Humble orthodoxy and the narrow well

I recently listened to a message by Joshua Harris put out by The Gospel Coalition on the subject of “Humble Orthodoxy”. I have to say that he hit the mark generally, although I slightly question his exegesis of some of the scriptures he used to defend his position. That’s neither here nor there – I don’t want to debate pins and angels. He made a good point in that, in defending doctrine many Christians come off sounding conceited or arrogant. At worst, we have Fred Phelps. Harris proposed rightfully that supporting orthodox doctrine is not about asserting our own rightness but about pointing to God and His rightness. Though some may say “the gospel offends”, we don’t need to add to the offense.

However I don’t think he went quite far enough. I think we need to be not only humble in regard to our presentation of our faith, we need to be humble about what we believe our faith is. That is to say, not only do we need to be humble but our orthodoxy needs to be humble. We need to acknowledge that our wisdom is limited and our knowledge is finite. We are still, along with Paul, looking through the glass darkly. 

This is not to say that there is no absolute truth. I believe that there is an absolute truth, but that we do not – and cannot in this world – know it absolutely. Neither do I say that God is unknowable. God is knowable to a point, but that or knowledge of God is characterized more by what we don’t know or understand than what we do know. The agnostic believes that God may or may not be, but we cannot know. I believe that it is still orthodox to say that we know there is a God, but what we know could barely fill a thimble compared to what there is to know.

That is why I believe we need to be humble not only in our presentation of the truth but in our own understanding of it. Part of my difficulty with the modern Reformed movement, and fundamentalism in general, has been a lack of humility on both these fronts. Harris is arguing for humility toward others, but still maintains a stance of pride against the other. Arrogant orthodoxy proclaims “you’re wrong, I’m right and you’re a heretic!”. Humble orthodoxy, according to Harris, seems to say “I respect you, but you’re still a heretic”. Truly humble orthodoxy I think needs to assert “I think you’re wrong, but I might be wrong too.”

Truly humble orthodoxy leaves room for growth because it acknowledges that we have loose ends in our theology that aren’t easily tied. It also invites other to grow with us. It invites dialogue rather than debate and argument over what is – and ultimately who is – right and wrong. That dialogue can not only bring the other closer to truth, but us closer to it as well. This kind of humble orthodoxy also pushes us to look at our frayed edges, not deny them. All too often my experience of growing up in faith has been about avoiding the frayed edges. Most education didn’t travel outside of the Calvinist sphere of influence. Even today when you listen or read material by The Gospel Coalition, they all seem to be drawing from each other’s work: Harris references Keller, who references Piper, who references DeYoung, who references Harris. Rather than drawing from a wide pool of knowledge they seem to be drawing from a deep but narrow well. Or as a friend of mine put it, an echo chamber. And the Reformed are not the only ones with narrow wells mind you. Christianity is a landscape littered with wells that all claim to go down to the best source of water.

The neat thing that we need to see is that our wells are all connected underground. Not all wells are created equal, and the water in some wells is more pure than others. But we all draw from the same water source: Scripture, experience, tradition and the Spirit.



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