He says theology is not just theory and doctrine matters. Special to the Emmaus Patch by the Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
I am not a theologian. In the tradition of the Orthodox Church (known sometimes as Eastern Orthodoxy), theologian is reserved for the handful of people who pray truly—saints. It doesn’t belong to academics, and it doesn’t really belong to me. But the book of mine that Conciliar Press has just published, “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy,” is nevertheless about theology.
The word orthodoxy has two parallel meanings. It is composed of two Greek words—orthos and doxa. Together, they form orthodoxia—in English, orthodoxy. Orthos literally means “straight,” and those in dentistry will think of orthodontics (“straight teeth”). Greek uses orthos metaphorically also to refer to something that is true, just like we use straight to refer to truth, as in straight-talker or to be set straight.
The other side of the word orthodoxy is doxa, which gives orthodoxia its double meaning, “true teaching” and “true glory.” It’s the first meaning that occurs to most folks—a hard and fast, unmovable set of teachings. For Orthodox Christians, Orthodoxy is a deposit of faith, a theology that will never be altered, because it’s about the truth. It’s the straight teaching.
But for modern American culture, straight teaching, especially about theology, borders on utter irrelevancy. If I were to say to you, “Hey! Let’s talk about theology!” many of your eyes would probably glaze over. That’s because most of us don’t think theology really has anything to do with life, even among committed religious believers.
My experience has been different. We know that what you believe affects how you live and how you experience life and relationships, but we may not believe that about faith. But consider that doctrine is like a science lab manual—follow the right instructions in the right way, and you’ll get the right results. Follow the instructions wrongly, or follow the wrong instructions, and you’ll get something else.
And that’s where the “glory” of doxa comes in, because that’s about worship, about the things you believe and do to know God. I know that there are a lot of ideas about God, that there are people who don’t think that there is a God, or that we can’t know whether there is a God, or that, even if there is a God, we can’t say for sure who God is. And you’ll have to decide for yourself on these questions. No one can make you believe.
But if ideas have consequences when it comes to politics, philosophy, education, economics, and so on, then doctrine has consequences when it comes to God. Different lab manuals will lead you in different directions. And some of them have errors in them. They can’t all be right.
So that brings us back to “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy.” The subtitle is “Exploring Belief Systems Through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith.” It starts with the faith of the Orthodox Church, which has been the same for almost 2000 years, all the way back to the Apostles, who received it from Jesus. But it’s not just a presentation of that ancient, original Christian faith. It also compares and contrasts that faith with most other Christian groups, along with the world’s other major religions, taking the time to tell their stories as fairly and historically as I can. There’s even an appendix on atheism and agnosticism.
You may never have heard of the Orthodox Church, or, if you have, you’ve probably never explored what it believes or how it worships. There’s no way I can convey all that to you in this brief essay, but I will say this: If you think you’ve seen everything when it comes to Christianity, or that all Christian faiths are essentially alike, come check out Orthodoxy. It’s a totally different ballgame.
“Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy” was originally written for Orthodox Christians, showing how their faith differs from other faiths. But it was also written for people who have little or no knowledge of Orthodoxy. And my intention is to show how the orthodoxy of “straight teaching” yields the orthodoxy of “true glory.”
Theology’s not just theory. Doctrine matters. Different lab manuals yield different results. If you believe something wrong about someone, it will distort your relationship. Don’t you think that might apply to religion, too? I do.
The Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick is pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. He also lectures widely on Orthodox evangelism, history, ecology, comparative theology and localism. He is a founding member and one of the associate directors of the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas. Fr. Andrew hosts the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus podcasts, as well as writing the Roads from Emmaus weblog. He lives in Emmaus with his wife Kh. Nicole and their children.