Orthodoxy is a 50s term, no longer in vogue for enlightened people. For many this unenlightened, theological artifact calls from the grave the rotted corpse of The Inquisition to ride once again from village to village, church to church in a holy but horrifying quest to expose and execute on the spot any who dare depart from duly established dogma of the Christian church. Orthodoxy equals death to all who dissent. That is one way some view orthodoxy.
Others have a less sensational understanding of being orthodox. Instead of the futuristic Pale Horse rider whose disciple is Hell--fully reminiscent of the Apostle's apocalyptic nightmare--being orthodox for these others is little more than being fundamentally Christian in one's basic belief system.
I often rummage through the book section in various "junk" stores my wife & I frequent. One can find some treasures there, I attest, and, more often than not, for a wee bit of pocket change to boot. I have a category on this site I call "Cheap Truth." With bargains like I'm prone to find when I go "junkin,'" my favorite place to hang at the mall while hunny does her thing has now been thoroughly debunked.
Recently, I found a nifty little volume by the late Randall Stewart, then professor of English and Chairman of the English Department at Vanderbilt University. The book is entitled "American Literature & Christian Doctrine" (Louisiana State University Press, 1958)* and in it, Dr. Stewart asserts convincingly of his era that despite the conventional tendency to argue for distinctions within various "sects" of the Christian faith, there exists a general corpus of Christian belief to which all adherents embrace. He writes:
"In our preoccupation with particular variations among the sects, it is easy to lose sight of the broad area of general agreement. For there is a broad area of general agreement, there is such a thing as Christian orthodoxy, and in the present state of the world, the distinguishing of individual differences may be less important than the definition of orthodox essentials.
Whether one's standpoint is Calvinist or Arminian, Puritan or non-Puritan, Protestant, Anglican, or Catholic, there are the following basic assumptions:
(1) the sovereignty of God (God is infinitely wise, powerful, loving, and just, and is truly sovereign in His world);
(2) the divinity of Christ (Jesus is the only begotten son of God);
(3) Original Sin (the natural man is imperfect, fallible, prone to evil);
(4) the atonement (natural man is redeemed through faith in the efficacy of Christ's atoning death);
(5) the inspiration of the Scriptures (the Bible is God's revealed Word).
Surely these doctrines, broadly considered, constitute an unimpeachable Christian orthodoxy" (p.14, Italics original).
Leaving aside a dutiful urge to add a few more flowers to the professor's garden, for my part, I cannot question whether the five doctrines Stewart lists constitute what he dubs an "unimpeachable Christian orthodoxy." Surely they must. The weed I'm compelled to pull is his premise that "in the present state of the world, the distinguishing of individual differences may be less important than the definition of orthodox essentials."
Whatever sources Professor Stewart assembled to conclude that distinctives are further down the food chain than orthodoxy--and I'm sure at the time he possessed much evidence for his premise--I think we can safely say, in our era, Southern Baptists face what to Stewart would be a higgledy-piggledy situation. For Southern Baptists are faced not with working out a "broad area of general agreement" or in Professor Stewart's term, "orthodoxy" as it were.
Rather we are faced with Baptist distinctives being slowly but steadily sucked into an unbounded black hole of a "broad area of general agreement." The difference is, for Stewart, the broad area of general agreement was orthodoxy; for us the broad area of general agreement is evangelicalism.
Whatever the case, I mention again that Stewart's premise appears inverted nowadays and a more likely premise is this:
in the present state of the world, the definition of orthodox essentials may be less important than the distinguishing of individual differences as Baptists with evangelicalism at large
If we do focus on orthodoxy, perhaps we should pour our energies into forging a Baptist orthodoxy, which may exclusively be our only way out of this evangelical black hole of broad agreement where being Baptist is no more an identification mark than being a minnow in a guppy pond.
With that, I am...
* Cheap Truth Price: 29 cents, plus tax