Sunday, June 7, 2009

Part 2 On "The Case for RetroChristianity"

Earlier this week I described Dr. Sviegel's definition of 'orthodoxy', 'heterodoxy', 'heresy', 'metrodoxy', and 'petridoxy'. In light of these categories, he makes a case for "RetroChristianity"

Sviegel says:
First let me make it perfectly clear that RetroChristianity is not fundamentalism redivivus, a retreat back to Papal Rome, a pilgrimage to Eastern Orthodoxy, or a veiled attempt to promote a flaccid ecumenical faith. Rather it’s an honest attempt to more carefully navigate our received orthodox faith and practice through the precarious channel between metrodoxy and petridoxy, both of which can shipwreck the faith. Therefore, RetroChristianity wants to bridge the gap between the ancient and contemporary church without going to two extremes: 1) idealizing the ancient and condemning the modern, or 2) eschewing the ancient and seizing the contemporary.
Sviegel acknowledges that this idea has much in common with a lot of the "ancient-future" movements, and that it can become just another cool fad for metrodox churches or can become a clinging petrodixical insistence. I don't think that Sviegel thinks he's coming up with anything new, he's just trying to put the appropriate balance of tradition and innovation into fresh, understandable terms.

He says:

RetroChristianity tries to address the real practical questions of “how” we can intentionally and clearly teach orthodoxy everywhere, at all times, and to all. It also draws much of its inspiration from the ... foundational work of the patristic period. But it also seeks to move, in concrete practical steps, from that pre-modern, pre-Christian cultural context to our post-modern, post-Christian context.
The reason this stuck with me so much is that this is really what Isaac is passionate about, and it's a very difficult thing to explain to people in our church culture that feel very little connection to the broader church history or really have much of a concept of "orthodoxy". Because we live in a society filled with fractured pieces of churches that emphasize their differences, I think few of us were raised to recognize a shared Orthodox faith. As a student of history, Isaac has loved studying the path of the church through the movements of history, and seeing the continuity of it has really been incredibly encouraging to both of us. It has opened our eyes to the broader community of faith outside of evangelicalism and given us a huge appreciation for the early church fathers, the creeds that first succinctly stated the core beliefs of Christianity, and the traditions that were passed down from those early years.

At the same time Isaac (and I through him) have become more aware that (as Sviegel says) without firm teaching of the core doctrine of the church, the church goes off track. It's really cool to see how each path away from orthodoxy is followed by a movement of right teaching and correction that returns to true faith. Right teaching doesn't guarantee faith, but because faith involves the mind, it is impossible to have faith without at least some degree of teaching.

So - it is Isaac's passion to teach orthodoxy everywhere, always, and to all. He wants to work with pastors to teach them these fundamental, historical and scriptural TRUTHS, so that they don't forget and get distracted and manage to mislead their people. He wants to teach lay people, so that in the times when emotion is gone, their firm beliefs carry them through, and so that they can teach their children. Many see basic orthodoxy as being boring, so we jazz it up and try to repackage and market and all that. Fine. Do what you will. So long as you don't lose the fundamental characteristics of what makes us true believers of Christ.

Sviegel concludes:

Ultimately RetroChristianity means carrying on a constant dialogue with the past, but it also requires an actual practical connection with the present and an orientation toward the future. Therefore, it asks how we can and ought to teach and practice orthodoxy everywhere (that is, in every kind of church and ministry around the world), always (in every ministry opportunity, outreach, or service), and to all (young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, men and women). RetroChristianity demands that the past first be reckoned with on its own terms. It can not settle for picking over the past for relevant bits and pieces that will make us feel more “connected” to our roots. It can’t stand for politely consulting the ancient Christians to make us look sophisticated. And it can’t naively transplant the past into the present as if the preceding centuries of development never happened. As such, the dialogue is a complex, time-consuming, strenuous work that requires the input of many. This includes patristic, medieval, and reformation scholars; pastors, teachers, and laypeople; denominational and free churches, and numerous others interested in genuinely engaging in either real transformation . . . or unashamed preservation.


Sturgmom said...

I'm not sure if I'm exactly following with your train of thought, but this sort of makes me think of our own current journey of trying to find a new church with SOLID teaching. It seems like every place we visit, the sermons are either Dr. Phil or Joel Osteen and we are wondering if this is what is passing for preaching lately. It is a SAD commentary on the path of the church.

Togenberg said...

I appreciate your comments.

The rejection of tradition has devastating results and is a loss of soul, a gutting.

Also, at least the way I was raised, one would think that before Calvin, Zwingli, Luther et al. there had been no Christians for almost a millenium-and-a-half.