What is "orthodox theology" in Christianity?

Is “orthodox” a real technical term in theology? Who decides what’s orthodox and heretical? Do all Christian denominations have the same orthodoxy? Are those that don’t True Christians/Scotsmen?

There are different traditions in the Church. Each one defines orthodoxy in different ways. To reach X one has to use the definitions of X.

X can be Baptist, Presbyterian, TCG, etc etc etc.

Then there is no such thing as orthodoxy in Christianity, only various orthodoxies. Perhaps there is no heresy, and one sect’s orthodoxy is another’s heresy. Or perhaps there is some sort of universal core. But what is Eddie talking about?

If there is any basic Christian orthodoxy it would be something close to the Nicene Creed. In this context, Arianism would be an example of heretical theology because it challenged the concept of Monotheism.

Not quite. The best person to ask about this would be Jon Garvey, but I think Jon will confirm that there are a set of core doctrines common to all the great ancient, medieval and Reformation churches – the Eastern Orthodox, the Catholic, the Anglican, the Reformed, and the Lutheran – including the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and decisions of the first several Ecumenical Councils, among other things. This core was “orthodoxy” – the “right view” – and people outside of it were deemed heretical. Thus, if one rejected the Nicene Creed, one was deemed heretical.

I don’t know of any of the great branches of Christianity of pre-Enlightenment times (after which Christianity became significantly modified in many places) that would express doubt over whether God was omnipotent and sovereign (completely sovereign, not half-sovereign) over both nature and the course of human events. You only get people toying with changes to such core conceptions after the Enlightenment.


No it didn’t. Arianism is more monotheistic than Trinitarianism.

So those who reject a number of vaguely stated doctrines are no true Scotsmen and are deemed heretics. The great ancient, medieval and Reformation churches are the only true Christians, while the others can be ignored. Cathars, Baptists, Manichaeans, Nestorians, Methodists, all the same.

@jongarvey and @deuteroKJ ?

This isn’t much different than the fact that the existence of a few creationist biologists does not undermine the idea that there is a correct understanding of evolutionary science.

Baptists and Methodists are definitely under the umbrella of orthodoxy. They hold very different beliefs than the other groups you cited here.

@T_aquaticus misdescribed the article he linked to. The Arians believed that orthodox Trinitarian theology undermined monotheism.


I do not believe it all that complicated. There is a word for what the major streams of Christian thought hold in common, whether Catholic or Eastern or Reformed or Armenian, and subscribed to in the central historic creeds, and that word is usually understood to be orthodox.

Orthodox should not be taken as meaning correct. There is a cacophony of sects which maintain the creeds to be wrong or not in keeping with the original faith. The antonym of orthodox, heretical, has been elastically bounded. Nor is there a language police which patrol unorthodox usages of orthodox, so anybody can use the word how they will. But with all that in mind, it is still a useful enough word for conveying the most essential elements of Christianity.

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It’s different in that the “others” may constitute the majority of those calling themselves Christian. Or if not now, they are definitely expanding at the expense of the sects with Eddie’s imprimatur.

Not according to Eddie’s expressed criteria.

That certainly runs the gamut from A to B.

This is factually wrong. List of Christian denominations by number of members - Wikipedia

In the list above, all of Roman Catholicism (1.3 billion) and Eastern Orthodoxy (220 million) would fall under orthodoxy. Out of Protestantism (900 million), I’m not familiar with all of the groups listed there, but even excluding the ones I have never heard of, at least 90% would fall under orthodoxy. Thus the only clearly non-orthodox groups are those under the “non-Trinitarian” heading, which constitute 35 million. Even if we think of Oriental Orthodox as non-orthodox (which I think is debatable), in total there would be at most about 200 million people non-orthodox groups that call themselves Christian. Compare this to about 2.3 billion orthodox Christians. They are clearly a minority.

Furthermore, I’m just going by the numbers of Christian groups existing today. Many of the non-orthodox groups only arose in the last 100-150 years. When we talk about orthodoxy, we also care about historical continuity. Thus if we consider the total number of people in groups considering themselves Christian throughout history, the ratio of orthodox/non-orthodox would increase even further.

@Eddie should clarify himself, but I’m fairly sure that he would agree with me. This is clear even if you know even a little bit about the theological history of Baptist and Methodists.

I don’t agree with Eddie on many things, but Eddie is not just inventing a term out of thin air when he talks about orthodoxy. Many other Christian theologians would agree with his description of Christian orthodoxy.


My typo. That was supposed to be Arminian. So a somewhat wider swath.


I would agree with Daniel Ang that the Baptists and Methodists are for the most part within orthodox belief. Some would argue that the “Arminian” doctrine of the will held by Methodists (and by some Baptists I’ve listened to) is intrinsically heretical, and would exclude those people from orthodoxy on those grounds, but I think that on the whole there is continuity between the Methodists and Baptists and the churches I called orthodox. On the other hand, a number of sects are clearly heretical by traditional standards: JWs, Adventists, Christadelphians, Mormons. Note that when I say they are “heretical” I am speaking descriptively, in relation to a historical understanding of orthodoxy. I am not saying their teaching is “false” from some Archimedean viewpoint outside of heresy and orthodoxy. Only God lives at that Archimedean point. But from the point of the view of the orthodox part of Christendom, the sects are heretical and therefore (since for the orthodox truth is found only within the orthodox faith) they offer a teaching which is false.

Of course, when we are talking about particular figures on BioLogos, we are not dealing in obvious cases (e.g., Christadelphians are heretical, Catholics orthodox); we are dealing with ambiguous cases where a Christian who might be orthodox in most respects slips into or flirts with a heretical doctrine in one or two areas. I imagine that most BioLogos leaders go to churches that I would put as within orthodox boundaries, but that doesn’t mean that they as individuals don’t occasionally entertain or affirm thoughts that break those boundaries. And again, breaking those boundaries doesn’t necessary make a TE/EC wrong; but it does make them unorthodox (historically speaking).

Newton himself may not have been “wrong” in his rejection of Nicene Trinitarianism (we won’t know the full truth about the nature of the Trinity until the end of time when God reveals all), but it is perfectly correct to call his view unorthodox or heretical.

A further note: when I call a position heretical or unorthodox, I do not mean that the proponent of the position is not a Christian. I think the JWs are among the rankest of heretics, but I would still call them Christians. Obviously not within the Nicene definition, but they are still believers in Jesus Christ. And if I call even JWs Christian, then I am certainly not going to deny that label to Falk or Applegate. I can think someone has reasoned badly, theologically, without questioning his or her faith in Jesus.

I wouldn’t say the doctrines of Trinity etc. were “vaguely stated”. A great deal of care was put into their formulation by the greatest thinkers of the church. Effort was made to make the concepts as exact as the subject-matter would allow (truths about God cannot be completely captured by any human words, but some words are considerably better than others). The Greek and Latin Fathers struggled for precision and accuracy in terminology and formulation. That the doctrines are sometimes hard to understand, I readily concede, but I think the difficulty is not “vagueness” of expression, as that term is normally used, but lies in the contents.

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By the way, I strongly prefer the language of unorthodox over “heresy.” To be most meaningful, it is worth being clear that orthodoxy is relative to particular traditions. Orthodoxy in one tradition can be unorthodox to another tradition. But as @dga471 has pointed out, some ideas are unorthodox for the vast majority of Christians. So there is some strong correlations to account for.

If we go only by naked root meanings, that’s correct. The word means “right view” or “correct opinion”, and so when two traditions differ, say, the Christadelphian and the Roman Catholic, each could say it has the “orthodox” view and the other the “unorthodox” one.

However, if we use the term the way historians of the ancient and medieval church use it, it refers to a particular set of doctrines that came to be widely accepted, and can be used as a standard reference point from which divergences can be measured. It’s in the latter sense that I have generally used the term here. So if someone writing at BioLogos, such as Oord, says that God does not or cannot completely know the future, I can say that is unorthodox Christian doctrine – historically speaking.

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Well I also said,

Not under Eddie’s expressed definition: “Catholic or Eastern or Reformed or Armenian”.

True, even if we reject your expanded definition. But they’re definitely increasing at the expense of the others.

How so? Are you claiming that anything descended from one of Eddie’s churches still counts? But everything descends from something. Everything would be orthodox under that understanding.

For sure.

Which are?