Much has been written about the recent news from Josh Harris. And I'm not going to go into it all here. It's something that we discussed on the Life & Ministry Podcast. For most, Harris' legacy is his since-repudiated book I Kissed Dating Goodbye (be honest, if you were a 90s youth group kid, you read it). But for me, his legacy and what has always stuck with me wasn't IKDG, it was another idea: Humble Orthodoxy.
After the news broke, I bought and read Harris' primer on pursuing a humble orthodoxy. It was refreshing to my soul. I'd come across that term from another of Harris' books, Dug Down Deep, and it was a total reorienting of how to handle truth. At the core of the approach to humble orthodoxy is a dilemma: we don't have a truth problem, we have a heart problem. It starts with Paul's last words to his protege Timothy:
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. 2 Timothy 2:22-25
After all the reminders to guard the faith, protect the deposit, and entrust it to "faithful men," Paul gives Timothy a last admonition: don't be a jerk.
Harris contrasts two wrong perspectives: 1) Arrogant orthodoxy, and 2) Humble heterodoxy. In one, truth becomes a hammer to drive nails into heretic hearts. It becomes a tool of exclusion, and in most cases becomes focused on secondary, rather than primary issues. In two, truth is removed from the discussion in the name of not offending. Both are wrong, because both miss out on a central tenet of theology: Truth has eternal consequences.
While reading through Humble Orthodoxy, I couldn't help but think of times I'd not been humble. I'd been a jerk when humility was required. I put down trenches where God called for a table. I'd been impatient and careless as someone was processing books like The Shack or writers like Rob Bell - using orthodoxy as a hammer instead of showing "convictional kindness" and in doing so opening up confirmation bias for someone genuinely seeking wisdom. And now as a pastor, I want more than anything to be gracious in handling truth. I've been on the other side. I've seen the other side. And it doesn't drive to godliness, it drives despair.
It's not to say truth is irrelevant or doesn't matter. It does. It matters for eternity. Truth is the difference (literally) between Heaven and Hell. Truth was what Paul's treatises were rooted in, was the basis for God's self-revelation, and is what guards our minds today. Truth is important. Contending for truth is important. Loving our neighbor means being honest with them about things that matter.
But in our pursuit of humble orthodoxy, may I pose a few questions for us to consider?
1) Which is more important, proving a point or winning a person? Sometimes in our zeal for truth, we become like the Pharisees in Jesus' time. We focus so much on "being right" that we bomb bridges with our neighbors, family, coworkers, or even people in our church. Again, truth has eternal consequences. But as JD Greear has asked, do we love being right more than we love our neighbor?
2) What's offensive, the Gospel or me? The Gospel will divide. It tells people they're broken and need not just repair but death to self and life in Jesus. It tells people they are sinners but can find rescue in someone who they've never met who died for them. Jesus knew the Gospel would offend, His message got Him killed. But sometimes we miss the offense of the Gospel and we become the offensive one. We think it's because of Jesus, but really it's because we're jerks.
3) What has become to object of our affection, Right Theology or Jesus? I think it's totally possible for someone to love theology more than Jesus. They can love being right, being "orthodox," and being a walking systematic theology book.... but be completely dead on the inside. In a pursuit of humble orthodoxy, Jesus is the object of our devotion and love. From that flows orthodoxy. From that flows Truth, because what we know about Jesus and about God's redemptive plan is revealed to us in Scripture.
4) Is our orthodoxy matched by orthopathy and orthopraxy? In other words, is our devotion to doctrine met with a similar level of devotion to love and to action? Are our hearts and hands aligned with our heads? If our pursuit of Truth and Orthodoxy doesn't drive us to a greater Love (of God and of Neighbor - remember the Greatest Commandment?) and Action (serving God & Neighbor), then what good is our Orthodoxy?
5) Is our worship passionate or dry? Truth and Worship go hand in hand like love & marriage. Love drives a marriage, and marriage drives love. A humble orthodoxy still finds wonder and amazement in the presence of God. It still finds childlike joy in approaching the Throne. It doesn't parse every song for theological error (don't judge, we've all done it before) or argue over whether or not God's love can be "reckless." Humble orthodoxy can do this because it doesn't think it's all figured out. Worship stems from wonder. Humble orthodoxy sings What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus, and doesn't immediately go to a theology of substitutionary atonement. It begins with wonder that Jesus would shed His blood for me. And in concert with that it begins a robust understanding of propitiation.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.