Who Defines Orthodoxy?

Good question. Brian McLaren was asked it recently. I am not sure what answer was expected, but here is my answer.


Who defines orthodoxy?


In the 19th Century it was the English

In the 20th Century it was the North Americans

In the 21st Century it will be the Africans


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Scott says:

    I think that orthodoxy in the next century will be driven from China more than Africa. Hate to say this, but China has the education and resources alongside explosive growth of the kingdom that Africa still does not have.

  • andrew says:

    you might be right but
    – Africa also has explosive growth and influence from that sucess
    – i would imagine china will influence our western ecclesiology and missiology while Africa will challenge the theological orthordoxy.
    – and i think that process has already started

  • Great, all apart from the ‘Africans’ bit. Not being racist or anything, I’d just substitute it for ‘Chris Tilling Very Holy Minsitries’

  • fernando says:

    i would think the next centrury is very open to theologians from africa and asia. however, if we are on about defining “orthodoxy” then I agree, it will be africa. we can already see that quite clearly.
    btw, I assume in youranswer you meant USAmerica and not the Americas as a whole.

  • andrew says:

    ahh . . yeah. opps. i will change that now to get the canadians off my back.

  • joeturner says:

    Surely everyone defines orthodoxy to his or her own situation.
    Is there really anyone who suggests that they are not orthodox?

  • African Christians and Churches may define Orthodoxy all they want, but Western Churches will still maintain the resources to finance publishing and media outlets, and there’ no way they’ll be letting go of the purse strings!

  • Andrew,
    Not quite this simple, is it? Orthodoxy is defined by the Nicene Creed (with its follow-ups) and what is happening now is that different places determine who is “faithful” to Orthodoxy.
    And for the Roman Catholics, the Pope sustains Orthodoxy.
    And for the Orthodox, their leaders.
    And for the Evangelicals, there are the chams.

  • andrew says:

    i totally agree
    its always local and particular

  • I would have thought Germany would be as strong a contender as England in the 19th and America in the 20th.

  • fernando says:

    orthodoxy gets defined by the relation between an interpretive strategy and the historical creeds. at any point in history a particular strategy (or hermeneutic) gains precendence, which is where I think Andrew is on the money. given our moment in glocalisation, it becomes interesting because we could see a further shifting away a dominantly european strategy.

  • Larry says:

    Isn’t there a fundamental error in the question? Orthodoxy is right doctrine. That never changes. It is not “defined” through changing generations. It is that which is true, particularly in the realm of theology.
    It has never been defined by the English, the Americans, and will not be defined by Asians or Africans. Orthodoxy is defined by God, and is revealed in Scripture.
    A particular culture, sub culture, or person either subscribes to orthodoxy or does not. The way that they live in light of orthodoxy might change, but orthodoxy does not.

  • Drew says:

    I agree with you in part, Larry. God does define what is Orthodox and what is not, but we’re always going to view that through our cultural lens. That lens is very powerful in that it helps us understand who God is.
    Historically, “Orthodox” has always been what God establishes, but it’s also always understood through the cultural lens.
    What Andrew is talking about is that Africa’s cultural lens will be one of the more dominating worldviews, thus tweeking what is understood as Orthodox. We mustn’t get lost in semantics.

  • imagine! says:

    Quite simply: the powerful define orthodoxy

  • Larry says:

    I agree that we view orthodoxy through a cultural lens. I also agree that it is easy to get lost in semantics. But I think a major problem in theology today is the unwillingness to deal with what words actually. To confuse cultural application with orthodoxy is a major confusion that leaves the next generation struggling even more.
    Many of the problems in emergent theology stem from poor communication of orthodoxy in past generations. Many emergents didn’t mean to leave orthodoxy, but they done just that, because they weren’t taught to think about issues from a biblical worldview with careful distinctions.
    When a major leader of emergent theology says that muslim women dress the way they do because they love God, he has failed everyone whom he leads. He has failed to teach them orthodoxy. And that is to let culture deny the truth, it seems to me.

  • Larry says:

    Sorry to post again, but there were several glaring grammatical errors in my last post.
    A line in the first paragraph should read “… an unwillingness to deal with what words actually mean.”
    In the second paragraph, “they done just that” should read “they have done just that.”

  • joeturner says:

    ‘Many’ emergents? Excuse me?
    I know quite a few muslim women. Are you telling me that they the way they dress has nothing to do with devotion to God? I don’t agree with them in many points of theology, but it is clear that they love the image of God they understand.
    I’m sorry Larry, I think you are just projecting an idea of ‘orthodox’ which is convenient to yourself. My orthodoxy had Christ writing in the dirt, talking to the untouchable, lifting up the humble and pulling down the self-righteous and ‘religious’. It had Paul talking to people on their own level – to the extent of preaching in a pagan temple about an altar to a foreign god.
    What is this mythical ‘biblical’ worldview anyway?

  • Larry says:

    Many emergents??? Yes, not all, but many. Furthermore, what I said, was “many emergents didn’t mean to leave orthodoxy.” Your question implies you disagree. You think they did mean to leave orthodoxy? I am confused by that. Apparently your view of emergents is more negative than mine. But feel free to clarify.
    As for muslim women, yes, their dress has nothing to do with devotion to God. Scripture makes it clear that those who are devoted to God accept Jesus Christ. Anyone who does not accept Christ is not devoted to God, no matter what they might do. This is a prime example of the weakness in emergent theology. The fact that this was written, and widely accepted as a “great book” is deeply troubling. How can we miss something so basic to God as this? I admit there are many things in Scripture that aren’t explicitly clear. But this is certainly not one of them. Muslim women dress as they do because they have bought a false view of God. That is not devotion to God.
    As for protecting “orthodox” that is convenient, I think you couldn’t be more wrong. My orthodoxy is decidedly inconvenient for me because it makes me get out of my little world and work with the very kind of people you talk about. It makes me work especially hard at preaching and teaching so that I can communicate with people on their level. It makes me work way too hard. But it is orthodox to believe what God says about God.
    As for a biblical worldview, there is nothing mythical about it. A worldview is obviously the way that we view the world around us. A biblical worldview is viewing the world around us through the lens of what God has said about it. It simply means to view the world as God does.
    Thanks for the comments. If I misunderstood something you said, my apologies. You seem pretty negative … which seems strange for emergents. Arne’t emergents supposed to be accepting of all views??? 😉
    Seriously, if I misunderstood something, my apologies. I will try to clarify if you wish.

  • joeturner says:

    First, I am not going to post again to you Larry, as I don’t think it is right to use TSK blog as a discussion board.
    Second, I appreciate where you are coming from, but the fact remains that there are people in the world that do not agree with you. Each of us has a choice – we can either shut out those who do not agree by arbritarily laying down the law or we can try to understand and engage where they are coming from. Saying that muslim women do not dress in a certain way because they have no devotion to God takes no account of their opinions and faith.
    Third, a) I don’t necessarily agree that emergents have left orthodox christianity and b) even if they have I don’t accept that it is necessarily a bad thing.
    Fourth, if you want to talk about orthodoxy, you’d do well to specify exactly what type of orthodoxy you mean. For example there is Orthodoxy (unchanged since 35 AD), there is Roman Catholicism, there are any number of claims to authenticity. Why is yours so much more special than anyone elses?
    Fifth, a biblical worldview is just a worldview educated by your understanding of the bible. Given that it means many things to many people – even within christendom – it is obviously a misnomer to suggest that there is only ‘one’ biblical worldview. What you really mean is a divine worldview, and that is something we are all trying to achieve, wouldn’t you agree.
    Sixth I am not emergent and am not seeking to speak for anyone than myself. You, on the other hand, seem to be insisting on an interpretation and understanding of christianity that lends itself to nothing other than your claim to a historical and original faith. I reject your understanding and think it has nothing to do with any kind of authentic christianity. So now, how do we determine who is right and who is wrong?

  • Larry says:

    First, in the blogs that I read, and previously with TSK, discussion on issues at hand is welcome. Perhaps we are too far afield here. If so, Andrew, please tell me. I apologize if I am out of line. I was actually hoping for Andrew’s response to my ideas. If he wishes no further discussion, I am fine with that.
    But a couple summary points.
    1. Using orthodoxy in a strict sense, orthodoxy is not dependent on someone’s view. Orthodoxy is orthodoxy. Truth is unchanging, regardless of culture. Truth for an Englishman is truth for an Australian is truth for an African is truth for an American, etc. To talk about a Catholic orthodoxy, and emergent orthodoxy, a Protestant orthodoxy makes no sense in the strict use. One is either “orthodox” or not.
    2. To say that “Saying that muslim women do not dress in a certain way because they have no devotion to God takes no account of their opinions and faith” assumes a wrong foundation. Their “opinions and faith” are irrelevant to orthodoxy. They do what they do precisely becuase of their opinions and faith. The issue has to come back to God’s revelation. It is sufficiently clear on the nature of Christ to say that Muslims do not worship God. There is no room in orthodoxy for a different opinion on that matter.
    3. I see no distinction between a divine worldview and a biblical worldview. What we know about God is from Scripture. We have no source of authoritative revelation apart from that. So again, orthodoxy is what conforms to what God has revealed.
    4. You compare your view to mine and ask “How do we determine who is right and who is wrong?” The answer is simple: Compare it to orthodoxy–to what God has revealed to us in Scripture. We may both be wrong; we may both be partially right; one may be right and the other wrong. But there is only one right–one orthodoxy by definition.
    It comes down to what “orthodoxy” means in biblical and theological terms.
    My apologies to Andrew if I posted too much here in interaction.

  • Dana Ames says:

    Maybe Andrew hasn’t left any remarks because the exchange between you guys, Larry and Joe, is making a relevant point. Or maybe I’m late to the party 🙂

  • andrew says:

    hey – internet was off today – probably the winter weather
    great to have discussion. i would hate to be ignored.
    maybe a more practical question would be in order.
    can you presently confirm othodoxy without recourse to documents from your own country?
    and related is;
    to what extent can a new church planting movement in any given country be self-theologizing without recourse to doctrinal requirements from the mother country?

  • Rusty Shackleford says:

    21st Century: Korea and the Anglicans in Africa (Nigeria in particular).
    There’s an old saying in Reformed circles, “The Reformed church is always reforming.” Orthodoxy is continually being refined by going back to the Scripture, not by flavor of the week (or flavor of the century) theology.

Leave a Reply