General Writings

Orthocogy

One of the last entries of my now deleted and forever vanished webpage was an essay on orthocogy. Since a few people have asked me about this word, it will be one of the blog entry sites that I will attempt to reconstruct.

Orthocogy is a word that I had made up, but is necessary for the English language. It is a composite construction with the first part “ortho” designating that which is true, right, or correct, and “cogy” is from the latin “cogitare” (to think). Thus, orthocogy is the art and practice of thinking correctly. It is intended to complement the words “orthodoxy” – to believe correctly (connoting the correct/true content of one’s believes) and “orthopraxy” – to behave and act properly. Thus is formed a triad of thinking, believing and acting well.

It was Scripture that first clued me to the need for another word in the English language. In Mark 4, Jesus tells the parable of the sower, and he was later queried by his disciples as to the meaning of the parable. His answer was quite interesting. “And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” This suggests that right thinking would have allowed the disciples to grasp the meaning of this and other parables. If Scripture did not record an interpretation, it is interesting to speculate as to how various factions of Christianity would have dealt with this parable. I doubt that none of them would have gotten it completely correct.

There are other Scripture passages that provide an equal challenge, and the reader is often left wondering as to how a consistent theology or ethic would be formed with the passage under consideration. Take for instance the parable of the unjust steward, where a steward in the process of being fired by his boss for dishonest dealings works some shady business with his bosses’ clientele. In the process, Jesus’ assessment is stated in Luke 16:8,9, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Clearly Jesus is suggesting that the disciples develop the ability to think through situations and deal wisely with the circumstances at hand.

Orthocogy could simply be called wisdom. The word in Greek is sophia, but the Hebrew word hokmah (חוכמה) tends to have a broader meaning with implications as to general survival in life, including skills, artistic abilities and craftsmanship as well as shrewdness and craftiness in thinking.

So often, the wisdom literature seems to contradict the writings of other Scripture. How often has one questioned statements in the Proverbs or Ecclesiastes as to their ethical correctness? How often has one pondered how the wisdom of the book of James fits in with the doctrines of Romans? A clear-thinking, orthocog person should not have a problem with the wisdom literature, yet how often we need the wisdom literature to allow us training in orthocogy! It is often that the higher institutions of learning best remove us from being able to think with orthocogy.

Make no mistake, orthodoxy and orthocogy are not the same. How often have one seen people of strong faith sometimes make the stupidest decisions? How often do you see the academic scholars of the seminaries make the most foolish political or social judgments? How often has one seen personal heroes of the faith in their worst moments owing to a fogginess in their thinking and inability to act in an orthcog fashion? The most bitter fighting among the most academically respected Reformed scholars leaves me baffled but demonstrates how people could be so orthodox and yet lack orthocogy. For examples, think about Luther’s battles with the Calvinists over the substance of the eucharist, or VanTil’s treatment of Gordon Clark, or Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ treatment of JI Packer, or the general PCA witch trial of Peter Leithart. Politically, I think of Machen’s strange love for Woodrow Wilson, or Doug Wilson’s most obfuscated thinking about Donald Trump. The list could be far lengthier, but I think I’ve made my point.

Orthocogy is a difficult trait to specifically identify, but manifests itself with how well a person is able to conduct himself in the art of living. Orthocogy cannot be measured. It is like humility; the person that claims to have humility is precisely the person that is NOT humble. A person that boasts the ability to think well similarly must be viewed with deep suspicion.

Proverbs entreats us to seek wisdom. Orthocogy is a trait that is acquired with time and diligence. Like the rest of the triad, orthocogy must (of necessity) be in partnership with orthodoxy and orthopraxy. True, there are godless men who possess orthocogy, yet for the Christian man, right doctrine and ethical practice must be simultaneous with right thinking. May we all acquire wisdom, and may we all have a proper balance of good thinking, good beliefs, and good behavior.