Tony Jones: orthodoxy = orthopraxy?

Tony Jones, national coordinator of the Emergent Village, presented this paper at a theology conference at Wheaton college.

It is not my intention to take a flame-thrower and attack a “Tony straw man.” I have read the article twice and have tried to understand what exactly he is saying. That being said, here is a quote from page 24 of his paper:

You have heard it said that the emergent church values orthopraxy over orthodoxy, but I say to you, if orthodoxy is an event, then another veil has been torn. There is no difference between the two. “Orthopraxy,” as my friend Dwight Friesen calls it, is the dialectical tension in which these two poles stand. Let me put it more boldly: there is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy. It doesn’t exist. People may talk about it, but they also talk about unicorns.

There is no song until it’s sung — just words and notes on paper. There is no strike until it’s called by the ump — “It ain’t nothing till I call it.” And there is no orthodoxy until it’s lived.

If you don’t know what orthopraxy is, that’s ok. In a nutshell, it’s proper practice, i.e. works.

Hmm, did TJ just equate works with doctrine? Am I putting words in his mouth? I don’t think I am. I would argue that no matter what the Ecumenical councils ruled throughout the course of church history, that orthodoxy (proper doctrine) is not an earthly event. That is, the truth does not occur; events in which men discuss the truth do occur. But the truth, it flows from God, the One who has no beginning or end. Truth is objective — it has always been and is now revealed

by God

to man

through the Scriptures.

Further, since proper faith is based on spiritual truth — i.e. doctrine — then, to equate practice and doctrine is to confuse faith and works — the heresy foundational to most of the world’s cults and false religions. Here we see yet another really bad idea resulting from emergent conversation.

Phil Johnson of TeamPyro wrote an excellent article on this issue. Click here to read it.

  1. #1 by Steve on July 7, 2007 - 9:46 pm

    While sound doctrine is important, Orthodoxy is far more than that. It is the straight path to glory (as opposed to amartia – falling short of the glory of God). It is right praise, praise directed to God – in other words, correct worship. And without Orthopraxy, Orthodoxy is introspective, theoretical and irrelevant.

  2. #2 by clearly on July 8, 2007 - 6:39 am

    Hey Steve,

    I would agree strongly that orthodoxy is irrelevant wihtout orthopraxy — however, the question is only true from our reference frame. To God, orthodoxy is — it’s his truth.

    Tony’s article spoke of orthodoxy with a much narrower definition. That is the one that I was usuing. Can you demonstrate exegetically why you can hold that orthodoxy is the antithesis of amartia? Essentially, if you hold to that, you are merely reiterating what Tony wrote, that is, orthodoxy = orthopraxy.

  3. #3 by Steve on July 8, 2007 - 7:04 pm

    Ortthodoxy and amartia — see Romans 3:23. Amartia means falling short of the target, and the target referred to is the glory of God. Orthodoxy is, by definition, the “straight path to glory”.

  4. #4 by Pastor Ken Silva on July 8, 2007 - 7:57 pm


    Maybe this will help. Hamartia does refer to “missing the mark.” However, this “sin” is missing the mark of the perfect righteousness in Jesus Christ.

    “Orthodoxy” refers to correct belief. There is no connection between those words. Our practice flows out of our correct belief which precedes it.

    So no correct belief, no new birth. No new birth, always missing the mark. And our faith is actually a gift of God to do the practice which He planned in advance each of us should do.

    I pray this helps. šŸ™‚

  5. #5 by clearly on July 8, 2007 - 10:02 pm

    Steve, Paul’s usage of doxa is quite an interesting study — one that I have only been able to look at briefly.

    Orthodoxy, as I referred to it in the article, is correct doctrine or correct belief. That is the definition from which Tony’s piece was working. It seems like you want to break down the word etymologically — which is interesting. But hasn’t the word taken a slightly different direction in the 21st century?

    Also, if hamartia is the antithesis of orthodoxy, then that conclusion could be used to support my claims as well. It would then actually be a sin not to believe properly (interesting note, many theologians believe the sin mentioned over and over again in the book of Hebrews is the sin of unbelief — just an interesting sidenote).

    Pastor Ken,

    I agree that there is no immediate connection between orthodoxy and sin — point well taken. The only connection is between the mark (God’s doxa) and what causes us to miss it (hamartia).

    As to faith being the gift of God…I won’t go there right now:)

  6. #6 by Phil on July 9, 2007 - 4:32 am

    I understand what Tony is trying to say, but I don’t know if it’s helpful to say orthodoxy = orthopraxy. They can’t really be separated, but they are like separate sides of the same coin. I would say this, though, if someone says they believe something, but he doesn’t act on it, then he doesn’t really believe it.

    I was thinking about this from the other side. In a way, the Law was concerned only with orthopraxy – getting people to do the “right” things. It didn’t really deal with motives. When Jesus came he said that doing the “right” thing wasn’t enough, it depended on your motives. So in a way, they are both worthless without the other.

  7. #7 by clearly on July 9, 2007 - 5:35 am


    That is one of my major problems with many of the emerging/emergent leaders. If they really aren’t saying what they are saying, then they have a lot of trouble communicating.

    As to the law, wasn’t there always a heart aspect that God’s people were missing? It’s not that Jesus changed anything…He just told them that they were missing it…

  8. #8 by Pastor Ken Silva on July 9, 2007 - 5:38 am


    Ah, clearly…O no, I wasn’t meaning to start THAT debate! šŸ™‚

  9. #9 by Phil on July 9, 2007 - 7:26 am

    Well, I read that paper too, and I didn’t think it was ambiguous. I wasn’t trying to say that it was. I really don’t see what exactly the issue you have with the article. Do you disagree with Tony’s statement, “Let me put it more boldly: there is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy.”? It seems like the book of James says this.

    Jesus didn’t change the Law, but He did reveal God’s heart in giving the Law. I should have said that the way the religious establishment carried out the Law was focused completely on orthopraxy without the change of heart required to really fulfill the Law.

  10. #10 by Henry Frueh on July 9, 2007 - 7:48 am

    Jesus didn’t change the law, He fulfilled it. There is no OT law to the Spirit indwelt believer.

    TJ and others sometimes communicate as if they are condescending to what people refer to as orthodx believers. Faith without works is dead, and there is no orthopraxy without orthodoxy.

    Faith first, then works. The demons have orthodoxy, they do not have orthopraxy because Christ did not die for them. You cannot overestimate the need for the true gospel, but you can underestimate the need for true and exhibited fruit.

    But if you are bnot careful, you will overestimate works which can be either legalism or liberalism or both.

  11. #11 by clearly on July 9, 2007 - 8:18 am


    Did you read either the article or my review carefully? The bolded letters in my article tell it all. Tony didn’t just end there with his statements, which if he had, it probably wouldn’t have caused me to write an article.

    He said, “There is no difference between the two.” That’s quite another story…

    I will be out for the rest of the day…I am taking the teens to summer camp!

  12. #12 by Annie Bullock on August 4, 2007 - 1:10 pm

    I don’t think orthodoxy and orthopraxy can or should be equated with faith and works but that isn’t what I wanted to address. I want to address the question of objectivity.

    I would agree with you that truth has an objective existence, as God does and that God is revealed in scripture. Here comes the problem: perception is subjective. That’s the part of postmodernism it’s worth it to me to embrace. Subjectivity as an epistemological claim doesn’t necessarily imply anything about the objective existence of either truth or God. It means human beings, by virtue of their nature as subjects, access information subjectively. Yes, that means the bible.

    It’s a postmodern point but it resonates with patristic theology as well. They wouldn’t have argued from the notion of subjectivity but they did think that because human beings are created and God uncreated, it is impossible for us to know God in God’s essence.

    Scripture, as a revelation of God, is just as much a mystery to us. After my way of thinking, the result is a higher view of scripture, not its demise as an authority. the other result is a healthy dose of theological humility. God isn’t self-evident. Neither is God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, which we know through scripture.

    Now, how do we know what’s true and what isn’t? I don’t know. I do know we need each other and we need the tradition of the undivided church. And we need faith in the holy spirit.

  13. #13 by clearly on August 6, 2007 - 5:25 am

    At the risk of sounding stupid, I don’t think I’m fully grasping your point.

    If you are saying that humans can’t understand language, I think that is a blatant attack on God’s sovereignty. He has chosen to communicate in words, one of his express purposes being that we could “know that we have eternal life…”

    The Scripture is intended to produce knowledge, not more uncertainty. Unfortunately, your post reminds me that emerging/emergents don’t speak with great clarity — I’m rubbing my eyes and struggling to see amidst all the fog you just dropped on my blog.

  1. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy « Khanya

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