Recommended: James K. A. Smith and the Limits of “Orthodoxy”

As you know, I have written before on the issue of homosexuality and orthodoxy. I’d like to recommend the following short treatment of the issue, which is actually a response to a philosopher, written by a professor at Beeson Divinity School, Dr. Gerald McDermott.

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Calvin College philosophy professor James K.A Smith has done a lot of good for today’s Church. He has made accessible such arcane subjects as postmodern philosophy and Radical Orthodoxy, and otherwise-impenetrable thinkers like Jacques Derrida and Charles Taylor. He is the unusual philosopher who talks about Pentecostal contributions to his field. His recent books on worship and desire have showed legions of young (and old!) readers the significance of liturgy and habits for Christian discipleship.

Now, however, he risks separating moral theology from dogmatic theology in an odd way. In a widely-read post at his blog on “orthodox theology,” he complains about the Christians who insist that orthodoxy must include adherence to the historic Christian view of marriage and sexuality. They don’t realize, he argues, that “this deployment of the term ‘orthodox’ is recent, innovative, and narrow.” Historically, he maintains, orthodoxy was understood as commitment to the great ecumenical creeds—Nicaea and Chalcedon. These creeds taught “the conciliar marks of the gospel”–namely, creation, Incarnation, the virgin birth, Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, his second coming, the Trinity, the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, one baptism, and the hope of bodily resurrection.

But these zealots for a narrowly-conceived orthodoxy, Smith complains, are “reduc[ing] Christianity to a morality,” just as Kant did. They are taking second-order matters (my use of the term) and elevating them to first-order status—just as some Christians regard Christian non-violence, the mode of baptism, the ordination of women, and the rapture as necessary parts of orthodoxy. Bakers who are persecuted for refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings are not suffering for orthodoxy but for things that are not “at the very heart of Christian faith.” Smith concedes that these views of sexuality and marriage which the bakers are defending “have been the historic teaching of the church.” But they are “traditional” rather than “conciliar. If we regard them as central to orthodoxy, they will “start to overwhelm and supersede what the church has defined as orthodox.” Read the rest at Patheos.