Terminology Tuesday: Praxis and Orthopraxis


‘Praxis’ essentially means ‘action’. In theology it gained currency through *liberation theology. Theology usually emphasizes orthodoxy (i.e. right belief or conceptual reflection on truth). Like *political theology, liberation theology balances this with an emphasis on action. *Gutiérrez typically complains that ‘the church has for centuries devoted her attention to formulating truth and meanwhile did almost nothing to better the world’. Knowing and doing are dialectically related, and right action becomes the criterion for truth. An epistemology that privileges praxis can be traced back to the preference for action over contemplation characteristic of philosophy after *Hegel, *Feuerbach and *Marx. As the Croatian theologian, Miroslav Volf, pointed out, ‘a new consciousness has developed: the truth opens itself up, not to beholding but to doing and to changing … true thinking as opposed to false consciousness is, for Marx, thinking which reveals its power to establish the truth of this world. Revolutionary practice is the criterion of truth’ (Them 8, p. 13). *Míguez Bonino has observed that there is a danger that theology is reduced to ethics, the vertical dimension equated with the horizontal and the concept based on Marxism. Positively, however, it can claim biblical roots. God communicates with his world in creative activity; in John’s Gospel knowing truth is contingent upon doing it (John 3:21). René Padilla accepts that liberation theology is correct in criticizing the *rationalistic tendency in theology, because, from a biblical perspective, God’s Logos became a historical person. However, he offers a warning against the pitfall of pragmatism, the kind of theologizing that uses the biblical text to justify a position that has been adopted on either pragmatic or ideological grounds, because ‘if there is no norm for evaluating praxis outside of praxis itself, the sheer utility will provide the only grounds for its justification—the end will justify the means. Only if faith has a cognitive content outside praxis itself can it serve as a criterion to evaluate praxis’ (D. S. Schipani, Freedom and Discipleship, p. 40).

L. Boff, Jesus Christ Liberator (London, 1980); G. Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation, rev. edn (Maryknoll and London, 21988); J. Míguez Bonino, Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation (London and Philadelphia, 1975); C. R. Padilla, Mission Between the Times, revised and updated (Carlisle, 2010); D. S. Schipani (ed.), Freedom and Discipleship: Liberation Theology in Anabaptist Perspective (Maryknoll, 1989); M. Volf, ‘Doing and Interpreting: An Examination of the Relationship Between Theory and Practice in Latin American Liberation Theology’, Them 8/3 (1983).

Escobar, S. (2016). Praxis and Orthopraxis. In M. Davie, T. Grass, S. R. Holmes, J. McDowell, & T. A. Noble (Eds.), New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (Second Edition, pp. 696–697). London; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press; InterVarsity Press.

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