Thursday, August 30, 2018

TTT #23 What We Do Is More Important than What We Believe

This new article is largely related to Christians and Christian theology—but not exclusively. In recent decades some Buddhist thinkers, such as the venerable Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, have emphasized “engaged Buddhism,” which is closely connected to the movement in Christian theology referenced here.
Emphasis on Orthodoxy
Orthodoxy is a word that has had a long and checkered history in the story of the Christian faith. While the idea of orthodoxy was not completely absent even in New Testament times, the emphasis on the importance of orthodoxy was not prevalent in Christianity until the fourth century.
The first Ecumenical Councils of the church, beginning with the Council of Nicaea in 325, composed creeds which were intended to separate orthodoxy from heresy. More precisely, religious and political leaders sought to remove those deemed to be heretics from the orthodox within the Church.
Until about sixty years ago, the emphasis on orthodoxy was largely unchallenged in Christianity, although, to be sure, some small, “splinter” groups placed more emphasis on correct action than on correct belief.
For the church as a whole, however, the creeds were the focal point of correctness, and all who entered the Christian faith and sought to maintain good standing in that faith were expected to agree with the creeds.
Nevertheless, Christians, and all people, need to recognize that what they do is more important than what they believe.
The Contribution of Liberation Theology
That which is known as liberation theology has its strong supporters as well as severe critics. There are variations in all movements and schools of thought; some are more excessive in their emphases than others. That is true for liberation theology, too, of course.
Assuredly, there have been some statements made and some actions performed in the name of liberation theology that clearly have to be labeled as extreme. But there is much that is good and important in liberation theology.
Three distinct liberation theology movements began in the early 1970s. For many, though, liberation theology refers primarily to a theological movement whose roots go back to the late 1960s in South America.
Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez became the clear leader of that theological movement with his book A Theology of Liberation (1973), based on his theological proposals of 1968. 
Gutiérrez defines liberation theology as “a critical reflection on Christian praxis in light of the word of God.” He goes on to assert that “a principal task of ‘reflection on praxis in the light of faith’ will be to strengthen the necessary and fruitful links between orthopraxis and orthodoxy.”
Emphasis on Orthopraxy
But what is all this talk about praxis and orthopraxis? Praxis simply means action or practice, but it often has the connotation of being the practical application of a theory.
For religious people, praxis refers to the idea of putting faith into action. For Christians, it is particularly related to the idea that “faith without works is dead,” as found in the book of James. 
Orthopraxy, then, simply refers to right action. This concept stands over against orthodoxy, which means right belief. Gutiérrez says that the purpose of orthopraxis is to recognize “the importance of concrete behavior, of deeds, of action, of praxis in the Christian life.”
Given the wretched economic conditions of the masses of people in South America, the liberation theology developed in that continent spoke much about liberation from poverty, and “the preferential option for the poor” became a widely used, and often misunderstand, slogan. 
For all forms of liberation theology, though, action (praxis) is considered more important than words. That is the important point I am making here: what we do is more important than what we believe.

[Much more on this important topic can be found in the 23rd chapter of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT), which can be accessed here.]


  1. Since early after my conversion to Christianity, I have essentially -praxy and -doxy to be two sides of the same coin. If there is only one side, it is clear that one has a counterfeit coin. The issue is one of Ortho- Faith without works is dead. Works without faith is dead. And then, hidden, are the concepts of Para- and Hetero-. There are problem across the "theological" spectrum. I have witnessed the ills of these. Some just set out to cause trouble - may it find them, or may they, like Simon the Zealot and Levi the Tax-collector, repent.

    The film "Mister Moses" was influential in my early thinking.

  2. "What we do is more important than what we Believe." Everyone believes in something and us Christians who believe show our commitment and Love for CHRIST by doing what He has asked us to do.
    It states it well in James 2:17, as you put in your Blog.
    I try to Serve JESUS by Witnessing to as many people as I can and Share my faith.
    I wish you would do a Blog on how to Best Witness and Evangelize others, as I am always trying to do a Better job for JESUS.
    John (Tim) Carr

  3. Here are comments received by email from Thinking Friend Les Hill in Kentucky:

    "Chuck Queen has emphasized belief not enough in itself in his recent book, 'Being a Progressive Christian for Dummies: An Evolution of Faith.' . . . .

    There is 'belief' meaning I'll say something is true, but it stops short of 'belief' that directs how I live, a surrender to the lordship of Jesus. I think the 'Sinners Prayer' as just words leads to a dangerous abuse of faith--trust that God accepts me, enables and forgives me.

    "We struggle with, 'Can I live good enough to be in right standing with God on my own?' Or, because of God's acceptance of me by faith, not by fear I live out legitimate vital living as best I understand Jesus's leading as Lord (not just a word).

    "Much to be expressed on both aspects of this.

    "I believe with James, one's true belief in Jesus as Lord results in his lordship being expressed in how I live. Does not true belief require a sense of 'surrender?'

  4. Here is a brief comment from local Thinking Friend Bill Ryan:

    Leroy, I'm reminded of a related comment by Dag Hammarskjold, the 2nd and perhaps most admired Secretary General of the U.N. (1953-61), who wrote this in 1955: 'In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action' ('Markings')."

  5. Then, I received these comments from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "Thanks for the thoughtful insights regarding practice versus belief. Both are of importance and really cannot be separated. James has been one of favorite books in the Bible (apologies to Martin Luther) because it demands the marriage of these two areas as the highest expression of the Christian Faith.

    "The Social Gospel people 'got it right' more than what they have been given credit."

  6. Just a few minutes ago Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago sent these comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your observations about orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

    "Lutherans, along with many other Christians, use creedal statements as part of the liturgy. Although Lutherans recognize three creeds (Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian), the Apostles is the most often used. It is simple and elegant, but it says nothing about how one should live his or her life, nor do the other two creeds.

    "Faith is often, and erroneously, characterized as belief in a set of unproven propositions. But in the context of Christianity and in other religions as well, it seems that faith is actually commitment--to a way of life based on humility, simplicity, compassion for those who suffer, integrity and honesty. Unfortunately, the creeds do not mention these values (although they are often mentioned in the Bible); but they are critically important and need to be emphasized."

    1. A very good word, Eric.

      I attend a church which is focused on the "Solas". Those miss the point of Christ's commands as well. The evangelicals have forgotten that we are to Love the Lord our God, Love our neighbor, Love our enemy, Love one another (fellow followers of Christ/ the Church). It is cheaper to save souls than to save lives.

      I think back to my Great Great Grandmother, a Missouri Lutheran (Deutsche Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Missouri) widow who adopted an English boy (my Great Grandfather) off of the Orphan Train as he clung to her to keep from being put back on the train. I still have and read her German Bible - Luther's translation.

  7. Imagine a US Presidential candidate ran on the platform of "good news for the poor, healthcare for all, good news for those in prison, and to those in debt." The response would probably be somewhere between derisive laughter and trolling scorn. Well, Jesus did more than that. In Luke 4:18-19 he reads from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he sits down and explains what this means, and by verse 28 the enraged listeners were ready to execute him. There is something about "forgive us our debts" that just drives the establishment crazy!

    1. Sadly, I grew up in a country with that kind of political situation, a "popular front" - supposedly "Christian". Thank you God that we do not have that! It was deadly, and the people had no means of defense. When man sets himself up as God, we are in trouble. History repeats itself, and it is still playing out all over the world. But you are right, the Church has lost its mission in the Kingdom as well, and abdicated its role to governmental politics.