orthodoxy vs. monodoxy

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Monday, January 11th, 2010

orthodoxy vs. monodoxy

here’s a little something i wrote over on the eikon blog. as we’re still in the initial phase of connecting and sharing our values prior to our official start day (which is coming very, very soon…), a recent tweet prompted me to further flesh out our perspective on the nature of orthodoxy and shared beliefs.

so, enjoy.


last night on twitter, author/theologian/semiotician/generally brilliant person len sweet posted the following tweet:

Orthodox or “Monodox” (Keith Ward’s word)? Orthodoxy=right beliefs: Monodoxy=1 belief, 1 right way to believe, only 1 set of true beliefs.


his thoughts were particularly engaging to me because i think they point to a value of eikon that’s worth exploring. as we’re still in the initial phases of development and growth, we have a lot of people seeking information about what kind of community eikon is and will become. as a part of this process and as people begin to join us at our various gatherings, we get a wide range of commentary like the following:

you guys aren’t very churchy.
you guys are more churchy than i expected.
i can’t really pin down what eikon believes.
eikon seems to be pretty narrow in its beliefs.

in other words, everyone has their own particular perspective and set of presuppositions which lends itself to seeing something very different than the next person. i think a part of this comes from, ultimately, the fact that we’re a little more fluid in the way we define our set of “truths” or hard-and-fast standard of so-called orthodoxy.

don’t get me wrong, we certainly have a series of “guiding theologies” that help to bring some cohesion to our community and shape the way we interact with each other and make decisions as leaders. these things are at the core of what it means to be a part of this faith community, but we’re careful to distinguish—as len sweet points out—between “orthodoxy” and “monodoxy”.

without going into tangential detail, we’re a little leary of a word like “orthodoxy” because it’s simultaneously broad and narrow. on one hand, it encompasses so many things to so many different people. “orthodoxy” to those in the roman catholic tradition might be heresy to those in the pentecostal tradition (or vice versa). on the other hand, “orthodoxy” can be seen as a very narrow window of beliefs that disallows a robust conversation about ideas and theologies. ultimately, though, i think what len sweet is getting at is simply some kind of shared beliefs that help to garner a cohesive theological conversation.

on the other hand, though, his suggestion (as i see it) that “monodoxy” is a dangerous element within the church is one we most certainly share. whereas, again, we have a set of theologies that help to communicate the vision for our community, a key theme of those theologies is that there’s room for a wide variety of interpretations of those values. when we say that our most fundamental guiding theology is the centrality of jesus, the question, naturally, that we’ve received from people is, “which jesus are you talking about?” the jesus who wept over the death of a friend or the jesus who used a whip to clear out the temple money collectors? certainly, one’s way of viewing jesus can be fundamentally different than the next person without straying away from a shared sense of “orthodoxy”. this, though, isn’t true with the concept of “monodoxy.’

monodoxy insists that there is only one view of jesus and if one strays from that singular viewpoint, then they have violated a sacred sense of “rightness”. if you worked your way through our list of guiding theologies, you could use any as an example. take ‘scripture.’ for many, scripture is the inerrant, infallible word of god. for many others, though, there’s a sense of “limited inerrancy”, which is a nuanced version of the preceding view of scripture. both of these views can certainly fall in line with an orthodox understanding of bibliology, but would certainly violate the singularity of one’s monodoxy.

ultimately, the point i’m getting at is that we certainly have overarching shared beliefs that characterize our faith community, but never want to be guilty of monodoxy. we have room for a variety of beliefs about god (or even lack of beliefs about god). we hope eikon can be a place where people don’t have to agree, but can engage in a conversation that leads to mutual understanding and growth. we absolutely hope to make jesus known and guide people in living in a way that resembles the life and person of christ, but we think there’s a bigger conversation involved with that than just a singular angle or a narrow monodoxy.

so, we’re currently in the process of adding voices to this community called eikon. there’s certainly room at the table for you and the perspectives you bring. we hope to both connect with and learn from you soon.