Allegiant Orthodoxy

In a previous post I spoke about how Matthew Bates‘ proposal for allegiance in the New Testament rehabilitates the contemporary meaning of faith for Christians. He argues, and I agree, that “faith” in modern usage as a macro-term no longer captures the full import of the Greek word group “pistis” that it traditionally translates in the New Testament. He suggests “allegiance” better captures the scope of meaning of pistis. Faith in contemporary English has many meanings. However when we narrow them down, there is overlap with a certain meaning of the pistis word group present in the New Testament which is “mental assent.” When it comes to saving pistis, faith as cognitive affirmation of certain truth claims, is the first step of three towards total enacted allegiance to King Jesus. The subsequent steps, which are also meanings of pistis, are sworn fealty and then embodied loyalty. This three tier proposal for saving allegiance in the New Testament I think can also be applied to help solve the theological problem of how orthodoxy, the creeds and praxis (Christian living) ought to relate to one another.

On the surface the connection is obvious and in many ways it is. However, the difficulties arise when you apply them to real world problems. Continue reading “Allegiant Orthodoxy”

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Allegiant Faith

In the brilliant and challenging book Salvation by Allegiance Alone by New Testament scholar Matthew Bates outlines three types of “saving allegiance.” (He argues that “allegiance” rather than the usual “faith” is a better macro-term to translate the Greek “pistis” word group in the New Testament. For a concise explanation of his thesis you can go here.) The three types of allegiance he has in view are mental assent, sworn fealty and enacted loyalty. He envisions then in the order listed as constituting “embodied allegiance” to King Jesus which results in salvation. While the popular understanding of faith as mental assent is present in his schema, it is only the first step. I think he rightly attacks this shrunken view of faith where it is reduced to a fideistic anti-rationalism. He rather champions a holistic, embodied allegiance. I think his proposal rehabilitates belief as mental affirmation even though that was not his primary concern. Continue reading “Allegiant Faith”

The Meanings of Orthodoxy (II)

In the previous piece I examined the nuances of what orthodoxy means and how orthodox positions are formulated. With such a fertile concept it signals other concepts. It is impossible to assess the constellation of ideas that surrounds it in this limited space. As with the former piece I will narrow things down and pay particular attention to how orthodoxy, as a word and more importantly as an idea, is used in public discourse. This is motivated by the problem of the internet, which has given a new platform for public discourse but many times it more resembles an ideological battle field. The internet is the greatest democratizer of knowledge. Ideas must be allowed to compete. However, the rules of engagement which should be followed are often fuzzy or unabashedly ignored as people attempt to win the war of words. In any war there are opposing camps and in this case there are different ideological factions. As such matters of orthodoxy are very much in play, therefore how we think of and articulate orthodoxy matters a lot.

While I am particularly focused on Christianity, orthodoxy is primarily a theological word after all, I take for granted that all people groups have their dogmas. While it may not be always easy to see these fundamental presuppositions, they are certainly there because they help constitute group identity. Orthodoxy is a way of talking about a collective standard and how people relate to it. It helps establish a group identity. So with orthodoxy there is an in-group and an out-group. So when there are issues that affect group identity, you see people not only react passionately but partisanly. What you notice in public debates is that people begin to organise around the position they favour. When it is something related to dogma people sort themselves out into various ideological camps. This is precisely what happens on the internet when it comes to divisive issues. They are almost always clashes between different orthodoxies.

In the West, particularly in North America, there is the issue of identity politics and virtue signalling, which Alastair Roberts has written very incisive and informed essays about if you wish to understand it. While there are some new and notable things about this socio-political phenomena, it is in many ways the old and familiar tension between insiders versus outsiders. It is differing groups within a society competing for dominance and cultural hegemony. Taking cues from observations in that type of socio-political discourse, I propose that what is happening more generally is “orthodoxy signalling.”
The common complaint against virtue signalling, identity politics, victim narratives etc. is that it short circuits in depth discussion and debate since it is used as clarion call for people to immediately fall into party lines. No one wants to be in the awkward position of being the odd one out, receiving disapproving looks from the rest of their political tribe. In Christan discourse, where orthodoxy is better defined, you often see people doing the same thing. I am not saying Christian orthodoxy is the same as identity politics but rather they are both different types of orthodoxy and therefore there are similarities between how people deploy them in the public square. Signaling orthodoxy has same effect of truncating discussion in order to verify where your allegiances lie. As a rhetorical move it is hard to beat because our first instinct as social creatures is to align with the group. Since matters of orthodoxy are seen as settled, by implying such an issue is at stake it means there is no further need for discussion or interrogation. Case closed. The trouble is it really isn’t. Continue reading “The Meanings of Orthodoxy (II)”

Types of Writing in the Bible

Updated resources including the podcast discussion that went into the making of The Bible Project video.

Pilgrims Rest Stop

One of the things I’ve noticed is that most people do not read the Bible correctly because they cannot identify the literary style the text is using. The guys over at The Bible Project, which is turning out to be one of my favourite ministries, have another excellent short video that highlights these literary styles, their importance and how to approach them.

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The Meanings of Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy. It is a word I have an uneasy relationship with. I should be getting side long glances right about now because I just said I have some problems with orthodoxy. I assure those who have already jumped to conclusions that the jury is still out. In today’s discourse it often seems you are guilty until proven innocent. I recently read some research that with Internet culture, people find it even more satisfying to condemn something and express outrage than to show solidarity with their in-group in what they affirm. Matters of group identity have always been important but in modern pluralistic societies, with widespread access to intrusive and instantaneous communication technology, signalling to others you toe the party line has a new, more prominent platform. Continue reading “The Meanings of Orthodoxy”

The Crisis of Worth and the Gift of Grace

We live in a world of likes, follows, shares and retweets, where affirmation and validation are quite visibly the name of the game but they are so hard to come by and acute judgment is far more common. However, what is happening on social media is symptomatic of a larger cross cultural debacle of human value: What gives me worth? Continue reading “The Crisis of Worth and the Gift of Grace”

Ritualed Knowing

In this fascinating interview at OnScript, Dr Dru Johnson discusses his book Knowledge by Ritual (Eisenbrauns, 2016) where he explorers the Bible’s epistemology in the light of modern scholarship on the way rituals work. Continue reading “Ritualed Knowing”