Your Attitude Matters
A few years ago I was in Seattle with an old friend who had written a popular book about his personal reflections and experiences with the Christian faith. He began telling me about the e-mails he was getting from readers. He said the harshest ones were from people who presented themselves as “caring about doctrine.” Their e-mails were vitriolic, pointing out the theological errors and inconsistencies of what he had written.
My friend isn’t a pastor or a Bible scholar. He’s a poet and a storyteller. That’s part of what makes his writing appealing.
Honestly, he did get some things wrong in his book.
I think he knows that. But I saw how hard it was for him to admit that he might have a problem with orthodoxy when
the information was coming from people whose words and attitudes were ugly.
The word orthodoxy refers to right thinking about God. It’s about teaching and belief based on the established, proven, cherished truths of the faith. These are the truths that don’t budge. They are the plumb line that shows us how to think straight in a crooked world. They’re clearly taught in Scripture and affirmed in the historic creeds of the Christian faith:
• There is one God who created all things.
• God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
• The Bible is God’s inerrant word to humanity.
• Jesus is the virgin-born, eternal Son of God.
• Jesus died as a substitute for sinners so they could be forgiven.
• Jesus rose from the dead.
• Jesus will one day return to judge the world.
Orthodox beliefs have been acknowledged by genuine followers of Jesus from the beginning and handed down
through the ages. Take one of them away, and you’re left with something less than historic Christian belief.
But one of the problems with the word orthodoxy is that it is usually brought up when someone is being reprimanded.
So it has gotten a bad reputation, like an older sibling who is always peeking around the corner, trying to catch you doing something wrong.
I think every generation of Christians faces the temptation to buck orthodoxy for just this reason. Even if we know
something is true and right, we don’t like others telling us we have to believe it. And if our own pride weren’t influence
enough, the temptation to abandon orthodoxy intensifies when its advocates are unlikable and meanspirited.
Orthodox truths are the plumb line that shows us how to think straight in a crooked world.
I don’t know any other way to say this: it seems like a lot of the people who care about orthodoxy are jerks. But why? Does good doctrine necessarily lead to being argumentative, annoying, and arrogant?
My friend Eric says that what Christians today need is humble orthodoxy. I like that phrase. Christians need to have a strong commitment to sound doctrine. We need to be courageous in our stand for biblical truth. But we also need to be gracious in our words and interaction with other people. Whether our theological knowledge is great or small,
we all need to ask a vital question: What will we do with the knowledge of God that we have?
Will it lead us to an ever-growing desire to know and love the Lord? Will it practically affect the way we think and
live? Will we have the courage to hold on to the truth even when it isn’t popular? And how will we express our beliefs?
With humility—or with pride?
I don’t want to be like the people who wrote angry letters to my Seattle friend. At the same time, I don’t want to
be like some well-intentioned people I know who are careless, almost unconcerned, about Christian truths. They never
make others feel uncomfortable about their beliefs, but that’s because they believe hardly anything themselves.
Do we have to choose between kindness and a zeal for truth? Does embracing deeply held beliefs require that we let
go of humility?
And this brings us to a bigger question: Does any of this matter to God? Does God’s Word speak to the priority of
both humility and orthodoxy? Or is this all just a matter of personality—some people are nice, some people care about doctrine?
Here’s what I believe: truth matters…but so does our attitude. This is what I mean by humble orthodoxy: we must
care deeply about truth, and we must also defend and share this truth with compassion and humility.
We must care deeply about truth, and we must also defend and share this truth with compassion and humility.
God has given the saving message of the gospel to his people through his Word, and we must be willing to fight for
its integrity and faithful transmission. We are to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” ( Jude 3). In other words, we need to care about orthodoxy and right thinking about who God is and how he saves through Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy matters.
But at the same time, God’s Word commands us, “Love your neighbor as yourself ” (Matthew 22:39). Jesus even told
us, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). And 1 Peter 5:5 says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ ” In other words, genuine love and humility of heart before God and other people are essential. Humility matters. We don’t get to choose between humility and orthodoxy. We need both.
Excerpted from Humble Orthodoxy by Joshua Harris. Copyright © 2013 by Joshua Harris. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.