Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 15th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Logos, Ethos, Pathos / Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy

orthodoxy and orthopraxy begin with Jesus

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pantocrator; Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started this post when orthopraxy and orthodoxy was the topic of the United Methodist blogosphere. The topic may be muted now, but I wanted to put this out there, generally for discussion.

In our own times this continues in the attempt to replace “orthodoxy” by “orthopraxy”—there is no common faith any more (because truth is unattainable), only common praxis. By contrast, for Christian faith, as Guardini shows so penetratingly in his masterly early work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, logos has precedence over ethos. When this is reversed, Christianity is turned upside down.1

What is Ethos and Logos, philosophically?

  • Ethos (Credibility), or ethical appeal, means convincing by the character of the author (practice; merit; good works)
  • Logos (Logical) means persuading by the use of reasoning

What is the Logos in Christianity? Jesus (John 1.1). The ethos is the ethics. 1 Corinthians 15.33.

As Wall points out,

The development of the idea of community within the biblical tradition is further understood as dynamic and “self-correcting”; indeed, the maintenance of a proper balance between an appreciation of divine grace (orthodoxology) and human responsibility (orthopraxis) is at best tenuous. Throughout the histories of Israel and the Church, specific notions of community were developed to correct certain imbalances in the faith or life of God’s people.2

This connection must be maintained, as St. John Paul II said,

It is useless to play off orthopraxis against orthodoxy: Christianity is inseparably both. Firm and well-thought—out convictions lead to courageous and upright action, the endeavor to educate the faithful to live as disciples of Christ today calls for and facilitates a discovery in depth of the mystery of Christ in the history of salvation.3

So, praxis develops as part of the community, as a way to balance orthodoxy — and the reverse. For Christians, orthodoxy is first in place, because it gives us the license to be Christian — because it is founded upon the eternal Person of Jesus. They are not against one another, and one must proceed from the other, like the Spirit from the Father and the Son. If we place praxis over doctrine, we are simply moving away from historical Christianity, and the more so when we confuse orthopraxis with either strict ethical claims or activist stances.

I think that one of the issues we actually have is the loose lexicon we have allowed to develop in our “Big Tent.”4 We don’t really speak the same language, even if we use the same words.

I contend that orthopraxis is constantly misunderstood. It is important and must accompany our right belief, but it is not merely ethics. It is not merely “doing good.” Nor does it merely contain our actions towards another. Rather, praxis begins with God and His action towards us:

The watchword “orthopraxy”, however, while it drags Christianity out of the scholar’s study and sets it on the world stage where it is to act and prove itself, abbreviates it to an ethics or a guide to human endeavor. It fails to preserve the distance between God’s praxis which operates on man and man’s praxis which takes its direction from God’s.5

If we are to avoid the secularization of Christian orthopraxy, then we must lift it up beyond ethical claims. Rather, we must see orthopraxy as parts of our worshiping experience. My admitted concern with this is that it then forces our ethical obligations — to ourselves and to others — further down; however, I will give the moral human the benefit of the doubt and simply observe that even those without orthodoxy and orthopraxy – those without God — may be ethically upright and do as much good, if not more, than the Christian.

So, what then does orthopraxy consist of? Longenecker describes orthopraxy as “following Jesus.”6 I do not think this is too far off and allows us to consider what orthopraxy would look like if we “followed Jesus.”

So, let us begin here. The “follow me” statements number roughly 11 in the Gospels.

  • In Matthew 4.19, Jesus calls us to follow him — a call “fulfilled” in Matthew 28.19, to follow him into all the world in order to make disciples (fishers of men) of all nations. Our praxis is evangelism and discipleship. We see this same statement in Matthew 16.24, although this time the conception of a suffering disciple is introduced. Our praxis has now to do with suffering for Christ. See also John 21.19.
  • In Mark 10.21, Jesus tells the rich young ruler to follow him — after he has given everything up. Our praxis then is follow Christ with our complete person, but likewise to care for the poor. We see this in Luke 5.27 when Jesus, eating with the sinners, calls Levi. We are to call to sinners as well. Our praxis is to be non-partial.
  • In John 8.12, Jesus tells his followers that they must walk in the light. Our praxis is holiness.
  • Likewise, we are given baptism as a sign of the followers of Jesus and the eucharist (John 6.52–59). St. John Damascene expands these to include other sacraments such as a marriage and so on. But, our praxis here is not limited to eating with sinners or giving up ourselves to follow Christ, but it likewise includes the ordinances of the Church. Our praxis is lex orandi lex credendi lex vivendi.

As one can see, orthopraxy is not separated from orthodoxy, but is called to be one together. Further, I must argue that while it includes moral behavior, I am not sure it is right to boil it down to ethical concerns. Not only do we not see ethical issues in the Creeds, but Jesus’s insistence in the Gospels are really on two things — how to treat one another and who he was. After all, if he was laying down a (re)new(ed) law, he would have to be the Lawgiver preceding Moses. If our praxis is to follow Jesus, orthodoxy answers why — “Who is this Jesus that we should follow him?”

I doubt this is the end of the conservation, but I wanted to get a few thoughts down and seek engagement. My hope is to turn this into a more forthright project later on. I will explore later the concept of orthopathy, which I think many have confused with praxis. 

  1. Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (trans. John Saward; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 155.
  2. Robert W. Wall, “Community: New Testament,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1103.
  3. John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae (Apostolic Exhortations; Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1979).
  4. “Big Tents” are increasing becoming less-than-popular, not only among denominations, but too scholarly organizations. The question really is, how big can a tent get before it collapses?
  5. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: Prolegomena (trans. Graham Harrison; vol. 1; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 33.
  6. Richard N. Longenecker, “Taking Up the Cross Daily: Discipleship in Luke-Acts,” in Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament (ed. Richard N. Longenecker; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 74.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

3 Responses to “Logos, Ethos, Pathos / Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy”
  1. One of the biggest reasons orthopraxis has become the more popular champion than orthodoxy is that there have been teachings that have resulted in such bad, harmful praxis. This is why Augustine warned about interpretations that do not build up the twofold love of God and love of neighbor. To be obedient we have to know what we are to obey, but determining what it is we’re supposed to be obeying has to be informed by broader ethical concerns.

    I think this probably sounds more complicated than it is. The centrality of the twofold law of love is both our highest doctrine and our highest ethical constraint.

  2. “In Matthew 4.19, Jesus calls us to follow him — a call “fulfilled” in Matthew 28.19″…

    Just to be exacting, Matt 4:19 only refers to Peter and Andrew. And Matt 28:19 says “make disciples of all the nations,”…

    But not necessarily all people. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it”…

    Sorry. I am not so committed that I plan on having myself become a martyr. Followers of that are no different than ISIS. (Ok, I expect to be bombarded by fanatics who disagree)!

    • Gary, it is not only fanatics who’d disagree but biblical scholars. Jesus is not necessarily calling for martyrdom, physically, but one metaphorically.

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