My view of what I call “progressive orthodoxy” allows for maturation and development in our understanding of orthodoxy. Here is the definition I gave in the last blog:

Progressive Orthodoxy: The belief that the ultimate authority for the Christian faith is found only in the Scriptures (sola Scriptura) and that orthodoxy is a progressive development of the Church’s understanding of the Scriptures. Progressive orthodoxy, like paleo-orthodoxy, seeks the consensus of the Church throughout time for the core essential theological issues, finding most of these in the early church expressed in the ecumenical councils. But it also believes that our understanding of these issues can and may mature both through articulation and added perspective. This "maturing" does not amount to any essential change, but only progressive development as theological issues are brought to the table of church history through controversy and exegetical discovery.

Here is how it looks so far:

The question are many at this point. Here are some of them:

  • How does this “maturing” process take place? This is not an easy question to answer for every tradition will claim that their maturation is the correct one.
  • Once a doctrine as “matured” does this mean that it’s mature form is the “new” orthodoxy?
  • What if someone rejects the maturation in favor of its immatured form? Are they still “orthodox” in an immature sense?
  • What if some person, tradition, or institution favors a form that has matured slightly differently? Are they “unorthodox”?

Let me give you some examples:

I believe in doctrine of salvation by faith alone (sole fide). This means that the sole instrumental cause of justification, from a human standpoint, is faith without the addition of any works, including baptism. But this doctrine, as such, was not fully articulated until the time of the Reformation. It was not until then, due to the controversy that arose, that the church was forced to mature in this particular aspect of soteriology (salvation). But I have a problem. The church, until this time, generally accepted some form of works-based justification, whether it be through baptismal regeneration, or the addition of some other good work.

The same thing can be said about my view of the atonement. I believe in what is called the vicarious substitutionary view of the atonement. This means that I believe that Christ served as the substitute for man (or the redeemed), taking their punishment and making it his own while on the cross. Yet this doctrine only existed in seed form until the time of Anselm. Anselm, in the 11th century, introduced the church to the “satisfaction” theory of the atonement. This was more fully developed later by John Calvin. It now goes by the name “substitutionary” or “penal” atonement. What of those who did not believe such before Anselm or Calvin?

For both of these (and others), I have a few options:

1. I could say that before these doctrines were understood and articulated according to my current Protestant understanding, no one was truly saved or, at the very least, orthodox. (Radical Restorationism)

2. I could say that these doctrines did exist before, just in unarticulated form. (Oden?)

3. I could say that these doctrines did exist in the earliest church, but the church became corrupted and lost them. (Reformers)

4. I could say that their immature state was sufficient for the time, but is now insufficient. (Conservative Progressives)

5. I could say that these developments, while true, don’t really matter with regards to defining orthodoxy. (Emerging)

I am torn by some of these. The only one that I reject outright is #1. I also have some problems with #4. The rest may contain truth. In fact, the answer may lie in a combination of 2-5. It depends on the issue at hand. In other words, I don’t think any one of these comprehensively explains the maturation of orthodoxy for all issues. Some beliefs I believe were held by the early church and later corrupted (e.g. sola Scriptura). Some were just assumed without question and the lack of questioning amounted to their immaturity (e.g. baptismal regeneration). Some, once questioned, did reveal orthodoxy as it should be understood by all (sola fide). Some came into later maturation, but should not have any bearing on historic Christian orthodoxy (Calvinism, dispensationalism, rapture, etc.).

Next, I will try to chart out (you know how I love charts!) the way this would look with respect to Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox orthodoxy.

Go to Part 4

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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