True Doctrine Doesn’t Wait by MARK GALLI for Christianity Today
Without good theology, you can’t have Christlike love and compassion.
In a recent email to me, a writer encouraged CT to pursue a new trajectory. He argued we should move away from orthodoxy, even if “beautiful,” and instead in a direction where orthopathy (meaning right feelings or emotions) and orthopraxis (right practice) are seen as “first-order issues responsive to the two great commandments and the mission of Jesus, and witnessed through love and unity.” This is a near-perfect summary of the increasing confusion found in much of Christianity, but especially in the progressive variety.
The reasons for such confusion are many, and some are understandable. Many progressive Christian writers today came from 1990s evangelicalism. If, in fact, that evangelicalism was legalistic, evasive, and self-righteous, it should be rejected.
But reaction to error makes for distorted theology. Robert Barron, in The Priority of Christ: Toward a Post-Liberal Catholicism(Baker Academic, 2016) [p. 13], notes the following about liberalism and late medieval Christianity: “Early modernity saw itself as a salutary response to oppressive and obscurantist strains in Christian culture, but since it was reacting to a corruption of true Christianity, it itself became similarly distorted and exaggerated.” The same can be said about some reactions to unhealthy evangelical faith.
The term orthopathy has various definitions, but in evangelical contexts it generally refers to having the proper emotional and attitudinal posture. And orthopraxis refers to the correct practice of action. That we should be compassionate and ethical nearly goes without saying—our take on “beautiful orthodoxy” certainly includes them. But there’s a reason Paul, in epistle after epistle, devotes so much space to clarifying theology before he moves on to ethical exhortation: We cannot truly love the neighbor if we don’t know the truth about our existence and God.
The dividing issue of our time is, of course, human sexuality, and so it makes for a good case study. How one understands the issue depends on one’s doctrine of God, of creation, of revelation, and theological anthropology. The classic, orthodox summary is expressed well in an internal CT document that guides us in this area: