Theology? Doctrine? Whatever…. (SBD 2)

A few introductory comments on the definition and function of theology……

Systematic Biblical Doctrine

That’s the title of the course I will teach this Maymester at the undergraduate level for Lipscomb University. I don’t particularly like it. Here’s why.

“Doctrine” rings hollow at best for most students (especially at the undergraduate level) and creates hostile suspicion for many. The word has a polemical ring in many ears such that it conjures up images of dueling antagonists engaged in heated debate where the loser goes to Hell. “Doctrinal error,” as the saying goes, “places one in danger of judgment,” right?

“Systematic” sounds, well, too systematic. It sounds like we are going to put the Bible into its “proper” order–an order that we impose through a preconcevived “system” (an order perhaps borrowed from some philosophical construct, cultural model or a previous scholasticism). This prioritizes “system” over text; it postulates an “order” to which the text must conform. This is onto-theology so that theology is shaped by a prior commitment to an ontology. Theology then becomes a form of philosophical anthropology, which means it is not theology at all but “anthropology in a loud voice” (so Barth’s critique of classic liberalism). It will override the text.

So, “Systematic Biblical Doctrine” sounds like a code word for imposing my system upon the biblical text in order to draw boundaries that define the “right” group. Consequently, I don’t like it. It is not what I think theology should do.

Rather, I proceed with a more narrative approach where theology is the exploration of the biblical plot–to trace the redemptive-historical work of God through Creation, Fall, Israel, Christ and Church into the Eschaton. It follows the plot line. Theology tells the story and seeks to absorb the contemporary world into the plot of the story.

Is there something systematic about theology? Well, of course. There is an order. But, it seems to me, that order is best understood as redemptive-historical plot, or drama, or story, or narrative. The order is not that of a “system” or a philosophical/metaphysical grid, but the order of a narrative plot in which we live or a drama that we perform.

The Function of Doctrine (Theology)

What image does “doctrine” evoke in your mind? Answers would probably range from meaningless discussions of unfruitful minutia of rationalistic projections by ivory-tower theologians to exciting visions of polemical engagements over distinctive points of doctrine. Both of these exercises could be called “doctrinal,” but both leave a bad taste in the mouth of contemporary Christians who are impatient with the impractical musings of theologians and fed up with the backbiting, abusive and sectarian character of heated exchanges.

Many are searching for something more significant. They yearn for pragmatic value instead of the perplexity of intellectual gymnastics and the haughtiness of intramural Christian squabbles. Students, like many church members, are skittish, suspicious and usually disheartened by any “doctrinal” discussion.

Homiletics illustrates the problem. Preaching, it is said, ought to be life-oriented, faith-building and practical. Doctrinal preaching is out of style and ineffective. Topical preaching is generally snubbed because, in part, it is usually doctrinal preaching, and it is much easier to sneak one’s doctrinal position into a series of texts in topical preaching than when expounding a particular text. Preaching is thought more effective if it is framed psychologically or in story or in exposition, but never “doctrinal”.

This rejection of doctrinal preaching is due in large measure to a reaction to a fundamentalist emphasis on polemics. There preaching generally focuses on peripheral issues which are unconnected with life. This is largely driven by a demand for “distinctive” preaching. What can you preach that a Baptist cannot? Or, what can a Baptist fundamentalist preacher say that distinguishes him from a Methodist? Thus, doctrinal preaching degenerates into battles over the Bible and skirmishes over distinctives or theological systems. A steady diet of such preaching does not strike at the heart of the central aspects of Christianity. As a result, controversy is highlighted without the illumination of Christianity’s center, the weightier matters.

On the other hand, sermons shaped by inductive storytelling or pop psychology have the tendency to offer secular advice in religious clothing. They remain superficial and fail to probe the deeper resources of meaning and application within the Christian faith (that is, they fail to be “doctrinal”). While this perspective is driven by the nausea of the popular culture with doctrinal preaching, without doctrine there is no substance. Without reflection on the Christian faith, there is no grounding in the story of God. This kind of preaching may produce a relatively healthy secular psychology, but it will foster a weak and immature faith; a faith easily tempted and seduced by the forces of humanism, materialism and pluralism in our culture. It will be a faith that adopts the values of its culture rather than challenging them.

Ellen T. Charry has argued that the function of Christian Doctrine is aretegenic, that is, it is “conducive to virtue” or it generates a virtuous life (By the Renewing of Your Minds [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977], p. 19). The purpose of Christian doctrine is character formation, spiritual formation. Theology should give the people of God an identity (a sense of calling and status) and equip them with normative ideas and values that shape them into the image of Christ. The function of Christian doctrine is practical—to build a community which images God. Thus, the goal is neither polemical victory (to glory in being “right” on every issue) nor theological ingenuity (to glory in a “new” idea). It is pragmatic. Christian doctrine should serve God’s intent to seek a people that share his values and holiness in communion with him.

Theology is neither metaphysical speculation nor polemical exchange, but the applied story of God toward the goal of character formation—to be formed into the image of Christ. As Paul told Titus, if we will teach Christian doctrine (stress the theology of Titus 3:3-7), then the Christian community will be full of good works (Titus 3:8). This is the kind of “teaching” that is “good and profitable.” A community is shaped by its doctrine; it will become what its doctrine is. Teachers and preachers pay heed. Doctrine must be aretegenic if it is to be biblical.

What theology does Paul have in mind? He summarizes it in Titus 3:3-7. If Titus would have a vibrant community of faith, he should stress this: (1) the triune work of God—the Father who loved us through Jesus the Son and renewed us through the Holy Spirit; (2) our utter fallenness and thus the need for redemption; (3) the divine initiative for our salvation, the motive that moved the divine initiative, and the divine work which accomplished it; (4) the nature and means of our salvation as our redemption is not only forgiveness by the grace of Jesus Christ but transformation by the power of the Spiorit; and (5) the creation of a community of believers with eschatological hope.

Stress these things, Paul told Titus, and the people of God will be dedicated to good works (transformed living in service to others). They will avoid foolish controversies and quarrels about the law (polemics will not be their focus). They will be God’s people who image Christ in a fallen world; they will be a people who live according to the age to come rather than fashioned by this present evil age.

Significance of Doctrine

My call in this class is to a renewed appreciation for the fact that doctrine is at the heart of our faith–our faith involves theological (worldview, metanarrative) commitments and our ethics are pregnant with theological meaning and grounding. Our communal reflection and teaching must reflect these theological or doctrinal commitments or our people will have no grounding or understanding of the deep roots of their faith. We must develop within our people the ability to “do theology,” to think critically about their faith in relation to their life, so that their lives might reflect the commitments of their faith.

This kind of reflection is necessary if we are to perform the story, that is, live within the story of God. If we do not provide that heart and push for that reflection, then another “heart” will drive our lives and decisions. Instead of participating in God’s drama, believers will, by default, adopt the cultural mores which subtly shape them. Without reflection on the narrative of God’s story competing narratives will shape us. Without critical reflection on our faith, we naturally adopt a faith (worldview, metanarrative) which is comfortable and suitable to the age in which we live. Critical reflection demands that we retune our ears instead of having them scratched by contemporary culture.

More specifically, I offer this definition of “Christian Doctrine”: “Christian doctrine is pouring God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ into our human experience so that we might embody the life of Jesus in the present.”  I attempt to do this comprehensively (whole of Scripture–both Hebrew and Greek–applied to the whole of life), coherently (seeking the integrative and consistent character of God’s story throughout redemptive history but without straggling the diversity of that story by some strait-jacket harmonizing technique), contextually (we are situated, concrete humans living in specific cultural contexts) and Christologically (the culmination of God’s revelation through creation and Israel is Jesus the Christ, the eschatological Son of Man breaking into the present from the future). This is faith seeking understanding. Theology asks how our faith relates to our human experience; and in particular, how should we live in the light of what God has done in Jesus.

Theology, then, is intended to be critical; it is self-reflection. It is a search for understanding–to understand the story of God in Israel and, ultimately, in Christ. This critical reflection is necessary to ensure that our praxis is faithful to God’s narrative. Theology is the self-conscious effort to interpret reality through the lens of God’s self-revelation in Christ given to us in Scripture.

Christian Doctrine as Story

Theology is a narrative enterprise as it seeks to tell the story of God, explains its meaning and apply its principles to the contemporary world. Theology is fundamentally a secondary language in which the church speaks, but a necessary one. The power of its language (including its propositions) is drawn from the power of the story as it is given to us in Scripture. Scripture is the first order; it is the norm. Theology is second order; it attempts to provide a coherent and practical model of the first for a contemporary audience by way of application. It is presumptive to think that our model is an exact duplicate of the first. Our model does not bear the perfections of the first. Our model does not have the first-hand character of the first as a witness to the story. Our model is a retelling of the story; the first is the story.

In other words, as Stan Grenz notes, our model is not a replica, but an analogue. A replica would be a miniaturization of a reality in its exact dimensions, but an analogue simulates the structural relationships of the reality modeled. It speaks analogously–we are pilgrim thinkers that are ever trying to model our theology after God’s own narrative telling. Our theology does not equal Scripture, but it models it. This is the ongoing process of sanctification, as we seek to bring our thoughts in captivity to God’s thoughts.

This means that theology is always a human construct–fallible, subject to adjustment, and always stands under Scripture. This means that theology is reflection on faith; it is not to be equated with faith. Theology draws out the meaning of our experience of faith; but it is not a substitute for faith. It informs and guides our faith as we live it out in our specific contexts, but faith is itself the foundation for theology.

Theology is not absolute truth. God is the absolute Truth. We can apprehend truths about him as he has revealed them in Scripture. But as we attempt to narrate, understand and apply those truths, we do so as situated, fallible, finite human beings. We cannot absolutize our system–only God is Absolute. There is only one God and we are not “him.”



21 Responses to “Theology? Doctrine? Whatever…. (SBD 2)”

  1.   John King Says:

    JMH,

    I have enjoyed the first two posts on SBD and am looking forward to additional ones. Interestingly, I recently discovered Paul G. Hiebert’s work, *Anthropological Insights for Missionaries*. In a later chapter, Hiebert discusses the three selves that were hard-won battles in mission practices. For churches that emerge through missions to grow to maturity they must become self-propagating, self-funded and self-controlling. He writes, “After much discussion about the three “selves,” there has emerged a general consensus that young churches must be allowed to mature and take responsibility for the work of God in their regions as soon as possible. But little is said about the fourth self—self-theologizing. Do young churches have the right to read and interpret the Scriptures for themselves?” (pp. 195-196.)

    Hiebert affirms they absolutely have that right. Thankfully, the approach to theology that you are advocating can be taught to emerging churches very early in their life cycle. It fits with the Creation to Christ approach that many of the most fruitful missionaries are now using.

    In the missions training that I now lead we are finding that three questions are always appropriate to ask in light of any biblical text: What do we learn about God’s character? What do we learn about humanity? How will our lives change if we believe this passage enough to put it into practice? Teaching not-yet believers to dialogue with the text in such a way that they discover the answers to these questions starts them down the road to developing a theology that bridges between the Bible and their culture—not ours.

    Thanks brother,
    John King

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      John,

      I appreciate your extended comment. Everyone needs to learn to “do theology” for themselves, to “self-theologize” as you quote Hiebert. This includes, as you know, a communal dimension where the community theologizes in their missiological context.

      I think your approach to missions training is wonderful, especially the key hermeneutical questions that are asked of the text. The movement from God to humanity to praxis is right on target. It is contextualization at its basic level.

      Thanks, John Mark

  2.   randall Says:

    At the moment I an wondering just how many times I should say “amen.” Doctrine is NOT a dirty word though the word has been frequently abused. I anxiously look forward to what you have to present to us next.
    Blessings,
    Randall

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks, Randall. You are always an encouragement, except when I “praise” Arminianism. :-)

      •   randall Says:

        John Mark,
        I appreciate your posts ever so much. I am encouraged and enriched by your presentations and your attitude is exemplary.

        I doubt either of us is surprised that there may be a few issues that we see differently. There are always differences between one person and another.

        It is probably evident that my undertanding of Calvinism is not the same as that found on the American frontier in the early 1800s or even of Switzerland in the 1600 and 1700s. Even in the Stone Campbelll movement there are few that agree with them on all points, even among those of us that are great admirers.

        I suspect my understanding of Calvinism is not the same as yours and your understanding of Arminianism is certainly different than that of most of the Arminians I am personally acquainted with. (I’ve even commented to my wife that you are the most Calvinistic Arminian I have ever encountered. This evidences my belief that the differences in our perspectives are not so great. Hope I didn’t misrepresent you to her. ;-) ) And to be sure, an Arminian perspective is preferable to the Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism that has characterized the CofC all of my lifetime.

        Really, I don’t even object when you praise Arminianism so long as you do not unfairly characterize Calvinism. And I find you to go to some lengths to try to be fair to everyone.

        So please keep on encouraging us. We appreciate it very much.
        Grace and peace,
        Randall

  3.   markus Says:

    reading this I was reminded of a sentence from your hermeneutics series. “We should be careful that we do not reduce the tension (in the atonement theories) in order to domesticate the mystery.” I hope you are genuinely impressed now. ;) at least, it seems that your theory of hermeneutics and epistemology really is the basis of your theology. i like that.

  4. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Markus, I am quite impressed. I did not know anyone read my blog closely. :-) Thanks for paying attention.

  5.   Jr Says:

    Wayne Grudem defines systematic theology as “any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic,” which “involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic.”

    Using Grudem’s definition as my lead, the first thing I thought of when I saw “Systematic Biblical Doctrine” as the title of the course was that it would take all the relevant passages in the Bible on various biblical doctrines then summarizing their teachings clearly so we know what are the correct doctrines to believe and the correct positions to take on them.

    Perhaps I was a bit simplistic and/or completely missed the point of the class! :)

    Agreed that Truth is God – and He illuminates Himself and Truth through the Scriptures just as you mentioned, John Mark.

    I see scripture as perspicuous – and God wanted to make Himself known and He still does and he used language, text, and ultimately Jesus to do it. “Jesus is God’s exegesis.” (saw that somewhere and liked it) However, perspicuity does not mean any interpretation left up to context is valid. Paul wrote far too many letters to combat inaccurate and damnable things. I say that only to say authoritative teaching means something. The zealous desire that I see from the “emerging” culture to dismiss thousands of years of instruction in favor of individualistic interpretation and overcontextualization raises many red flags; especially when it comes to core doctrines.

    I like what Keven DeYoung wrote recently on his blog:
    “… before we resort to “all we have are interpretations”, let’s remember that we also have God, who wants to be interpreted correctly. Before we let postmodernism tell us what we can and cannot know about texts, let’s look at Jesus and the Apostles and see how they handled the Old Testament. And before we let the chastened epistemology of contemporary voices wow us with their French philosophers and the rhetoric of hermeneutical humility, let’s not forget that God “has something to say and he is very good and saying it.” As Luther put it 450 years before pomo lit classes, “If Scripture is obscure or ambiguous, what point is there in God giving it to us? Are we not obscure and ambiguous enough without having our [own] obscurity, ambiguity, and darkness augmented to us from heaven?”

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Jr,

      Here is where we might differ somewhat. I don’t buy Grudem method. Grenz calls it a “concordance” method to theology which is easily manipulated or permits the imposition of a system (onto-theology). You can read my review of his smaller edition designed for undergraduate classes here.

      The name “Systematic Bible Doctrine” was probably intended to convey something like Grudem advocates, but it is not my method of theology.

      You can read my series on “Created for Hermeneutics” (go to the Serial Menu) to see a response to DeYoung’s point. No one–in postconservative circles or Emergent–believes all of Scripture is ambiguous or obscure, or that epistemological humility entails a lack of knowledge about God through Scripture. I think DeYoung overplays his hand here.

      Emerging churches actually value paleoorthodoxy–the tradition of the chruch that goes behind the Reformation and into the early centuries. They have a much wider view of tradition than tradition Reformed churches. So, I don’t see them dismissing theology for individualistic interpretations but rather actually in the process of retrieving some of the insights of the past. Everyone, of course, does that quite imperfectly, but most are attempting to do so.

      I have often said “Jesus is God’s Exegesis”–he is the embodiment of all that theology intends. The “Christ Event” is the center of theology; it is the hermeneutical lens. How that is lived out in the present is part of why communities discuss and dialogue–not only with the present, but with the past in terms of historical theology.

      •   Jr Says:

        Thanks, John Mark. I appreciate your review of the text you mentioned.

        To say “no one” believes Scripture is obscure hides what those like Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis, for one, have stated. “The mystery is the Truth,” he writes; or stating the Bible is not divine but a human product so let’s “embrace the mystery.” blah blah blah all that nonsensical new wave hippie talk.

        Anyway. Thanks for keeping me thinking and researching. That is why I keep coming back. I’m being fed. I’m going to take a break for a little bit. Grace to you -

  6.   rich constant Says:

    what a wonderful bunch of words…
    again john mark you are one good piece of work.
    an understatement to be sure… :-).
    Although…
    their is GOD’S BALANCE for the individual…
    balance in every aspect of one’s development intagrating scripture,to become of the sound mind of the righteously faithfull SON, that we are striving to become, as all of us excersise ourselves by that FORM of teaching to which we are commited.
    THE LOVE OF THE CHRIST THROUGH INTERGRATION OF THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD WHO DWELLS IN US WHOSE WORD THAT OUR PRAYERS MIGHT BE HEARD.
    which keeps the teacher the servant of the taught.

  7.   rich constant Says:

    what a wonderful bunch of words…
    again john mark you are one good piece of work.
    an understatement to be sure… :-).
    Although…
    their is GOD’S BALANCE for the individual…
    balance in every aspect of one’s development integrating scripture,to become of the sound mind of the righteously faithful SON, that we are striving to become, as all of us exercise ourselves by that FORM of teaching to which we are committed.
    THE LOVE OF THE CHRIST THROUGH INTERGRATION OF THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD WHO DWELLS IN US WHOSE WORD IS SHARPER THAN A TWO EDGE SWORD THAT OUR PRAYERS MIGHT BE HEARD.
    Or does one become as ROM 1.18?
    the wrath of god is revealed from heaven against …those who hold the truth in unrighteousness

    which keeps the teacher the servant of the taught.
    so then
    we will all eventually find out about our internal
    balance through the gyroscope of the SPIRIT IF WE CAN BE WILLING TO BE TAUGHT OF GOD

    BLESSINGS
    JOHN MARK
    NO PEPPERDINE FOR ME THIS YEAR… RATS ANYWAY I KNOW IT IS BEAUTIFUL OUT THERE THIS WEEK

  8.   Kaleigh Miller Says:

    I’ve always had a problem with the extremities of our culture when it comes to the policies on doctrine, so this helped me consider another way of viewing the issue. It’s always been presented to me as either a consideration of religion as a rigorous set of rules that if you stray from you’ll slip into damnation, or a really loose, God loves and accepts all, including any form of worship and belief system you wish to apply over scripture, kind of system. Thinking of it as a reflection on God and an analogue to the scripture is more helpful and applicable for me because I want to have a doctrine that teaches the love of God, but I need the substance that deals with heavier matters because the more I see of some parts of the world, the harder it is to explain with watered down or absent theology and only faith.
    I also thought the replica versus the analogue was a great way of thinking about how our individual theologies should be, and how they should be continually be expanded and refined. I’ve met a lot of people that see their lenses and constructs of theology on all matters being the only right ones, a replica, so they don’t reflect deeper and often the theology given to them is inherited and not built themselves. Writing your own analogue and constantly editing it seems to be much more in line with a person reaching for a closer view of what God’s thoughts are.

  9.   Mackenzie Carter Says:

    “This is faith seeking understanding.” I love the way you worded this definition of theology. I struggle a lot with the idea of theology because my whole life I have thought of theology as just a big, fancy word for the arguments in the church. It was divisive and limiting. The same was true for my thoughts on doctrine. Especially growing up as a female in the church, doctrine was the word that the leadership of the church used to keep me from doing what I felt lead or called to do in the church. I found myself constantly fighting with the doctrine that my church stood on, because it meant that I was stifled. The other problem with theology and doctrine is that I never fully understood it because no one taught it to me. I just had no understanding of why it was important to my faith, so I didn’t realize I needed it.
    However, theology and doctrine are so much more than all of my preconceived notions, and that is what I am slowly beginning to realize. Theology is the way that we dive deeper into our faith. Faith is the foundation, but theology is the study that enlightens the foundation, that builds upon it. Yes, having the foundation is essential, and more important than what is built upon it, but what is built upon the foundation is very often what people see first. People outside of the church often see the doctrine that the church stands on before they see the faith that is behind it. They see the doctrine as the “rules” that the church has based their faith around, instead of the other way around. And this is why this definition of faith seeking understanding is so crucial to our mindset of theology. People have to see first our faith, and then the doctrine that flows based on that faith. And, if done correctly, the doctrines that we as Christians live by are then seen as us embodying the life of Jesus because we are faithfully pursuing the life he lived.

  10.   Joe Angevine Says:

    I really enjoyed the article. I have never really thought about the differences of doctrine and theology. I have always thought about them being the pretty much the same. I think after reading this article i have been able to understand the differences between the two. Doctrine is set in place by a church body and the way they interpret the word of God and whether their way of viewing the bible is right or wrong. I think theology is the story of God throughout the scriptures in its purest form. I think both are vitally important in our individual growth and the community we are apart of. I think doctrine gives us guidelines in which to live a Christ fulfilling life.But those things can be expendable to a certain degree. While theology should stand the test of time because it lays down the very nature of our faith.

  11.   Jordan Simmons Says:

    I particularly enjoyed your thoughts in the section labeled “Christian Doctrine as Story.” However, I think it is incredibly common to see people using Scripture to model it after their own theology. Even with myself, it is a great temptation to take Scripture and conform it to what I want it to say about my life; rather than what it actually has to say. Perhaps it’s because I enjoy the power and I’m just afraid that my own personal beliefs won’t jive well with what Scripture has to say about it. However, this is not just true of myself, but others as well. I think it is fair to say that this happens all the time. We mold Scripture so that it can fit into our preexisting theology about the way we live. Sadly, it seems the word “doctrine” in today’s world has much more to say about a person’s personal traditions/beliefs than the actual story of God in Scripture. I think it is always necessary to remind ourselves that Scripture must always mold our theology; our theology should not mold Scripture. Thanks for the reminder.

    •   Glenai Says:

      Jordan, I think we all struggle with using scripture to model our own theology, and sometimes it is inevitable. We each come with such a unique way of viewing scripture, which we have both seen in our text intensive classes (Gospel of John), but you’re right about being cautious in conforming it to fit our lives, rather than reading it for what it is.

      I agree that doctrine today is defined by individual beliefs rather than the character of God, which is sad. It is so easy to be taught theology outside of the word of God today, rather than allowing scripture to form and mold theology.

  12.   Elizabeth Eckstein Says:

    I appreciate the balance that you brought to the topic of doctrine and theology. I think it is important to understand the value and necessity of fundamental beliefs and basis of faith. I also can see that some people get lost in only the doctrinal aspects of faith. I think our generation struggles to connect with studies on doctrine because the debates we have heard usually seem to be pointless—debating things that don’t truly matter (as you mentioned). I think that we crave a better understanding of God, His teachings, and His character, but that we don’t see a connection between these things and debating doctrinal beliefs. When we begin to realize that the heart,character, and mission of God are at the root of our doctrine and theology, we can begin to appreciate these studies more fully.

    •   Glenai Says:

      Elizabeth, I love what you wrote. I think DEFINITELY it is important to understand the value and necessity of fundamental beliefs and basis of faith, but furthermore understanding fundamental beliefs on the basis of faith. It is a co-dependent relationship between the two.

      I agree that there seems to be a gap in our generation with connecting with studies on doctrine, because we don’t fully understand what doctrine is. You hit it right on the head when you say that we crave a better understanding of God, His teachings, and His character and that there seems to be loss of connection with how to relate that back to doctrinal belief. I think that is where our generation’s cynicism comes from, and even prevents us from appreciating the word of God. I’ve definitely had my struggles with the idea of doctrine, and when we see a church or our elders debate issues it takes it away from the character of God and into the character of humans; which causes more isolation from the community of God.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

  13.   Christiana Muir Says:

    When I hear the word doctrine, I immediately associate a negative connotation to the word. I think of old men sitting around a table arguing about small details which in the big scheme of things, don’t matter all that much. However, in this post I appreciated the definition and explanation of doctrine and its significance, because it has opened my mind to what doctrine really means. I love Hicks’ definition; “Christian doctrine is pouring God’s self-revelation of Jesus Christ into our human experience so that we might embody the life of Jesus in the present.” That get’s me excited; that is the study of scripture and application of it into our lives. However, my tension against the word arises from people contorting scripture in order to make it fit their values instead of shaping their values based on their study of scripture. I believe this is what causes a lot of tension and disagreements among denominations.

  14.   Glenai Says:

    “Many are searching for something more significant. They yearn for pragmatic value instead of the perplexity of intellectual gymnastics and the haughtiness of intramural Christian squabbles.”

    I’ve been in this place. I’ve desired to have something more thoughtful, truthful, and more meaningful sermons or teachings rather than the generic “Christian” responses that please everyone or isolate other practicing Christians (such as Baptists, Presbyterian ect.). It seems very unproductive for the Kingdom of God to argue over unclear doctrine. Coming from personal experiences, doctrine has always been a controversial issue that has a tendency to separate and isolate others than bring people together as a community. I do agree with the idea of doctrinal teaching being rejected mostly to its irrelevance to everyday life, and that it seems that doctrinal teaching can lead away from the centering of Christians. With saying that, I do agree that it is necessary to teach doctrine because it is the substance in understanding of the Christian faith. I believe the negative connotation of doctrine is due to us not fully understanding what doctrine really is, and how it relates to the understanding of God.

    “Theology should give the people of God an identity (a sense of calling and status) and equip them with normative ideas and values that shape them into the image of Christ.”

    With this understanding of what theology is, it is absolutely necessary to use doctrine. Doctrine is what shapes us, and helps us understand what being in the image of Christ really looks like and how to pursue it in our lives. Doctrine should bring us together as a community, rather than separate us from one another regardless of denomination. Not only that, but doctrine brings us into community with God. With a new developed understanding of what doctrine really is, I fully agree that it is the “heart of our faith.” Living in the story of God requires us to have grounding in Him and in our faith in Him, or we are shallow in our beliefs. I think the issue about doctrine comes from us not truly understanding what doctrine is and how it is and should be defined in our lives.

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