Change you can believe in

442px-Nicaea_iconGood friend TC Moore over at Theological Graffiti has asked some good questions that will get us into an important follow-up to our response to Boyd’s recent comments about the Son’s separation from the Father on the Cross. We wanted a third post to explore the question of why any of this matters. Why care about whether or not the Father and Son were separated on the Cross or whether the event of their eternal enjoyment of each other is unbreakable? What’s it matter if the eternal Logos was still personally present throughout the universe upholding it when Jesus was a zygote in Mary’s womb? Some might wonder how these issues are relevant to the everyday concerns of struggling Christian believers.

These questions lead naturally to questions TC poses regarding the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy: How are these to be understood and related? Can a person truly possess one (either orthodoxy or orthopraxy) without the other? And perhaps more interestingly, Can a heterodox belief bring about right praxis in a person’s life? If so, wouldn’t that belief be orthodox for that person?

It seems unnecessary to have to justify the claim that ‘what we believe’ and ‘how we live’ are intimately (causally) related. We don’t think anyone would question the relationship, so we won’t question it either. But we will ask which takes precedence and why? We’d like to suggest that while they shape and are shaped each another, it is ‘believing’ (orthodoxy) which is primary in the sense that it is the gateway to the intentional and responsible transforming of our ‘behavior’. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” said Jesus. That’s the proper order. And Prov. 27.3 reminds us that “as a person thinks, so is he.” Orthodoxy (“right believing”) matters to orthopraxy (“right living”) by identifying those belief states that motivate and shape behavior to the fullest extent possible. Given that, orthopraxy is the true test of whether one truly believes the relevant truths.

Ultimately the truth cannot be the enemy of our best and highest good. On a Christian account of things in which the God creates, sustains and knows the world he loves in its entirety, truth is both singular (no ultimate contradictions in God) and empowering. Empowering? Yes. By that we mean that it can’t be the case ultimately that what is false better empowers us to become the persons God intends. Orthodoxy (right believing) is a truth designed for our living (orthopraxy) and to which our living best conforms. So we can’t see how somebody’s orthopraxy (their transformation in love to Christlikeness) is better served by heterodox beliefs (believing what is in fact false about God, the world, and themselves).

Of course, we need not possess perfect beliefs about everything in order to progress spiritually at all. We don’t see how being wrong about geography, a cake recipe, or the truth of quantum mechanics will diminish our spiritual development. Not everything matters equally. The challenge for the Church has always been to define that kind of life we’re created for and then identify those beliefs that best explain, protect, defend, promote and empower transformation into that life. Believe it or not, that’s what the early Creeds intend. They are not speculative philosophical meanderings unrelated to the experience of the transforming power of the gospel. It was because Arianism could not properly articulate our salvation and perfection in Christ that it was opposed so vehemently. The point was that ‘who’ Jesus is and ‘how’ Jesus saves are intimately related. And one couldn’t tamper with the former without affecting the latter.

What about the Trinity? More specifically, what about Greg Boyd’s specific claim that the divine persons may severe their own experience of one another? Isn’t this so speculative as to make any opinion on it beside the point and irrelevant to Christian living? Greg doesn’t think so. Otherwise he wouldn’t advocate his position as passionately as he does. He believes that our perception of (or belief about) God’s love of us has the power to radically transform us. We agree. But Greg also thinks that this love is best accounted for in terms of imagining the consequence of God’s love for us to be the cessation of God’s own triune happiness.

It sounds wonderful to think God would give that much on that level. We applaud the kind of love that “gives its life” for another. It’s thoroughly biblical. Greater love hath no man than that, and so forth. But does it really best account for what it is about God that saves us? Might there be unpleasant fallout to the belief that the experienced fullness of God’s triune life cannot transcend the suffering of the Cross? Might we be giving up something which our salvation requires by supposing that God, in the triune fullness of his own experience as Father, Son and Spirit, does not in fact transcend the world’s evil and ugliness? Even now, how we are expected to experientially transcend our own suffering (in the way Greg surprisingly describes in the first 30 seconds of his most recent video blog here) if God is unable experientially to transcend his suffering? How does believing that the Triune God remains the fullest, most complete experience of the divine persons-in-relation while the Son suffers empower us in that kind of transcendence? It’s worth exploring.

2 comments on “Change you can believe in

  1. T. C. says:

    Hey Tom,

    Thanks for the shout out, and for the further explanation. I’d like to offers some friendly push back on the “proper order” you suggest. Where you quote Jesus (from John 8.32), he actually says something important in the previous verse. Read together, the two verses say,

    “(v.31b) If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. (v.32) Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    My take on this is that obedience precedes illumination. Jesus first calls us to “Follow him,” as his disciples, which I take to mean imitate him like apprentices, and only then does he promises that we will know the truth. The way I imagine this is like Jesus is a carpenter. He does not intend to teach us a class on carpentry—the “theory” of carpentry, or the “philosophy” of carpentry. No, he intends to hand us a baby-sized hammer, and calls us to “shadow” him. Everything he does, we do. We imitate him, until the carpentry becomes ‘second nature.’ Then, and only then, he will turn to us and say, “Now you know carpentry.”

    I love theology! And I think I live in my mind more than the average person. Questions about obscure theological conundrums keep me up at night sometimes. But, I think that this is not what Jesus intends. I don’t think Jesus intends to get my theology 100% straight, and then expects my life to reflect it. I think Jesus intends me to follow him by imitating what I see him doing, and in the process, he expects my theology will be formed. Along the way, I will no doubt get some wrong ideas about God. But I also have no doubt that, if they are causing me to live in a way that dishonors God, his Holy Spirit will reorient me and brilliant men like you will help me understand where my thinking was off track.

    I know you know all this, so I’m not trying to correct you. I’m merely offering another look at the other side of the coin.

    Love you bro!


  2. tgbelt says:

    Good stuff, TC. I totally agree that we can understand belief-development within the larger commitment to be with Christ and follow him. Illumination goes hand in hand with obedience. The more we yield, the more we given to perceive, and on we go. Dallas Willard was the best champion and expositor of this. I don’t disagree at all. I suppose the fact that both ‘believing’ and ‘doing’ do feed off each other and influence each other makes it possible to focus on contexts in which ‘doing’ precedes and is the basis for ‘knowing’ and other contexts in which ‘belief context’ informs and motivates our actions. One can hardly dismiss either.

    So I’m happy to say that there are times when it’s right to ask context questions, like “Who do men say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” Indeed, Jesus didn’t just call the disciples to imitate his ‘doing’ (love the poor, pray for the sick, preach the good news [um, wait a sec, what IS the good news? Oops, something to ‘know’!], etc.), he also called them to imitate his ‘believing’. So we’re challenged both ways: Don’t ‘think’ about God the way you used to, or don’t believe that any longer, as well as, Stop ignoring people that way, and, Love people this way. I’m just saying that some change in belief (about self and other) has to precede the change from hating to loving. We can only do what Jesus does by sufficiently believing what he believes.

    The call to the renewal of the mind out of which flows transformed living is all over the NT. I wouldn’t know how to understand it otherwise. But I hear ya. The transformation of our worldviews and belief systems is part of the call to be with Christ. We don’t have to choose to do one or the other. So perhaps my point is, we’re “with” Christ to the extent we do both.

    I don’t think we’ll ever get all the theology right, any more than we’ll get all the living right either. Honestly, this whole issue over the Trinity is extremely relative (to my NON-brilliant mind) to living and doing and being.


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