Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Christian Orthopraxy in a Multifaith Setting

Posted by John Montgomery on July 29, 2010

Some of you know that I have been having fun with Steven Prothero’s latest book, God is Not One.  In the first instance, the core of the book is a series of well-written overviews (perhaps it is more accurate to say “thumbnails”) of eight active rival faith traditions (to use the sub-title) that Run the world — and why their differences matter.


These individual essays draw both on the discipline of the History of Religions with its focus on cultural diversity and Comparative Studies that note how certain features of a particular tradition find analogical elements, not necessarily in all faiths, but in at least one other tradition.

These eight essays are framed in a set of observations about the world religions that moves beyond simplistic notons of paths up one mountain leading to unity, a rehash of what is called  Perennial Philosophy to subjective generalizations recently made popular by Modern Atheists that argue that what unifies all the traditions is their violent, hatefilled ideologies and we would all be much better off, if we moved ttally beyond religion.

Truthfully, I am still reading, but I have been fascinated by several of Prothero’s obsevations, for example, one (drawing on Wilfred Cantwell Smith) that comparisons between founders, Jesus and Muhammad, miss the point that for Christians. Jesus is functionally more comparable to the Quran. Prothero goes on to raise the question of whether there might be comparative elements at work between the Christian report of a miraculous virgin birth, and a Muslim affirmation that Muhammad was illiterate and unschooled, but could still miraculously “recite” wonderful Arabic poetry.

In my next post, I will come back to more of these observations.

As Portrero writes about Islam, he rather quickly draws on a often used distinction between orthopraxy and orthodoxy, noting how Islam, with its focus on the five pillars, understand what makes one a Muslim is more about practice than belief.  Christianity with its emphasis on doctrine focuses more on correct belief than correct practice.

At this point, some will notice themes at work with Marcus Borg’s recent book, the Heart of Chrisitanity and the radical paradigm shifts Borg posits in the post-modern church today.

However, it seems to me that as we study further we might discover that the distinction between orthopraxy and orthodoxy historically may have been drawn too wide. This week our lectionary has taken us to Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.  Because our senior pastor has already preached a series of sermons on that discipleship discipline, I had not been paying close attention to that particular passage, but I was suddenly caught up short. In the midst of reflecting on Muslim practice of daily prayer and its modification of Jewish practice, it is very interesting to find the following note –

Commentary on Luke 11:1-4, The Wesley Study Bible, p. 1258: “this prayer or the longer version in Matthew’s Gospel (6:9-13) was repeated three times each day.

Where did that come from? Further research – from the Didache

Chapter 8. Fasting and Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer). But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (…Friday). Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever.

Pray this three times each day.

Did Christians face a certain direction as they stopped and prayed? Well, if anybody has further clarity and sources, I would love to hear. Funny how things that used to be so clear, aren’t anymore.

I thought I would close with a wonderful picture taken by a friend of mine, Tamar, at a local PTA meeting this Spring – just in case someone can’t seem to figure out why this is so important.

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2 Responses to “Christian Orthopraxy in a Multifaith Setting”

  1. For those interested in comparing mystical tradition of Christianity and Islam, I can recommend “Paths to the Heart / Sufism and the Christian East,” edited by James S. Cutsinger (Published by World Wisdom, Inc. 2002, 2004). Another is “Christian & Islamic Spirituality / Sharing a Journey,” by Maria Jaoudi (Published by Paulist Press 1985, 1993). Both books and others on Sufism and Christian mysticism are in the bibliography of my e-book at http://www.suprarational.org

  2. Dennis Rice said

    I wonder about the dating of the Didache. Some scholars believe it dates to the first century. I don’t know if it that early, but the passage quoted about fast days and hypocrites sounds a lot like someone trying to separate the practice of the new Christian movement from the practice of a Saturday Shabbat. If one fasts on the preparation day, can one really participate in the Jewish sabbath when no cooking would normally be done? So maybe there was still some orthopraxy confusion on this point. All this raises the question, “What were the hypocrites praying?” Maybe the Shema. But I don’t necessarily assign the word ‘hypocrites’ to Jews. They could have been gentile Godfearers who genuinely thought the correct way to be “grafted on” was through standard conversion to Judaism.

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