On self-appointed contemporary guardians of orthodoxy

‘There are two things the self-appointed contemporary guardians of orthodoxy seem to forget: (1) orthodoxy was never a guarantee of certainty, but of mystery; and (2) the opposite of faith is not doubt, but apathy.

Augustine spoke to the first point when he reminded us that after we have said everything we can about God we must remember that the God we have described is still not the God who is. As Daniel Migliore has said: “True faith must be distinguished from fideism. Fideism says we reach a point where we must stop our inquiry and simply believe; faith keeps on seeking and asking.” The goal of orthodoxy is to resist the simplistic reductions of irreconcilable realities, realities which invite (even demand) continued interrogation.

George MacDonald, the Scottish writer whom C. S. Lewis called his greatest influence, speaks to the second point in his fairy tale, The Princess and the Goblin: “People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less.” The church is not a club; least of all the kind of club with which you beat others over the head.

MacDonald’s admonition is just as important to theology as is Augustine’s, and perhaps even more crucial for the church to hear today. A church rattled by threats from without and within is tempted to retreat into a cocoon of fideism, demanding the unquestioning belief of adherents. But a retrenched faith lacks the energy, imagination and love to engage the world for the sake of the gospel, and a defensive faith tends to prosecute its most creative minds and adventurous spirits precisely when it needs them most’. – Michael Jinkins, ‘Orthodoxy as guarantor of mystery‘.


  1. On another blog I was talking about the friendship of two great, but very different men…John Henry Newman, and the great Scot preacher, Alexander Whyte (pronounced White). Both have had a positive effect on me also, especially Newman. White died in 1921 also BTW.


  2. This is great. A couple of things: 1. What do we do with Monica? Because she is someone who does just “simply believe” and A’s attitude towards the unthinking, unquestioning faith of those he calls the “little ones” seems to me more complicated than, say, Migliore’s. 2. I’m reading Flannery O’Connor, and here again is someone who has a very complicated view of fideism. I suppose that part of what she shows is that at the heart of a certain kind of fundamentalism is often a profound struggle, but it’s not the kind of struggle that can be summed up very well in terms of an antagonism between simple (unauthentic) belief and a faith that “keeps on seeking and asking”. Part of what is so unsettling about her work is that you’re never quite sure what is real faith and what isn’t, as well as the suggestion that real faith might sometimes be the very thing that I don’t want it to be. What MacDonald says about faith seems very far removed from O’Connor’s violent world.


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