The New Orthodoxy
ORTHODOXY may mean a number of different things. It may mean a man's slavish assent to a formal code which he has never profoundly studied and of whose basis and implications he has no adequate conception. It may mean loyalty to a traditional point of view growing out of a profound sense of the value of the results of human experience as they have crystallized through the ages. It may mean adherence to certain standards through a nervous timidity which is afraid to venture on untried ground and has a special distrust of intellectual exploration. It may be the acceptance of recognized standards after a personal investigation and struggle which has tested every old position as if it were now for the first time offered to the world. It may be the intellectual rest of a man whose deepest intuitions and needs seem to him to be clearly met and satisfied by a particular interpretation of life which, though old, remains vital. Or it may be that a number of these different approaches to orthodoxy unite, making it acceptable to a particular thinker. You do not know much about a man when you merely know that he is orthodox. The orthodoxy must be traced down to its roots in his intellectual life. And even farther, it must be followed, as its roots twine in and out of his moral and spiritual life. When it is the expression of the whole life the outcome of mental and moral and spiritual vitality orthodoxy must be taken very seriously. The variety of the meanings of the word "orthodoxy" is not confined to the method by which a man becomes orthodox. It also includes the contents of his belief. What is orthodox in one age has often been heretical in the age before. What is orthodox in one scientific or philosophical or ecclesiastical group is often considered non-sense in another. Orthodoxy from this point of view may almost be defined as a fixed standard which is constantly changing. But, while the continued readjustments in human thinking warn us against too rigid a conception of orthodoxy, it remains true that as far as the Christian religion is concerned, there have been large realms of thought as to which the catholic faith has kept within certain lines in a remarkable way. We may claim a right to use the word "orthodoxy" with some precision as describing Christian thought within these limits. The personality of God, the deity of Jesus Christ, the deadliness of sin, the redemption of men through the death of Christ, the new life which is the gift of the Son of God, the resurrection of Jesus, the assurance of a glorious immortality after death these may be said to represent some of the conceptions to which the church has held through the ages, battling for them, repudiating those who turned from them, stating them in the terms of different forms of culture and even of different civilizations, but always coming back to them, never having done with them, never outgrowing them. These are the corner stones of the orthodox faith.
While all this is clear as regards the past it is not at all clear as regards the present. In the kaleidoscopic shiftings of present-day theological thought it is not at all easy to say what conceptions will come forth stamped with the approval of the consensus of Christian opinion. Everything is in solution, and the process of crystallization does not seem to be particularly rapid. New methods of investigation, new conceptions of authority, new scientific postulates, new philosophical theses, new political and social movements, new voices of a hundred types crying in the wilderness of our modern life, give the careful thinker an amount of material to understand and master and appraise ; and at the same time so tend to rob him of any fundamental standards to use in the whole process of study and appraisal that his task may be said to be one of particular difficulty. It is true, however, that certain well-defined currents in the great unresting ocean of modern thought are not hard to discern. A man may fathom the spirit and direction of modernity, while he finds it impossible to speak with complete assurance and finality about its goal.
Before attempting some analysis of the general contents of the modern way of thinking it will be well to remind ourselves a little more fully of the position and bearings of what we may call the Old Orthodoxy. For the sake of clearness let us make a division. The Old Orthodoxy had a certain conception of the Bible and of religious authority. It had a certain conception of the contents of the Christian faith. It will suit our purpose to speak of these separately.
First, as to the matter of the Bible and religious authority. To the Old Orthodoxy the Bible was a correct, authentic, inerrant book. If there were mistakes in the Bible, they were the results of translation or copying. The book itself, if you could get back to the originals, was faultless. It was the complete and correct and accurate expression of the will of God. The human element in its composition was not emphasized. The author of a particular book was like a pen in the hand of the writer. God was the writer. He was the real author of the book. This view of the Bible was accompanied by a vivid sense of its unity. You could quote texts from any part of the Bible to substantiate a position you were trying to prove.
They were all equally authoritative. God was the author of them all. When you had collected all that the Bible said on any subject, from Genesis to Revelation, you could fairly say that you had the biblical teaching. This material was all treated as if it consisted of different utterances from one author, at one time, in one set of circumstances; every utterance as important as every other. The Bible was not thought to be like a continent with mountain ranges and plains, with hills and valleys, with heaven-piercing summits and deep ravines. It was one great level highland the highland of the Word of God. Bound up with this conception of the Bible was a certain conception of religious authority. If God had broken silence and given forth an inerrant utterance, that utterance was the commanding word to the children of men. It simply left no more to be said. It was a final program for life; a faultlessly correct reflection of the will and purpose of God. Because men had an infallibly correct utterance of the infallible God they had a final and unimpeachable authority. This conception required an inerrant Bible. If there was a mistake anywhere, there might be mistakes everywhere. The authenticity of anything in the Bible required the authenticity of everything. The belief in verbal inspiration was an attempt to buttress this position beyond a peradventure and a doubt.
Besides having the general conception of the Bible and religious authority which we have attempted to reflect, the Old Orthodoxy had a certain view of the contents of theology. It began as a matter of course with the personality of God. There was no need to argue about that. It bowed trembling before his awful holiness. It felt the heat of his flaming righteousness. Then it had a certain conception of sin. The dire tragedy of breaking with God's law was forever upon its conscience. Sin was not simply dreadful misfortune. It involved, guilt. And the torturing sense of awful guilt fairly prostrated men. Sin made a terrible problem. Something must be done about it. Forgiveness could never be a matter of course. The greatest, most perplexing problem in the world was this problem of sin and how it could be forgiven. But something had been done about it. God had sent his own Son to deal with the problem. The Old Orthodoxy had most definite views of him. He was very God. He was not a high angelic messenger. He was God's own Son. It was right to worship him. He was God in the flesh. And the Son of God had dealt with the problem in a very definite way. He had died to save men. In his death he had made possible the forgiveness of sin. However one might explain it, the truth was that he took men's responsibilities upon himself. He bore their burden. He bent under the weight of their guilt. In his great suffering deed he achieved their peace. Then he had rent the veil which made the future dark. He had risen from the dead. His resurrection was the assurance and seal of men's immortality. The Old Orthodoxy had very definite views regarding the future. The moral significance of life was so great that upon it hung eternal issues. To accept Christ and his great sacrificial death was to inherit eternal life. To refuse him was to inherit eternal death. The Old Orthodoxy had a high standard of life. The Christian was to trust Christ for everything, but he was to live as faithfully as if he had no trust but his own deeds. His life was to be the expression of the will of God. His obedience was to be the complete devotion of his life.
At this point we call attention to a fact whose full significance will appear later in this discussion. The typical modern Christian with an evangelical experience reading the above summary will have two feelings. The theology of the Old Orthodoxy will greatly appeal to him; on the other hand, its conception of the Bible and of religious authority will appear quite impossible. He will feel that he could never accept it.
Turning now to present-day currents of thought, what is the situation which we discover? Again, for the sake of clearness, let us make a distinction : Modernity has a certain conception of the Bible and of religious authority ; and modernity has certain clearly defined tendencies as to the contents of its view of Christianity and of life.
As to the Bible, the modern note is struck in the words of Coleridge, "The Bible finds me." The note of emphasis in the modern conception of the Bible is its vitality. Here is a book which treats life so profoundly that the serious-minded man simply must take account of it. The moral loftiness, the amazing intellectual penetration, the spiritual cogency of the Bible forces it upon our attention. Its inner quality is such that we cannot make light of it. The book is the expression of the thought of a large number of different men. lt reflects the outlook upon life of different periods, and even of different civilizations. To understand it in any adequate fashion you must be a patient student of history; and in quoting it you must carefully bear in mind not only the context in the book from which you quote, but also that larger context which is the environment of the writer of the book or the speaker of the words. There is a great human element in the book which must never be lost sight of. But, while all this is true, it is also true that no other literature rises to such heights. It bears the stamp of the divine upon it. The moral passion of the prophets, the spiritual insight of Hebrew poetry, the white and winning and majestic life of Jesus, the whole wonderful New Testament utterance, with its moral energy and spiritual power all these speak in a language unshared by other books. They lift the Bible into a unique place. They make it proper to speak of the Bible as the Book of God. Corresponding to this conception of the Bible is a certain conception of religious authority. The authoritative is the vital. That which compels a man's mind, masters his conscience, and energizes his will has a kind of authenticity which is more commanding than any mere technical correctness or verbal inerrancy. The Bible has this high commanding vitality. It may contain mistakes. It does contain mistakes. Certain parts of the Bible may reflect the thought of people on the way to the truth rather than the thought of people who have arrived at the truth. This, indeed, we must affirm of the Bible. Even New Testament writers may not always see all the implications of the great principles they are enunciating. Even they may sometimes be limited, rather than helped, by the thought forms in which they must utter their message. But when all this is frankly and fully admitted it remains true that the Bible is alone among books in its power to rouse the conscience. It is alone among books in the loftiness of its conception of God. It has a solitary splendor in the morally creative quality of its message. It authenticates itself as the bearer of God's own message to men by its perennial seizure of man's mind and conscience and heart; its perpetual energizing of the human will; its unabated power to bring to men a message which is morally creative. When all mechanical protections have been cast aside, when all merely formal defenses have been repudiated, the Bible stands forth strong in its inherent qualities and vindicates its authority as a vital guide to the heart of God and to the doing of God's will.
Turning from the modern conception of the Bible and of religious authority, we come to the difficult matter of the theological contents of modernity. In this realm generalizations must be made with care ; and it must be kept in mind that it is a sketch of a situation at large, and not an analysis of the position of some individual present-day thinker, which is being attempted.
The outstanding contrast between modernity and the Old Orthodoxy begins in the way in which sin is viewed. The haunting sense of the deadliness of personal transgression is scarcely to be found in a typical modern thinker in whose thought processes the Zeitgeist has full sway. There is much consciousness of evil to be remedied. There is much passionate eagerness to right the wrong of the world. But the emphasis is rather on evil as a result of environment than on evil as a result of personal intention. Sin has become less a personal tragedy, less a matter of dire personal guilt, and more an unfortunate social phenomenon. It is less a matter of conscience and more a matter of social statistics. It is conceived as so much a matter of confusion and ignorance, so much the deposit of heredity and unpromising environment, that along these lines it seems easiest to think about it. It is easier, to put it bluntly, to think of a man as a moral ignoramus, or as a victim, than as a sinner. The sharp ethical perception of the personal meaning of sin, then, has in the main departed from modernity. Naturally in the wake of this certain results follow. Without a sense of sin so dreadful that the consciousness of guilt fairly paralyzes human endeavor, the emphasis of the Old Orthodoxy on the death of Christ seems strangely unreal and overwrought. Modernity can understand the expression of the Father's love in noble self-giving, even unto death; it can understand the creative potency of this great revelation of the love of God, but Calvary as the deed of a Sin-Bearer, Calvary as a personal act of taking up the responsibilities of sinful men, Calvary as expiation to the modern view it is simply inexplicable. It seems to consist of words without meaning. It is convicted of unreality. Then it is easy for modernity to feel that it has no gift for answering meta-physical questions about the person of Christ. If it had so poignant and terrible a conception of sin that only the very Son of God could deal with the problem it might be forced into making assertions, with vast metaphysical implications, about the person of Jesus. As it is, it stands full of awe and reverence before the Man of Galilee, it listens to his teachings, it strives to imbibe the spirit of his life, it learns from him the meaning of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and it goes out to its tasks, its mind preoccupied by this revelation. Modernity sounds no great and decided note about the Deity of Jesus. And the fundamental reason is not that it has metaphysical difficulties. The fundamental reason is that the modernist has a view of life which does not absolutely require a divine Christ.
The most attractive phases of modernity have to do with its sense of the immanence of God and its social passion. Modernity may not be very clear as to all the implications of its theism (indeed, sometimes the laws of nature may look so frowningly strong that it seems as if this theism is endangered), but at least without a clearly thought out system it is sure that God is the Infinitely Near. He is the present source of all the activity of the world. We do not need to reach out to find him. He is always here. Sometimes this conception of the immanence of God is expressed in such a way that it is difficult to call it anything but pantheism, but its warming and vivifying quality cannot be denied. Then the social passion of modernity is a lofty and beautiful thing. It believes in brotherhood. It seriously sets about getting men to live as brothers should. It is ready to fight the good fight of freeing modern life from its blasting evils. Cleansed countries and cleansed cities and cleansed homes are its goal. It believes that the kingdom of God is the kingdom of good here and now, and right loyally it strives to bring it in.
Now, the modern man with a typical evangelical experience has two feelings as he faces modernity. The first has to do with its theology. Leaving out of account its view of the immanence of God and its social passion, of which we will speak later, he is not attracted by its theological conceptions. Its view of sin seems to him to lack moral realism. It does not take account of the darkest and direst facts of life. His experience seems to go to depths of need of which modernity has no apprehension. Its conception of Calvary is beautiful, and it is true, but it is not all the truth and it is not the most important part of the truth. This modern man with an evangelical experience knows that the deepest meaning of Calvary to him is its answer to the need of a conscience passionately awake. The words "sin-bearer" and "expiaton" are great words to him. The very center of his hope, the creative power in his life, is the fact that Christ has borne his sins and made possible his redemption. Modernity leaves the Cross beautiful, poetic, and impotent in the presence of life's supremest moral demand; the outcry of a conscience unappeased. Then the modern man with an evangelical experience is not contented with the Christ modernity has to offer him. He recognizes the truth of much it has to say. He is glad to receive many an illuminating word, but here again he misses the word he most needs. In the crucial need of his life one thing he must be sure of : he must be sure that Jesus is God.
Life's tragic problem to him is of such a character that it cannot be solved by prophet, priest, or poet. It can be solved only by the Son of God. So this man, with his recoil from the blackness of sin, with his hope through the Son of God, who has died to make possible the forgiveness of his sins, feels that the modernist would ask him to live in a smaller world; a world with a less candid treatment of the facts of life, and a world with the deepest craving of his life unmet and the outcry of an awakened conscience after peace unsatisfied.
On the other hand, when our modern man with an evangelical experience reads what modernity has to say about the Bible and the source of religious authority, he is much attracted by it. To him the Bible is authoritative because of its inherent power of moral mastery. To him it is compelling because it meets the deepest outreach of his life as does no other book in all the world. Like the modernist, he is undisturbed by changes of view as to date and authorship. Like the modernist, he is quite easy in the presence of the fact of the human elements in the Bible, and he is eager to use the Scriptures with due sense of their historic background and the actual standpoint of each author. Like the modernist, he feels that, when all concessions have been made, the uniqueness and the moral and spiritual power of the Bible remain. He finds himself in general sympathy with the modernist conception of the Bible and religious authority. He finds himself dissatisfied with the central postulates of modernity as to theology. Now, we have already seen that this modern man with an evangelical experience finds himself drawn to the theological conceptions of the Old Orthodoxy and repudiating its conceptions of the Bible and of religious authority. It really seems that if he could combine the modern conception of the Bible and religious certainty with the central theological postulates of the Old Orthodoxy he would find himself satisfied. This, indeed, is the goal of our discussion. This is just what is necessary for us to do. And this we venture to denominate the New Orthodoxy.
It is no mere artificial combining of parts of two discordant points of view for which we plead. The fact is that the modern conception of religious authority supports the central theological postulates of the Old Orthodoxy and will ultimately be seen to demand them. The pragmatists tell us that the point of view which proves creative, which is necessary to the growth and development of life, may be accepted. The thing which the growing life of the race must have in order to its growth it has a right to have. That very need is proof of the validity of the thing needed. The man of the New Orthodoxy replies : "Very well. I accept that principle, and I point out some applications of it which do not seem to have occurred to you. The conception of sin as a terrible matter of personal intention and the haunting sense of its dire guilt are at the root of all adequate morals. The view of the cross as a great divine deed of expiation answers the awakened conscience as nothing else does, and frees and energizes the man who accepts it for a full and victorious man-hood. The belief that Jesus Christ was very God gives a potency to the redemptive deed without which it cannot do its full work.
These beliefs as to the deadliness of sin, as to the deed which makes forgiveness possible, as to the deity of Jesus Christ, combine into a group of morally creative conceptions unparalleled in human thought." So pragmatism becomes one of the chief supports of orthodoxy. In truth, with a belief in a vital, as distinguished from a mechanical, authority, we come to a new emphasis on the theological contents of the Old Orthodoxy. It is just because the Bible sounds such a dire and terrible note in its conception of sin, just because it presents Jesus as the Son of God, just because it sees in the cross the deed of a great Sin-bearer, that it becomes finally authoritative to us; because it deals adequately with sin, and presents us with a victorious Saviour and a deed on the cross which sets the conscience at rest, that it is vindicated to us as the Book of God.
So the New Orthodoxy is fearlessly modern in its view of the Bible and of religious authority. It welcomes all new light from critical scholarship. It repudiates mechanical and lifeless views of authority.
With a conscience awake it receives peace from God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and in that experience the Bible becomes authoritative. The Bible is eternally satisfying because it is the Book of Redemption. The New Orthodoxy builds its theology about a conception of sin as heavy with a sense of its horrible guilt as any theology of the past ; it rests in a nobly spiritual interpretation of the cross, free from crass and mechanical conceptions of commercial ex-change, to be sure, but unflinching in its insistence that the cross is the deed of a Sin-bearer who made possible the forgiveness of sins. It looks up, and is forever challenged by its conception of Jesus : very God as well as very man, the Son of God who died for us, Lord of all forever. Then the New Orthodoxy finds a place for all that is deeply real in the theological conceptions of modernity, while repudiating its errors. It welcomes the thought of the immanence of God. Its God is the infinitely near, but so interpreted as to avert completely the disintegrating consequences of pantheism. It accepts the social passion and goes out to work for the kingdom of God, cleansing modern life, mastering commerce, politics, social life, and home life in the name of Christ. Thus the New Orthodoxy arrives at an organism of belief and a program of activity. It is no matter of intellectual patchwork, but the living union of those truths which belong together and will set us free and energize us for the great tasks of the world. The Old Orthodoxy had a place -of definite inadequacy in its view of the Bible and religious authority. Modernity is inadequate in its conception of sin, of the cross, and the person of Christ. The New Orthodoxy, with a modern and vital conception of the Bible, with a morally adequate conception of sin, of salvation, and of Jesus, the Son of God, can gird itself as a strong man to run a race. It is able to face the future unafraid.
( Originally Published 1915 )
The Quest For Wonder:
The Quest For Wonder
The Preacher As A Student Of Philosophy
Bergson, As Seen From A Preacher's Study
The Religion Of A Scientific Man
The New Orthodoxy
Bushnell And 'the Vicarious Sacrifice'
Robert William Dale, His Theology, And His Theory Of The Atonement
The Theology Of Ritschl
The Eschatology Of The Book Of Revelation