Correct Belief or Correct Praise? Peter Rollins gets it right . . . right?

Peter Rollins was asked in an interview a few years ago about some of his seemingly “unorthodox” efforts to name God.  This is how he responded, and you can see the whole interview here.

ROLLINS: Well, that all depends on where you stand and how you define orthodoxy. The word today has taken on a rather unhelpful Enlightenment-influenced definition as “correct belief”—the ability to affirm a certain creedal formation. However, in the more ancient tradition the doxa of orthodoxy does not refer to belief but rather to praise. We see this in the word “doxology” which doesn’t mean belief, but rather worship. So orthodoxy actually means correct praise not correct belief. In that kind of a way, it becomes less about the affirmation of a theological approach—important as theology is—but a way of being like Jesus. We have to rediscover this idea that orthodoxy isn’t belief -oriented but praxis-oriented. In this way the approach I outline isn’t un-orthodox if it helps to bring people back to wonder and praise. Whether it does or not is of course open to question.

My response:

I am with Pete on most of what he is saying here, and I really like the distinction he makes between these two concepts of correct belief and correct praise, but I’ve grown a bit weary of this whole belief vs. praxis polarity.  It seems to me that they are not separate categories, or at least if they are, we don’t have to choose one or the other.  Let me give an example.  In liberation theology it is often argued (see Juan Luis Segundo – The Liberation of Theology) that the starting place of all theology should be with praxis, and that from there begins the hermeneutic circle, meaning that reflection only follows and then leads back to more praxis/action.  But can praxis really be the starting place?  How does one know where to start without first having some kind of direction through belief or conviction?  Some guidance must be necessary.  Clearly you don’t have to have everything figured out before you start doing good works, but it might be true that you have to at least put faith or hope in some things, however fragmented, in order to justify certain actions.

I would say that neither right belief nor right praxis will lead to right praise (orthodoxy as defined by Rollins above), but instead, right orientation, or posture.  Maybe otherwise said, right being.  This is hardly something that can be achieved or measured, and where I agree with Rollins that we shouldn’t wait around trying to figure out “right” belief (the idolatrous naming of God) or live in the wilderness for years hoping for perfectly right being before we start acting.  The right praise comes with be-ing, leading to praising, acting, believing.

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