Book Review: Humble Orthodoxy

humbleOrthodoxy gets a bad rap these days. It is, for many, a concept inextricably linked to images of strutting Pharisees and the (admittedly unpleasant) smell of burnt heretic. “Go away,” they say, though perhaps not in so many words. “Take your lifeless and restricted bigotry elsewhere.”

Others recognize the importance of orthodoxy, but fail to grasp its beauty or use it in a loving and Scriptural manner. For these people, right theology is a donkey’s jawbone perfectly suited to slaying uncircumcised Philistines – or their neighbor, whoever “asks for it” first.

Neither approach is biblical. It’s no good avoiding one muddy ditch if you wind up mucking around in another. The road is where you want to be. Balance is needed. So how do we achieve it?

Josh Harris seeks to answer that question in his new book Humble Orthodoxy. His thesis? That we are called to both 1) “embrace and defend biblical truth” and 2) “be clothed in gentleness and respect”. Neglecting either one of these will inevitably lead to “arrogant orthodoxy” or “humble heterodoxy” – two sides of the same bad penny. We must, Harris argues, learn how to hold the truth high without putting people down.

This is a short book, but a much-needed one. Harris demonstrates a remarkable economy of language, packing into sixty pages a Bible-fueled exhortation that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Those who struggle with being limp-handed about what is in and what is out (theologically speaking) will find herein a potent reminder that orthodoxy is not a four-letter word; it is, in fact, vitally important. Those who are tempted to use their precise theology as a cudgel (as I often am) will be spurred to remember that there is a fine line between contending and being contentious. Truth matters – and so does our attitude.

We’re going to be opposed as we preach substitutionary atonement and the truth of God’s wrath toward sin. We’re going to look unloving and unkind as we teach God’s plan for marriage being one man and one woman. We’re not going to look cool. We’re going to look ridiculous and backward and intolerant and politically incorrect to the world.

Here’s the question: As we lose the esteem of our culture, as we see false teachers gaining ground, what will we do? Will we grow bitter, angry, and vengeful? Or, like Jesus and Paul, will we continue to love our enemies even as we suffer? Will we keep praying? Will we keep hoping for God to open others’ eyes?

We don’t have to be jerks with the truth. We can remember how Jesus showed us mercy when we were his enemies. We can demonstrate a humble orthodoxy, holding on to our identity in the gospel. We are not those who are right; we are those who have been redeemed. (p. 61)

Postscript: Reading this book has made me even more aware and appreciative of the examples of humble orthodoxy I’ve encountered over the years. I see it in the writings of Douglas Wilson and Kevin DeYoung. I see it when I read Thomas Watson and Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle. I see it in dear friends of mine – the way they write, they way they speak, the way they live. Most vividly, I see it in my pastor. As someone who often struggles with the cage fighter mentality that Harris describes, I’m grateful for the people God has placed in my life who exemplify so well the beauty of right thinking wedded to right loving.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Humble Orthodoxy”

  1. I just requested this book through Multnomah’s Blogging for Books program, and I can’t wait to read it. It seems that so many have lost the “in love” part of “speaking the truth.”

  2. A hearty amen to this excellent review. Thanks for your honesty also! I vividly remember my inner dialogue when I was coming out of arminianism into a fuller view of God’s sovereignty and being humbled by my past lack of Biblical knowledge and orthodox teaching–and then in “the SAME breath” being proud that I now knew the truth and “those other guys” didn’t get it. Sin really is crouching at our doorstep. We can get it right and get it wrong almost simultaneously.

    Sounds like a good book :)

    1. “Sin really is crouching at our doorstep. We can get it right and get it wrong almost simultaneously.” Truth.

      Reminds me of this passage from Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters: “Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility.”

      :)

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