The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #31: Dogma and Doctrine

This week’s theme music is “An Ecumenical Matter” by Loose Fur, from Born Again in the USA. I like instrumental themes because I don’t have to slice and dice. The clip from “Dog-Mess” Johnny Evans near the top of the show is Vigilantes of Love’s “Bethlehem Steel,” from 1995’s Blister Soul.


General Introduction

– What’s in Michial’s office?

Creeds and Confessions
– What good are they, anyway?
– The well-concealed Baptist creed
– Breaking down on the Romans Road
– That strange, strange Apostle’s Creed
– Subconscious creeds
– How denominations show their work
– No creed but Christ?
– Do creeds determine or reflect doctrine?
– Creeds as boundary lines
– The weight of the creeds

Talkin’ ‘Bout Heresy
– Connection to the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds
– Is the word too often used or not used often enough?
– Nathan’s pragmatic definition
– Historical context
– Differences of kind and degree
– The importance of heterodoxy
– Protestant problems

Biblical Demands for Doctrine
– No to Baal; yes to resurrection
– But where’s the Trinity?
– The Scriptures as correction and instruction
– The role of narrative

Jesus and Paul
– The narrative and the proposition
– Finding the balance
– Why chronology matters
– The hippie and the senator

Systematic vs. Biblical Theology
– Where do you start?
– Where inerrancy comes in
– Double corrective
– The systematic assumption of biblical theology
– A New Kind of Abraham Lincoln
– Dialectical departments
– Harmony and difference

The Post-Denominational World
– Should we just abolish them?
– The practical need for denominations
– The rise of the megachurch
– David’s favorite pope

Is Dogma a Bad Word?
– Nathan gets etymological
– Dogma without reflection
– An ownmost faith
– Why it’s still important
– This one’s for you, Wayne Peacock
– Without doctrine there can be no conversion
– Bad faith! Bad faith! Bad faith!
– Why lack of doctrine is in itself doctrine
– The anti-binary crowd as Cowardly Lion


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bowman, Robert, Jr. Orthodoxy and Heresy. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1992.

Ehrman, Bart. God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer. New York: HarperOne, 2009.

Lindbeck, George A. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1984.

Milbank, John.  Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992.

Yoder, John Howard. Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2002.

4 thoughts on “The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #31: Dogma and Doctrine

  1. I just listened to this show, and I think you guys covered a lot of interesting territory regarding differences in doctrine and dogma between Christians. I think it is one of your better shows! Like you guys, this issue is something I’ve experienced first hand growing up and moving between different church traditions.

    I wanted to say a few things about the Stone-Campbell tradition that I also was brought up in (the same church as Nathan, if you recall). One thing that always bugged me about it was the fact that we claimed we had no creeds but the Bible, and yet we had an entire statement of belief that we printed on every Sunday morning service bulletin that essentially amounted to a creed (or creeds). In particular, we claimed that the requirements for salvation included baptism by immersion and a “Christian life of steadfastness”, amongst one or two other things that escape me at the moment. At the same time, another part of this paragraph claimed that “we recognize that we are not the only Christians”, almost as an afterthought. Yet, even then, with my limited awareness of other church traditions, I knew that there were many churches that did not practice baptism by immersion. Many of the members of my congregation, as well as many among the leadership, all but excluded anybody who had not been immersed from being in full Christian fellowship at best, and not even being saved, at worst (individual opinions did vary, however, and I don’t want to discount that). At the time, I accepted this de facto distinction fairly uncritically, being more-or-less convinced that we were the ones that had the “purest” reading of the Bible. There was a brief time when I was convinced that immersion was an absolute requirement for salvation, but I started questioning that even before shipping off to my undergraduate days at Purdue.

    When I moved to Oklahoma, I started attending an independent “community church”, which is essentially baptist in theology, though they do practice baptism by immersion. In contrast to my previous congregation, my new church home goes out of its way to proclaim that immersion is most definitely *not* necessary for salvation, but is instead an “outward sign of an inward transformation”. Many of the Christians I encountered there were just as dogmatic, if not more so, about this point as any of the members of my previous congregation. It was here that I also encountered my first Calvinists (I had barely been aware of the term while I was still at my old church in IN).

    However — and this is the key point as far as I’m concerned — in both churches, I encountered individuals who were clearly strong Christians who displayed the fruits of the Spirit in their daily lives. It became obvious to me personally that differences in doctrine at this level were clearly not defining characteristics between who was in and who was out, so to speak. My experiences convinced me that Christians can and do have differences on specific doctrines, and can adhere to different creeds, but can nevertheless still be part of the same Body of Christ. This may seem obvious now, but at the time this was a major spiritual epiphany for me. I realized that the Body of Christ as far more diverse and rich than I had ever imagined before, and this realization increased my faith significantly.

    I myself don’t claim a particular denomination at the moment, but I don’t consider myself to be better off (or worse off, for that matter) than a brother who does cleave to one. A lot of things that I used to be certain about, I’m not so much anymore. I guess I have gone down a similar path to Nathan’s when he talks about having a more “biblical narrative” view of theology versus a more “systematic” view (if I understood him correctly). That said, I definitely appreciate the value of systematic theologies on hand, and creeds on the other, so long as they are accompanied with an appropriate dose of humility and recognition that its ultimately not the creeds or theologies that we owe our allegiance and worship to, but rather the person of Christ himself.

    In that vein, this is one thing that has always been unwavering for me: I’m convinced of both the essential humanity and divinity of Jesus, and his death and bodily resurrection, and that is my home port for any theological adventures on which I might embark. I have this distinct feeling that if I start and end there, it’s hard to go too far wrong.

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