I’m writing this blog series because I’m trying to figure these things out. Oftentimes, people assume that you write about something because you’re an expert on that subject. What is actually often the case is that people write what they need to hear, or read. In my case, I feel led to write on the subject of missional engagement because it seems to be one of the most pressing things in my life and heart. I’m not writing because I have these things straight, but because I’m trying to understand them and get them straight. The past couple years I’ve been growing in my understanding of what it means to be missional, and what effective missional engagement means for the church, and to me this seems more important than other things I may write about because it involves orthopraxis (the practice of faith) and not just orthodoxy (correct knowledge or beliefs).
It’s often easier and more comfortable for someone like myself to spend a lot of time researching different subjects, but spend less time finding ways to be a practitioner of those subjects. I’m weird in the sense that I love research. But what I feel I often need is not more knowledge, but to see how the things I learn can work themselves out into my life, and my community’s life. There are other things I want to write about that I’ve put on hold to focus on this subject, because they focus more on aspects of orthodoxy than than orthopraxy.
For instance, I want to write about the subject of miracles and why we should believe in them. This is obviously an important subject that has potential to affect our orthopraxy indirectly. Additionally, I want to respond to questions I’ve been sent on my site. For example, one person sent me a question asking why I am not a young earth creationist. I will respond to this question soon and I see it as important. But in reality the subject of whether or not you are a young earth creationist or take a literal view of the first few chapters of Genesis, while important, is of little use if it does not affect our orthopraxy. Likewise, philosophical reflection on the subject of miracles does very little if our orthopraxy is insufficient to be the legs and feet of Christ in the world. Who cares what we believe if we do not really do anything that is truly of value in this broken world?
It’s easier to be focused on orthodoxy than orthopraxy because it does not always require you to do anything or change. We can become comfortable, complacent, and even snobbish in our so-called orthodoxy. This is why Jesus is so relentlessly focused on orthopraxy. When Jesus looked at the Pharisees, he saw the faults in their orthopraxy far more than their orthodoxy, and Jesus actually doesn’t seem to differentiate the two all that much. It’s not that the Pharisees were not doing a lot for God; it’s that they were often doing the wrong things with the wrong heart. In Jesus’ words, we see that there can be no differentiation between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Both must come together at all times or we are doing it wrong.
The problem is, so many of us in the American church have come to think that if we just get our beliefs right than we will be okay; no need to really change our lives. In this situation, where orthopraxy and orthodoxy have become separated and one focused on more than the other, it is necessary that we swing the pendulum to orthopraxy. We think that if we do the right things and say the right words, we will go to heaven when we die. But is that what Jesus was really focused on? He seems to have put much more thought and time into helping people live the right way, and less time getting them to hold the right beliefs. Don’t believe me? Read the gospels carefully starting with Matthew and let me know if you come to any other conclusion. For example, Jesus doesn’t seem to care so much that the Pharisees understood what sin, or a sinner was (see Matthew 9:11-13). Rather, he seems far more concerned about how Pharisees seem to be treating those they deem sinners.
Orthopraxy is fully connected with the community and communal involvement. With a total focus on orthodoxy it’s fairly easy to stay individualistic, but orthopraxy reveals our heart for others in what we do. Jesus was extremely concerned with the way the praxis of the Pharisees had created a rift between them and their community. It’s not that they had no praxis, but their praxis was either wrong-headed or insufficient to be co-workers with God in the world. The reason missional engagement is vital to both our orthopraxy and our communal engagement is because it has to do with what the church is in the world. Being missional has to do with reframing what the church is and does in the world, and thus reframing who we are in light of Jesus’ teachings.
I hope that the articles to come on missional engagement will challenge you as much as they will challenge me.