Engaging Orthodoxy

Last month I was riding on a train from Rome to Assisi. Peri and I were going there to explore the stomping grounds of “an Italian poet from the 13th century” — Saint Francis, the remarkable “friar minor” who brought profound spiritual renewal to his generation by creatively preaching a return to the simplicity of the gospel. As I rode on the train I was reading about the development of the Apostles’ Creed on Wikipedia which I had googled on my iPhone, all the while listening to Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace by the Foo Fighters on my iPod.

A synchronicity of centuries.

1st century faith & gospel
2nd century confession & creed
13th century poet & prophet
21st century culture & technology
On the train from Rome to Assisi

Engaging Orthodoxy

Engaging Orthodoxy is the term I’ve coined to describe where I’m coming from these days in my theology and ecclesiology. Let’s define terms.

engaging: able to communicate passionately and creatively with contemporary culture

orthodoxy: that which has always been rightly believed by the church about the faith

You probably get the term “engaging” — as in, “she has an engaging personality” or “I was totally engaged with that movie.”

The word orthodox may be more foreign to you. It comes from two Greek words meaning right belief. Orthodoxy (right belief) is contrasted with heterodoxy (other belief). Interestingly, the word “orthodox” was coined by the early Christians. This is due to the important fact that Christianity is first of all a faith. “The Faith” is the most common term (by far!) used in the New Testament for what we would call Christianity. Christianity places a far higher emphasis on right belief than other religions. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, tribal religions and even Judaism place their central emphasis on orthopraxy (right practice) through systems of law and ritual and allow a surprisingly wide latitude in belief. Christianity is different. Christianity insists that before you can live right, you must believe right. This is why the church has historically made such a big deal about doctrine…it is a big deal!

“Contend for the faith which was for all handed down to the saints.” -Jude 1:3

We are not free to invent or create the faith. The faith has been handed down to us, the faith has been entrusted to us. Our task is to passionately engage our culture with the ancient faith and faithfully pass it on to the next generation.

So what I’m saying is that we need to passionately and creatively communicate to our contemporary culture that which has always been rightly believed by the church about the Christian faith. If we can do this, we can turn the world upside down. For real.


I am persuaded that engaging orthodoxy is not to be the assumed state of Christianity in 21st America. I am deeply concerned that much of popular Christianity has become either pandering consumerism or disengaged novelty.

By pandering consumerism I mean a Christianity that is little more than a religious repackaging of consumerist cravings. We should not be surprised that Oprah can invent a religion of “if you can dream it you can be it” without any essential reference to Jesus Christ. Much of popular Christianity has nearly done the same thing. We identify the “felt needs” of the restless consumer and sell it with a Jesus sticker. We need not be surprised if others discover the Jesus sticker is superfluous.

By disengaged novelty I’m describing all too much of what I see in contemporary revivalism (and yes, it has become an ism). Revivalism has developed a culture that can only be understood by the insider. It is ultimately all about the emotions and experience of the initiated within the narrow confines of their own movement. In the wider culture they are completely irrelevant. This is something that never could have been said about the revival movements of John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney and William Booth. They were completely engaged with their cultures and the social issues of their times. But for the most part what I see in the revivalism movements of today is the polar opposite of these historic movements; they are completely disengaged with the wider society. Life as a Pentecostal bubble boy.

I recently heard of another “revival” where the great thing that could be said about it was, “people cannot stand up.” Well, isn’t that wonderful. In an age of global crises, in world that is so deeply broken, where the gospel of Jesus Christ so desperately needs to address the issues of poverty, injustice, war, greed, human trafficking, deadly pandemics, the polarization of hate, the curse of human alienation and spiritual emptiness — these people are having meetings where people can’t stand up. Forgive me if I’m less than enthusiastic.

What I am enthusiastic about — so enthusiastic that it keeps me awake by night and drives me to prayer by day — is engaging orthodoxy.

We don’t need novelty, we need orthodoxy.
We don’t need isolation, we need engagement.

We don’t need more marketing, we need more orthodoxy.
We don’t need calculated pandering, we need creative engagement.

Seriously, I think I’m on to something here.

The orthodox faith which ultimately triumphed over the pagan empire of Rome is every bit as capable of triumphing over the contemporary empires of secularism and consumerism.

I’m raising a battle cry: ENGAGING ORTHODOXY!

I’m going to preach on it all month long in March. (I decided that on the train to Assisi.)

I’ll be 50 in March and I feel like I’m at last connecting with something that really can change the world!

March 1: ENGAGING ORTHODOXY part 1: The FaithWhat is this magnificent obsession with Jesus Christ?

March 8: ENGAGING ORTHODOXY part 2: The BibleWhat is the Bible and how did we get it?

March 15: ENGAGING ORTHODOXY part 3: The CreedWhat is the Creed and is it relevant for today?

March 22: ENGAGING ORTHODOXY part 4: The TrinityWhat is the Trinity and why does it matter?

March 29: ENGAGING ORTHODOXY part 5: The IncarnationWhat is the Incarnation and the implications of it?

I invite you to be a part of ENGAGING ORTHODOXY and help bring the empire of Christ to the 21st century world.



1. Have you ever noticed that Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize iPhone as a word? That’s funny.

2. Echoes, Patience, Silence & Grace by the Foo Fighters is a really good album.

3. I think the icon at the top of this blog is pretty cool. I call it (you guessed it), Engaging Orthodoxy.

4. LOST seems to be borrowing the storyline of a resurrected savior….because it’s the best story ever!