Archives For doctrine

The Dogma is the Doctrine

Greg Strand – April 10, 2013 2 Comments

This is a classic statement on the dramatic nature of doctrine made by Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949), 3:

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as ‘a bad press’. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – ‘dull dogma’, as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man – and the dogma is the drama….This is the dogma we find so dull – this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and the hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore – on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him ‘meek and mild’, and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

As Sayers points out, it is not doctrine that makes for dullness but the neglect of doctrine. I love her wonderfully rich statement (both content-wise and rhetorically) that “the Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man – and the dogma is the drama.”

It is doctrinal truth that forms and shapes life! Since this is true . . .

  1. Why is dogma considered dull and drama exciting?
  2. Why is it we often bifurcate between doctrine and life, dogma and drama?
  3. What do you do to ensure that “the dogma is the drama” is true in your life and ministries?



Greg Strand – March 12, 2013 6 Comments

Richard Hendrickson writes of the importance of “why we need scholar priests”:  Though he writes as an Episcopalian, note the term “priests” where I would insert “pastors”, I strongly affirm his sentiment. The expression I use is that of a pastor-theologian, or one I have begun to use is that of an ecclesial theologian, a theologian of and for the church. (The latter way is how J. I. Packer refers to himself and his calling, which is reflective of the many books he has written over the years of and for the church.)

Hendrickson begins by noting how those in the church often conclude that anyone with any interest in theology and theological study ought to pursue that in the academy. He also notes that those in the academy often conclude that anyone with any interest in pastoral care and nurture of souls ought to pursue that ministry in the local church. We need both in both places.

We need priests and pastors with an academic background just as we need academics with the training and experience of priestly ministry. We are off in a dangerous place when we decide that some of those coming forward are too smart to be made priests.

He notes some of the reasons why this is important.

Doctrine – and sound training in doctrine – is essential for priestly ministry.  It is part of what differentiates us from the spiritual but not religious.  I think poor training in doctrine is at the root of why so many are now calling themselves spiritual but not religious.  We need a generation of clergy ably trained in doctrine who can articulate what it is about our particular faith tradition that is unique and life-giving. . . . We simply cannot offer any answer worth hearing if we do not have priests trained to think theologically and who can delve into our tradition in creative ways to answer complicated questions and profound doubt.

After listing a number of the kinds of questions received about birth and death and everything in between, and the answers these sorts of questions require, he states,

These questions are profoundly theological ones and sound theology is the most pastoral thing we can offer. Of course this does not mean a dry recitation of Augustine on just war. Nor does it mean vague, wan sharing of our feelings about things that make us sad. It requires a meaty answer that is simple in its articulation and deep in its grounding – it requires the kind of answer that Jesus or his disciples would have given.

Doctrine is not about right answers – it is about right relationships.  Doctrine is that which encodes our relationship with the Triune God and with one another.

His conclusion:

We should be seeking out faithful academics to call into priestly ministry and supporting priests who might have an academic vocation in every way possible. We cannot afford to have an academy divorced from the day-in and day-out practice of ministry and we cannot afford to have priests who are not devoted to faithful inquiry.

A couple of questions for reflection:

  1. The Church and the Academy: What are your thoughts of the divide between the church and the academy? Do you think it exists? Why? What can or should be done to bridge the divide?
  2. The Pastor/Theologian: What do you think about the bifurcation between the pastor and the theologian? Do you think it exists? Why? What can or should be done to bridge the divide? How are you building into the side in which you do not normally bend?

As I promised yesterday, here is the second part of the interview (see yesterday’s post for the complete interview) that focuses on Gregg Allison’s seven key attributes of  his understanding of the church, spelled out in his new book, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton: Crossway).

Your core definitions of the church include the following: doxological, logocentric, pneumadynamic, covenantal, confessional, missional, and spatio-temporal/eschatological. Could you briefly summarize what these aspects mean?

The church is characterized by seven attributes. The first three are characteristics regarding the origin and orientation of the church: it is (1) doxological, or oriented to the glory of God; (2) logocentric, or centered on the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the inspired Word of God, Scripture; and (3) pneumadynamic, or created, gathered, gifted, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The final four are characteristics regarding the gathering and sending of the church: it is (4) covenantal, or gathered as members in new covenant relationship with God and in covenantal relationship with each other; (5) confessional, or united by both personal confession of faith in Christ and common confession of the Christian faith; (6) missional, or identified as the body of divinely-called and divinely-sent ministers to proclaim the gospel and advance the kingdom of God; and (7) spatio-temporal/eschatological, or assembled as a historical reality (located in space and time) and possessing a certain hope and clear destiny while its lives the strangeness of ecclesial existence in the here-and-now.

I like this definition! What about you?

Gregg Allison, Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a book on ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church: Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton: Crossway). This is the most recent release in Crossway’s excellent Foundations of Evangelical Theology series.

A few preliminary remarks should be made before reading the interview, which will, hopefully, lead you to read the book. First, the title should reveal a bit of Allison’s ecclesiological bent, broadly baptistic (note the smaller case “b”), with a respectful interaction and irenic engagement with other ecclesiologies. This would be reflective of many in the EFCA.

Second, the foundational focus is on the biblical nature of the church. This is foundational, and ministries are determined by that foundation. This, he believes, is his most important contribution to the study of ecclesiology today. I would strongly agree, as I have stated it this way for many years. We must understand what the biblical nature of the church is if we are going to understand what the function and ministries of the church are to be.

Third, he defines the church through seven key attributes, the first three based on “the origin and orientation of the church,” with the final four focused on the “gathering and sending of the church.” I will include this in part 2 of this interview, which you can read tomorrow. I believe you will, as did I, find this very helpful.

Fourth, he is sympathetic to the notion of a multisite church model. This is a relatively recent Evangelical phenomenon, so it will be helpful to hear the biblical reasons for his support.

Finally, Allison notes that one of the greatest challenges in the church today is “so-called Christians claim to love Jesus but they can’t stand the church and are not involving themselves in a local church. Thus, the challenge is how to root the church in the gospel of Jesus and connect these people, who claim to know the gospel of Jesus, to the church.” Most of us feel this, and utter a hearty Amen.

Matthew Claridge interviewed Allison in Credo Magazine about this new publication:

I encourage you to read the interview, even more so the book. But today and tomorrow I am going to share two excerpts from the interview, with the hope it will whet your appetite to read the book.

What are some of the challenges you personally faced in writing this systematic treatment of the church?

One of the key challenges was writing an ecclesiology for an audience that is broadly evangelical and thus holds to divergent positions on ecclesiological matters such as continuity and discontinuity between the Old Testament and New Testament and the old covenant people of God and the new covenant people of God, the normative or descriptive nature of the book of Acts, when the church began and who are its members, the relationship of the church to Israel and the kingdom of God, the nature and recipients of baptism, the nature and recipients of the Lord’s Supper, how the church should be governed (e.g., episcopalian, presbyterian, congregational with one pastor and a board of deacons, congregational with a plurality of elders), and the like. In my opinion, a generic evangelical ecclesiology cannot be written. Thus, I chose to write a broadly baptistic ecclesiology (reflecting my theological persuasion and my membership in several baptistic churches over the course of my life) that (I hope) fairly presents other ecclesiologies and interacts with them in a respectful and irenic fashion. At the same time, my ecclesiology develops in some directions that are not typically baptistic (though not without historical precedents and contemporary examples) like opening with a discussion of biblical covenants and identifying the church as the new covenant people of God, a significant emphasis on church discipline, a view of the Lord’s Supper that is both memorial and a type of spiritual presence (with strong warrant from 1 Cor. 10:14-2)[sic], a plurality of elders, the diaconate consisting of both deacons and deaconesses (this latter point is affirmed within a complementarian framework), and advocacy of a particular multisite church structure.

The second challenge was making my way through a large body of contemporary literature on the church, the vast majority of which is pragmatic in nature and thus focuses on the ministries of the church without ever considering what the church is. But I had made a decision early on in my writing that I would start my ecclesiology with a consideration of the nature of the church—its attributes (see point 4 below)—then move to the ministries of the church, because I was convinced that those ministries must flow from the church’s identity, and not visa versa. Thus, while learning a good deal from this contemporary literature on how to do church, I was not particularly helped in constructing my ecclesiology.

A third challenge was the tenor of most contemporary ecclesiologies: almost universally, they underscore the problematic nature of constructing a doctrine of the church. Whether they focus on the dreadful state of the contemporary church (e.g., its consumerist mindset), or accentuate the multiplicity of ecclesiologies (to emphasize the difficult task ahead), or underscore the divisions separating churches due to their different stances on homosexuality and/or gender, most contemporary formulations of the doctrine approach ecclesiology as a problem with which to wrestle. Such a negative orientation weighed quite heavily on me as I sought to write my book.

Remember to come back tomorrow to read the second excerpt from this interview, spelling out Allison’s biblical definition of the church using seven key attributes.


Bob Smietana, “Snake-handling believers find joy in test of faith,” The Tennessean (June 3, 2012):

Andrew Hamblin, 21, serves as the pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, TN. He is, according to this article, “part of a new generation of serpent-handling Christians who are revitalizing a century-old faith tradition in Tennessee. . . . They want to show the beauty and power of their extreme form of spirituality. . . . Their intense faith demands sinless living and rewards them with spiritual ecstasy – the chance to hold life and death in their hands.”

This small group of snake-handling Christians has existed in East Tennessee and the Appalachians since the early 1990s. They base this practice on the King James Version of the Gospel of Mark 16:9-20 (vv. 17-18), which they interpret literally:

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

Hamblin concludes about this practice, “It is the closest thing to heaven on earth that you could get. You can feel God’s power in the flesh.” One of Hamblin’s boyhood friends, Adam Gibson, had been married by Hamblin this past November. Neither he nor Gibson grew up in the movement but have been “converts.” Shortly after his wedding, Gibson was saved. At a service this past New Years, he handled his first rattler. His conclusion to this experience was the following: “It’s a great feeling to know that God is on your side.” And then in evangelist fashion he says, “I would like to let everyone know if you don’t have a home church, come to the Tabernacle. We believe in the Bible, we believe in the signs – and if you come out we will treat you like family.”

Here are a few thoughts/conclusions.

First, one can appreciate from our brothers and sisters the fact that they take the Bible seriously, all of it. If God says something in the Word, they believe it. They don’t engage in hermeneutical gymnastics (it might be more accurate to state that they don’t’ engage in hermeneutics at all) to determine what it does and does not mean. They believe it. There is something right and healthy about that dependency on the authority of God’s Word. But, there is also something troubling and wrong with it as well.

Second, like often happens in these kinds of circumstances and situations, the movement becomes noted for some unique thing that is tangential to the gospel at best, and it becomes the center point of beliefs and practices. One did not read of a single reference to Jesus Christ or the gospel. Granted this is a secular newspaper, so it may have been stated yet not reported/recorded. But something was off-center. Moreover, inevitably, it fosters a two-tier Christianity, and those who believe and live this way are more godly because they take the Bible literally because they live by greater faith, because . . .

Third, this raises the question about what is part of the original writings. It is the original writings that are inspired, inerrant and authoritative. This, of course, gets into the discipline of textual criticism. For KJV-only proponents, it the KJV that is often considered to be inerrant and authoritative. This creates problems both for belief and behavior because behavior is rooted in belief, and belief finds expression in behavior. It must be stated that there are not many passages besides this text in Mark that would bring to the fore these kinds of aberrations.

Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1994), 106, comments on the United Bible Societies’ The Greek New Testament, 4th ed:

Thus, on the basis of good external evidence and strong internal considerations it appears that the earliest ascertainable form of the Gospel of Mark ended with 16.8. At the same time, however, out of deference to the evident antiquity of the longer ending and its importance in the textual tradition of the Gospel, the Committee decided to include verses 9-20 as part of the text, but to enclose them within double square brackets in order to indicate that they are the work of an author other than the evangelist.

By the way, the discussion about inerrancy and original writings has been made popular by Bart Ehrman, who does everything he is able to do to undermine doctrine of inerrancy and the Bible’s authority.
Ehrman is an example of a rational and intellectual response to the Scriptures, from the vantage point of one who has an agenda to undermine it. The snake-handlers are an example of an irrational and anti-intellectual response to the Scriptures, from the vantage point of those who undermine it all the while attempting to uphold it. In saying this, one needs to be careful not to sound as if we are the impassioned, distanced, objective interpreters of the Bible who have all this figured out either. That is often the fleshly response when critiquing and assessing other people and views.

Fourth, it brings to mind the oft-quoted statement on the definition/understanding of inerrancy, that we believe in the inerrancy of the Bible when properly interpreted. When we apply that understanding to this situation we could conclude that though they claim the Bible is inerrant and authoritative, they deny those truths through their interpretation/understanding of it.  But inerrancy defined/understood in this way is a fallacy. That definition/understanding actually contains two statements that are both true, but not when logically/theologically connected in that way. The inerrancy of the Bible is not dependent on one’s interpretation. The Bible is inerrant, and it is inerrant regardless of one’s interpretation. This gets to the heart of what Paul writes in the proof-text on the inerrancy of Scripture: “All Scripture is breathed out by God [God-breathed]” (2 Tim. 3:16). As an important point of application, it concerns me greatly when inerrancy is determined by or dependent upon one’s own interpretation.

Once we establish this fact, this truth, then we can begin to ask the second question that has to do with interpreting the inerrant Scripture. Paul addresses this in the next part of his statement on the God-breathed Scriptures, where he focuses on the fruit, purpose or goal of these Scriptures: “and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Though they are intimately related and organically connected, we must be careful about how we speak of these two truths, and how we prioritize and connect them.

Here is how we have acknowledged these two truths in Evangelical Convictions, Article 2: The Bible (p. 59, brackets mine):

we maintain that though the Bible is without error [the first truth], we can know its truth only when it is properly interpreted in accordance with the purpose  for which it is written. . . . the Bible must be understood in its intended sense [the second truth].

Point of Application: This would be an excellent question of application for those pursing credentialing in the EFCA. It would also be a worthwhile discussion among your elders or other leaders.

P.S. If you read this article, you will read of deaths associated with this practice. Would you expect anything differently? I did not include reference to it because of the lengthy post. But since someone asked about it, I thought it important to make reference to it.

Andrew Hamblin, this young pastor, is attending the funeral of Rev. Randy “Mack” Wolford of Bluefield, W.V, his mentor and friend, who had died from a rattle snake bite one week prior to the writing of this article. This was written about in the Washington Post (thanks to the Bill Kynes for the reference). Wolford’s father had also died from a rattle snake bite in 1983. Hamblin’s words of encouragement in the midst of this grief were, “keep on, keep doing the signs of God.”

When things, issues, beliefs, practices, etc., become the center of one’s message and ministry, it means one is left with an empty message. Note that the encouragement is on the basis of the that which is unsure and uncertain as it focuses on the “do” of oneself or the group, i.e. “keep doing the signs of God,” not the “done” of the finished and completed work of Christ. Jesus’ last words from the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), and his first words to the gathered disciples post-resurrection, “peace be with you” (Jn. 20:19, 21, 26) fit together – it is only through his completed and final work on the cross that peace with God and one another is accomplished, it is done. This is why (one of many reasons I may add) we are Christocentric in our message, our preaching and our sure and certain hope.