Generous and orthodox

I recently asked about the cropping up of the phrase “generous orthodoxy” in bishop speak. That was prompted in part by the use of the term in Bishop Ken Carter’s message on the church mission with gays and lesbians.

In that message, Carter links to Fleming Rutledge, the woman with the most Episcopalian-sounding name in the world. Carter quotes this part of Rutledge’s definition of “generous orthodoxy”:

The position taken on this website is that we cannot do without orthodoxy, for everything else must be tested against it, but that orthodox (traditional, classical) Christian faith should by definition always be generous as our God is generous; lavish in his creation, binding himself in an unconditional covenant, revealing himself in the calling of a people, self-sacrificing in the death of his Son, prodigal in the gifts of the Spirit, justifying the ungodly and indeed, offending the “righteous” by the indiscriminate nature of his favor. True Christian orthodoxy therefore cannot be narrow, pinched, or defensive but always spacious, adventurous and unafraid.

Rutledge continued on with these words:

The articles of faith distilled in the historic Creeds and Confessions of the Church are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Christian doctrine is the foundation for a dynamic, courageous intellectual life at the frontiers of 21st-century challenges. Without basic affirmations, we are dangerously unequipped. An analogy might be the successful rock climber who puts up new routes and achieves maximum exhilaration; without strict discipline, tested equipment, and exceptional patience, however, the climber’s ambition will lead to failure and even death. When the Biblical and creedal bedrock of the historic faith becomes optional, it is fatal for the Church, for she loses her distinctive theological character. Ultimately, it’s about God. If God is who he reveals himself to be in the Holy Scriptures, then his Word is the true and trustworthy guide to the heights of human aspiration and depths of human disappointment. The One who identifies himself at the burning bush as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the same Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who guides our destinies to their fulfillment in his eternal Kingdom.

6 thoughts on “Generous and orthodox

  1. I am surprised Carter would not use and quote the whole of Rutledge including her thoughts on the topic.
    I have never read her writings prior to this post but will take a look.
    A lot of what is included in her piece concerning GLBT persons is personal opinion and she states that.

    Thoughts for a congregation divided
    as it faces the homosexuality issue

    by the Rev. Fleming Rutledge…/thoughts-for-a-congregation-divided-as-it- faces-the-homosexuality-issue.aspx

  2. If I am not mistaken, the phrase ‘generous orthodoxy’ was first used by Hans Frei to designate a model for how theologians could be serious about both their vocation to the Christian church and their roles as academics. I’ve also heard the late Donald Bloesch use that same phrase. And Brain McLaren has a book titled “A Generous Orthodoxy, ” although I think McLaren’s use of the phrase is a great deal different from how Frei or Bloesch would have used it.


    1. Yes, Bishop Carter mentions Hans Frei in his message, which, of course, we should expect since the good bishop went to Duke.

  3. The metaphor I would use for generous orthodoxy is to say that we’re seeking to be brought into harmony with God’s song rather than brought into univocity with a single note played on an identical instrument. Heresy is overemphasizing one aspect of doctrine to the exclusion of all else (e.g. the humanity of Christ or the divinity of Christ, etc) and thus stepping out of bounds by rejecting the paradoxes and both/ands that are part of the song.

  4. I don’t think the term “generosity” should be misconstrued to mean inclusive or affirming in this context. Orthodoxy, by its very nature, is exclusive. An inclusive orthodoxy is an oxymoron. A generous orthodoxy as defined by Frei and Bloesch is a totally different animal.

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