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Where Are You Coming From?

I am occasionally asked in the classes and groups that I lead, and also by family members and friends, why or what exactly I believe in regards to theology and the church.  Some in the evangelical tradition accuse me of being “catholic-lite,” and others have called me a fundamentalist (a word GREATLY abused in today’s world of modern chauvinism).  So to answer this question, I am going to use two sources that best explain where I am coming from.  The first is a sermon by Orthodox Anglican leader Scott McLaughlin entitled “The Disciplined Center”, and the second is Thomas C. Oden’s “Classic Christianity,” which argues for a “classical Christian consensus.” The following helps explain the Statement of Faith section of this site.

For the sake of convenience, let’s say that in the church there are roughly 4 main traditions, which can be put in four different quadrants.  These traditions can be labeled Evangelical, Reformed, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox.  Using the traits identified by McLaughlin and Oden, the quadrants would look something like this:
All four of these traditions can be arguably demonstrated from church history and from Scripture, depending on one’s point of emphasis.  I was raised and trained almost exclusively in the “evangelical” quadrant, with the occasional influence of the Reformed.  First, let me say that I greatly appreciate the emphasis, reverence, and flat-out knowledge of the Scriptures that is present when the evangelical tradition is at its best.  There is a very practical Christian living side as well, with personal behavior and personal faith emphasized greatly.

This being said, the historical memory of many of the churches in this tradition are very limited in many respects, and there exists in many cases no connection to the ancient practices and worship of the church.  It also feeds into the worst parts of American individualism, with the idea of a “personal relationship” taken to such an extreme that “I don’t need church, I just need coffee in the morning with my Jesus.” It is not by accident that the whole “relationship vs. religion” dichotomy so popular today comes from this camp in particular.  The “democratic” idea of the church also is prevalent, often leading to a sort of mob-like feel-goodism as doctrine. Again, there are many “evangelicals” (all should be evangelical in a sense) that do not fall into these traps, but the tendency is there.

The other three quadrants help to mitigate this.  Worship in the church was clearly Sacramental and liturgical from an early date (read Ignatius of Antioch discuss Holy Communion literally a generation after the Apostles, and read the Didache, a 2nd century Christian worship manual), and the Spirit at work in the church would have led to important decisions and doctrinal statements fairly early on, especially when the church was unified for the most part.  This is why the early creeds and councils are so important, as they are the voice of the church, received consensually throughout the world, across time and geography, a true “church catholic.”  The connectedness to the traditions and historic practices of the church also avoids the trendiness and faddism so prevalent in many evangelical churches.

I assert that the four quadrants can help “check and balance” each other, and that when mapped out with the previous chart as a foundation, the different traditions in orthodox Christianity look like this:

After looking at this, I argue that when Lutheranism and Anglicanism are at their best (not the apostate and liberalized versions that have formed a sort of politically expedient social gospel), they sit nicely in the center of the Christian tradition. Hence I sometimes use the term “Anglo-Lutheran Evangelical Catholic” to describe my approach.  I hold to the classical Christian consensus, and crave the traditional practices, and liturgical/sacramental worship of the historic church.  I also however, realize the need for personal faith, personal study, and practical Christian living, and reject the abuses that have been added to the classical Christian tradition by some of the other views.

Any thoughts, comments, concerns, etc…?

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting. I just know it’s always hard to make generalities and put one group in a certain category over others. I suppose humility and openness to other traditions is important due to this post. Would you say that all 4-quadrants agree on what is “mere Christianity”?

    • The answer would be yes, or they wouldn’t be on this chart! Those who disagree or abandon the “Mere Christian” principles can be found emanating from all four quadrants, including the center I love (hence the statement about apostate churches). I agree about humility, which is why we listen to the collective witness of the church as a whole, rather than just a few authors from our own over the last 50 years.

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