesitate to suggest that either of the two was wrong (or that there might be more than two paths), or that either would not lead to "virtue".

Aric Clark said...

A virtue as classically understood in ethics is a perfected capacity, gained through practice. I didn't define only one path to virtue, except to say that one doesn't become virtuous by thinking virtuous thoughts, but by acting in a virtuous manner. Action, is absolutely key to virtue, there is no way around it. You may think nice things all day long, but if you don't act in a nice way you are not nice.

Jesus, James, John, Peter, Paul... they all say basically the same thing in one way or another in the NT. It doesn't really matter if you say you have love. If your neighbor asks for help and you don't give it then you are a liar and the truth is not in you. The truth is in you however, if your actions demonstrate the virtue of charity. Charity/goodness IS truth.

It's not one path since each virtue would require different forms of action. But all virtues share in common that they are a form of right action, not right ideas.

Craig said...

You haven't addressed to point I actually made. I did not say that vittue could be attained (if that is the goal of life) by simply thinking virtuous thoughts. The point I was making was that thought always preceeds action. I am aware of no one on the "orthodoxy" side who is advocating anything like what you are saying.

I guess I'm not sure what you are argunig against here. It seems as though either direction is valid. Whether you start with action and move to thoughts or start with thoghts and move to action. It seems as though you are suggesting that those who advocate for orthodoxy are not engaged in what you would consider meaningful action. Personally, I know a number of folks in and recently returned from haiti who would take offense at your assertion.