Years ago in my early 20s, I came in my unsophistication to an understanding of the relationship between Jesus and ‘orthodoxy’ that has served me well. Every five years or so what I believe tends to undergo some rather dramatic shifts, either in actual content or emphasis. So much so that the me of 15 years ago would scarcely recognize me as a “Christian,” in the way that ‘he’ would understand such a term. And yet, I still consider myself a friend and follower of God in the way of Jesus. Why is that, if the actual ‘beliefs’ (or ‘way of believing’) is so fluid?
Because Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life. What do I mean? Jesus is the Path, for one thing. It’s about becoming, not being. But even as ‘Destination,’ Jesus is Truth – not a set of propositions about Jesus, God, life, or reality. And this is a way of Life God invites us on, again, not a set of propositions.
Propositions aren’t the enemy here. To some degree, they’re unavoidable. We all hold images of God in our hearts. For my part, I try to have the best darn images I can – informed by Scripture, the best of our shared story (Tradition), my own life and lives of those around me, and, well, reality. I want a true-to-life picture of God, and a story-honoring Story to live by. But where Pete Rollins is so helpful (and him, taking a cue from Derrida, Levinas and others) is he won’t let us rest here…and I never let myself rest there. Because by my early 20s I realized that beliefs are like snake’s skin – they protect and keep clean and fit for a season, but then they get old, scaly, and slide right off – to reveal new and supple skin beneath. A snake trying to carry around old skin would be ludicrous…as would living in denial of the natural life-cycle of beliefs. Because Jesus is Truth, I can safely navigate provisional truths that lead me closer to Truth. Because Jesus is also Way – lived in the context of Life.
For this reason, “Orthodoxy” has never been a very helpful idea to me – in the popular understanding, not in terms of “right praise” which really resonates. Not because I’m hell-bent on being unorthodox – no, most of my beliefs might well be pretty staid by most people’s standards – but because of the sheer varieties of religious orthodoxies (with apologies to William James). Even within the Christian family, there are just so many to choose from. I think as we enter postmodernity and postchristendom, we’re realizing that it’s absurd to think we have to choose between ‘Orthodoxy A’ and ‘Orthodoxy X’ out of whole cloth; rather, we can, in the apostle Paul’s words, hold fast to what is good and helpful, and disregard the rest.