Why I am Paleo-Orthodox

Colleen Carroll not so long ago wrote a book called The New Faithful: Why Young adults are embracing Christian Orthodoxy. In this book she chronicles what she sees as a movement among younger American Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, rejecting the feel-good, wishy-washy, liberal, up-to-date, trendy Christianity of the Boomer generation and grasping toward a more ancient faith. In this interview she explains the gist of her book.

This movement has manifested itself in several ways: some Evangelicals are leaving Protestant Churches for Orthodox or Catholic or Anglican Churches (see Robert Weber's excellent little autobiographical book Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail). Another way we see this movement is Protestants remaining within their own denominations or churches but attempting to integrate more ancient practices and theology into their spiritual life. We see this in renewed emphasis on Holy Communion in many quarters. We see it in certain strains of the "Emerging Church" movement that includes icons and communion and incense and other ancient elements in its practice. In a few cases we see it in conventional Protestant Churches offering liturgical/sacramental worship opportunities such as the overtly Anglican-styled Cox Chapel service offered every Sunday at the prominent Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.

I have been greatly influenced by this movement and one of the most influencial books that I have read in seminary has been Tom Oden's The Rebirth of Orthodoxy. The buzz-word for this movement is "Paleo-orthodoxy," a re-appropriation of the ancient, classical Christianity of the undivided (First Millenium A.D.) Church for our Postmodern age.

I just read an interesting post at the blog Paradoxology that puts it well: Oden (and many others, actually) have pointed out the "hunger for roots" that exists in today's culture due to the incessant change and runaway individualism that is so commonplace. In such a world, opportunity to anchor one's faith to what "all Christians at all times in all places have always believed" is very appealing.

I came to appreciate the importance and authority of the Church and her ancient consensus precisely because I hold a very high veiw of Biblical authority. I began to ask questions like: "I believe that the canonical books, and not others (like the Gospel of Thomas) are the God-inspired Scriptures. Why these books, and not the others?" or "I find Christians in Protestant, Evangelical, and Pentecostal Churches all pointing to the Bible to defend very different and often contradictory doctrinal positions. At the end of the day, is my own opinion the most authoritative interpretation for doctrine, or are there wiser guides?"

At the same time, I became dis-satisfied with the individualism and rootlessness I felt characterized my faith. It was all about me. I wanted a faith that was bigger than my experience, bigger than my intelligence, bigger than my opinions, interpretations, and understanding. I wanted to be connected to the Church through the ages, the whole communion of saints through history. I wanted safe-guards against aimless pluralism and individualism in the interpretation of the Bible.

I have found all of these by allowing the consensus of the ancient faithful guide me. There ARE authorative standards of belief: they are called the canonical Creeds that were accepted by the seven truly Ecumenical Councils of the whole Church. The Concilliar model of Church decision making is first attested in the Scripture itself in Acts 15 and the early Ecumenical Councils simply followed this paradigm and were also guided by the Holy Spirit (Dan Brown's accusations notwithstanding).

Most thinking Evangelical Protestants must say sort of the same thing. We all know that the Early Church in its practices, traditions, and synods, eventually came to a consensus deciding which books constituted the canonical New Testament and which do not. And we simply must assume that this process was guided by the Holy Spirit. Then surely that same Holy Spirit also guided those same individuals and leaders and councils as they hammered out doctrines and formulated the creeds in the very same process. It is very logical to assume that the God who gave us the faith would take steps to preserve right doctrine and methods of interpretation in the life of the Church. And so he has in the ancient ecumenical consensus of the Early Church and the whole church throughout the ages in all places.

Let us all with great joy re-discover the treasures, old and new, that exist within the traditions and among the great Early Fathers and Teachers of the Christian Church.

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Blogger Stephen said...

"I came to appreciate the importance and authority of the Church and her ancient consensus precisely because I hold a very high veiw of Biblical authority."

The canon as we know it today was not part of this early consensus building. It was not biblical authority that guided those early Christians and ecumenical councils. I contend that it was the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Remember all these communities had varying texts and widely varying leadership. The "official" canon did not arise till much later.

2:23 PM, July 20, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I am not sure if i totally understand your point Stephen. It is quite certain that the early councils did invoke NT Scripture, even though the canon wasn't entirely "solidified" yet. Even James for that matter invokes teachings from the gospels. I certainly agree that they were guided by the Holy Spirit in the canonization process and (I am arguing) the early consensus of doctrine process (like the formulation of the Nicene Creed). Thus these things would have equal authority.
I have just finished reading the Creed, the Canons, and the Synodal letter from Nicea (with commentary) and I am getting ready to start 1st Constantinople. I am trying to see what it would actually mean for me to say that these councils are authoritative doctrinal lenses. Though none of the canons really deals with doctrine, they deal with disciplinary questions (which are of course related in some ways). Only the creed and the synodal letter are explicitly doctrinal. There is also the question as to how many councils are authoritative - many of the Anglican divines that are part of our own Tradition said only 4, following Calvin. The Oriental Churches say only 3. The East says 7. And Rome says 21 or whatever. If I go with a really strict "everyone, everywhere, at all times" formula, I think I may lean toward say 3. Though I am much more attracted to the 4 that the reformers point to, so as to include the Chalcedonian definition which the book of discipline says is an important aspect of our ecumenical heritage for doing theology. And it is the Book of Discipline that i will pledge to uphold when I am ordained. And since 4 are upheld by Rome, Constantinople and most Protestants. This is a pretty considerable consensus.

7:07 PM, July 31, 2006  
Blogger Fr. Aidan's Pulpit said...

Hi Daniel,

I enjoyed reading your article. I'll try to read more of your blogsite later. I am a Priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC). I started out in life a evangelical/pentecostal and journied through the Anglican, Roman, and Eastern Orthodox churches before landing in the CEC. My journey toward the Ancient heritage of the Fathers and early Church has been aided by such men as Dr Thomas Oden, etc. I am glad to see others re-discovering the Ancient Church as well. It is also wonderful to see people from different denominations embracing it and be more or less allowed to. I did not have that luxury but was silently pushed out the door for holding to a growing awareness to the early Christian orthodoxy.


Father Aidan Jerry Hix+

ps. you almost spelled your name right! just kidding.

12:12 AM, August 09, 2006  
Anonymous Glenn Drew said...

I was raised and educated Baptist, and for most of my life rejected all tradition and theology that preceded it, which, looking back, was quite arrogant and foolish. The Holy Spirit led me to the Presbyterian denomination, and now I gratefully relish my precious connection to the traditions and teachers of the holy catholic Church throughout the ages.

7:47 PM, July 19, 2011  

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