The development of doctrine, not its jettisoning

November 2, 2015 — 3 Comments

Ross Douthat on the development of doctrine:

“The development of doctrine is supposed to deepen church teaching, not reverse or contradict it. This distinction allows for many gray areas, admittedly. But effacing Jesus’ own words on the not-exactly-minor topics of marriage and sexuality certainly looks more like a major reversal than an organic, doctrinally-deepening shift.”

This principle holds, albeit with some minor alterations, for confessional churches (at least those that are meaningfully confessional) in that there is a theological tradition–different from mere custom and rooted in Scripture–that our contemporary theologizing must be be faithful to.

3 responses to The development of doctrine, not its jettisoning

  1. 

    The ordination of women and the advocacy for the abolition of slavery (a very political position at the time!) both represent reversals of centuries of doctrine, as the current debate in the Roman Catholic church illustrates.

    On a more irenic note, as church doctrine shifted from the philosopical models of Plato to Aristotle to Kant and Hegel to Wittgenstein, Levinas, and more; church doctrine has been re-evaluated and re-established with significant changes. We are “the church reformed and always reforming according to the word of God,” so the development of doctrine is to be expected as well as our discomfort with some of the directions that takes. Has Scripture changed? No. Have I as the reader changed? Profoundly, and by God’s grace I’m not done yet.

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    • 

      “On a more irenic note, as church doctrine shifted from the philosopical models of Plato to Aristotle to Kant and Hegel to Wittgenstein, Levinas, and more; church doctrine has been re-evaluated and re-established with significant changes. ”

      What is the locus of church doctrinal development?

      In other words: where is the philosophical shift you are describing taking place? Clearly doctrine is changing but that something is changing doesn’t necessitate that the change is appropriate, good, or faithful.

      Locating the place where the change is taking place is–to my mind–critical. Is it in the academy? Is then the church/denomination [any church/denomination–I’m not thinking PCUSA here] to outsource its theological reflection to the university or the seminary? Or, is this happening in our councils? If the latter it is happening passively or subliminally.

      My sense is that the philosophical shifts that you are talking about have not equally affected every denomination or church in the same or to the same degree. How this affects confessional churches and quasi-confessional churches will be different from the Catholic church.

      Just some thoughts–thanks for engaging.

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  2. 

    Thanks for commenting Dave.

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