I am toying with something here and would love to see some discussion.
Ambient orthodoxy: those beliefs that enjoyed common confession throughout the history of the church, but have not experienced any serious challenge. These matters are normally not found in the creeds and may even be lacking from some extended confessions. In other words, they may be part of historic church doctrine, but they are not part of historic church dogma.
In order to qualify for “ambient orthodoxy” as I am suggesting, the confession must not have any history in a 1) Creed, 2) Council, 3) or Controversy.
Hang with me here (as I am theologizing out loud!). Try to think of orthodoxy in three categories:
1. Dogmatic orthodoxy: These are those issue that the church has defined through an ecumenical creed such as Chalcedon or Nicea. Examples:
- Existence of God
- Doctrine of the Trinity
- Doctrine of the hypostatic union
- God’s almighty unity
- Christ’s death and resurrection
- Christ’s virgin birth
2. Doctrinal Orthodoxy: These are those issue that became a part of the church confession due to local councils, creeds, and controversies. However, unlike “Dogmatic orthodoxy” some of these will not be shared by all Christians of all time, everywhere.
- Universal sinfulness of man
- Atonement made to the Father
- Sola Scriptura
- Sola Fide
Nevertheless, these issues can be thought of as a part of the great tradition of Christianity due to their universal acceptance, though it may be an assumed acceptance.
3. Ambient Orthodoxy
Eternal nature of God: Though this is not written in any creed or confession, the history of the church has always believed that God’s nature exists in an atemporal transcendence. (Although the “openness debate” may qualify to have graduated this from ambient orthodoxy.)
Creation Ex Nihilo: Again, none of the historic creeds (that I know of) mention that God created all things out of nothing. Nevertheless, this belief has been a part of “ambient orthodoxy.”
(Though both Irenaeus and Turtullian have this as part of their regula fide.—probably due to their battles with gnostics who suggested that we were created not out of nothing, but out of God himself.)
Inerrancy: I might get in trouble here. Again, none of the historic creeds mention the inerrancy of Scripture (and I know there is more than one way to skin this cat), but historic Christianity has always believed in the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
(I am not sure if the 1970s and 80s “Battle for the Bible” qualifies for the graduation of inerrancy—not to mention, I am not sure who won!)
Future new heaven and new earth: While the great creeds do speak about the future judgment, none, that I know of, speak specifically to the new heaven and earth being yet future.
(A issue currently on the table with Preterism.)
Eternality of Hell: Again, judgment is spoken of in the creeds, but not its nature or duration. Nevertheless historic Christianity has always believed that hell is bad and it is eternal.
(Of course, this is an issue with the current debate about hell and universalism.)
The sinfulness of homosexuality: The historic church has always seen this act as sin.
(Today, this is in controversy.)
The historic stability of these doctrine is less grounded than other issues which have stood up to the challenge of historic scrutiny. But don’t mistake what I am saying here. I am not saying that ambient orthodoxy is less important. It may be or it may not be. This category list I put together is not a hierarchy of beliefs. Indeed, some ambient orthodoxy, as I am proposing it, can be absolutely central to the Christian faith. For example, I don’t know of any creed, council, or controversy which has dealt with the ability of an infinite God to communicate with finite creatures. If we said he cannot, then we are left hopelessly groping for truth. But the ambient confession of the church has assumed such communication possible. The same thing could be said about the nature of objective truth. Lose objective truth and we lose all of orthodoxy!
Okay, there are might thoughts half-way cleaned up. What do you think? Is there such a thing as ambient orthodoxy?