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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Doctrine For The Avante Garde...
If someone were to ask me if I have ever changed my doctrinal opinion in a matter, I would have to say yes. Surely as my understanding of grace deepens, I have come to see just how broad the road that seems right to a man really is, and how narrow the road of grace truly becomes. Five years ago had you questioned me about sanctification, I would have given you an answer that isn't as refined as the one I might give today, and I suspect that in five more years, you would receive a more articulate answer from me that you might receive today. Which is to say that doctrinally speaking, I find that I am refining what I believe, and in that sense my doctrine has "changed" - in that it hasn't stayed stagnant, but has deepened, or perhaps I could say, it has become more established, more firm in my understanding - more real, more experiential.

I almost wish that I could say that I had gone through some serious doctrinal shift, if only to demonstrate my willingness to do so should the need arise. Though I confess, I have never been persuaded by any argument or opinion from what scripture has plainly taught me since the day I began asking God to open the scriptures to me.

So I am not really equipped I guess, to understand how it is that some Christians change their doctrinal position ten times over the course of five years. I mean, the bible hasn't changed any...

This seems a more common or even unique phenomenon amongst those who learn their doctrine primarily from secondary sources, such as lectures, theology texts, and scholarly books and debates. I believe that many and likely most (though certainly not all) who play doctrinal ping pong like this are not careful, noble Bereans, who hear a thing and test it against scripture, though I suspect they paint themselves thus - rather I suspect these come to an academic rather than a spiritual conviction about scripture; that is, they tend to regard the latest, best-est argument as correct until someone more clever comes along and refutes it with a better argument.

Part of the reason for this phenomenon is that in our ivy halls we are expected to exalt the avante garde intellectual for their clever grasp and witty articulation of whatever is the cutting edge position of the day, and students are quickly assimilated into that "feed the beast the chow it desires" mindset. Do you want to be exalted? Do you want your opinion respected? You better be cutting edge baby, you better be up to snuff on what everyone who is anyone has to say on the subject. You better have an answer for those who quote obscure references, because if you haven't read them, that marks you as a second class student, and regulates your opinion to that of an outclassed, backwoods bumpkin - and as such your opinions can be dismissed without ever being heard.

Unless universities have changed since my tenor, I expect that that kind of intellectual bigotry is alive and flourishing now as it was in my day, and that when it filters back into the church, it presents itself as a noble search for doctrinal purity, but in practice enables the sort of doctrinal flip-flopping I am talking about.

So when I see this sort of thing, I am usually looking at someone who spends more time reading the opinions of other men about scripture, than scripture itself - it betrays, I think, an underlying problem - that of being unable to trust one's own opinion unless one can bolster it from someone else's opinion. You will know when you are talking to someone like this because their opinion is always filtered through what this counsel, creed, confession, theologian, professor, or author had to say, and weight proportionate to the fame or character of the source is presumed to punctuate or underscore the certainty of the conviction. If the answer is given from scripture, it is not given from a first person study of it, but rather is distilled from someone else's presentation - "copied" rather than plumbed by one's own understanding.

Now only a fool would ignore the teachers God has given to the church, so to avoid the pendulum effect I say so - God has certainly given teachers to the church, and we do well to sit under their instruction, and to give careful thought to what they have to say - not only those who are alive today, but likewise those whose teachings have come to us having been preserved from centuries past.

I am concerned for Christians who cannot hold an opinion unless someone has made a good argument for that opinion. I mean, it is one thing to cling foolishly to a thing that reason and scripture show to be false, and I am not saying anything about that - I am talking about the believer who cannot believe a doctrine until he hears what his favorite teacher believes about it, and I am talking about the believer who can't make up his mind on which teacher's opinion to take as his own, such that in the space of ten years he flip-flops between teachers, and between their opinions as he adopts them himself.

I say, I am at a loss because I have never approached doctrine in this way. I hear what so and so says, and I compare it with what I have already learned in scripture. I don't just take it and check the proof texts, I instead regard it according to the whole account of scripture - does this teaching harmonize with the whole bible, or just pieces of it? Does it make sense? What theological presumptions (if any) are required to hold such a position? etc. I mean, I hear a thing and in the moment I hear it, I have already compared it against the whole bible and made some conclusion. Not because I am well read about what everyone else thinks of scripture, but because by reading the whole bible again and again, I have come to know know what the whole bible has to say.

There are some clever things out there, and there is some good teaching, and I benefit richly from such things - but my doctrine has only deepened, it hasn't flip floped back and forth over time.

I have concern for those who find it otherwise with themselves. How about you readers? Do you find yourself changing your doctrine significantly every so often?


posted by Daniel @ 9:55 AM  
  • At 12:48 PM, November 13, 2007, Blogger Neil said…

    No not significantly. More refined perhaps... I think you put it well.

  • At 1:06 PM, November 13, 2007, Blogger Even So... said…

    Refined is the right way to say it, I think...sometimes it is just a more clear articulation of things we were pretty sure of, but now we can say them "mo betta"...

    The pendulum swinging about teachers and self teaching is a very important point though...

  • At 9:16 AM, November 14, 2007, Blogger jazzycat said…

    There were a couple of doctrines that I was uncomfortable with my denomination on and for a long time I assumed they were right and kept trying to understand and adopt their view, which is the system contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith. However, I was not able to do so and have become more comfortable with my view, and I guess you might say that I have come out of the closet.

    I really haven't changed that much, but I have become willing to be even more of a Berean.

  • At 10:50 AM, November 14, 2007, Blogger mark pierson said…

    I too have read/am reading the Bible through many times. I'm just worried that people can become islands unto themselves if they don't let Systematics and Commentaries challenge their personal theological trajectories.

    One pastor of a church can go into one trajectory while another can go another trajectory. What would be the system that binds them if they wished for their respective congregations to have fellowship? How could missionary support be mustered, there being no coherent binding system between them?

    I think we owe it to the body of Christ as teachers to allow ourselves to be tethered, at least thinly so, to a coherent system, one that we can identify with from coming to personal conclussions; but a system outside ourselves nonetheless. Otherwise we become proud and conceited.

  • At 3:41 PM, November 14, 2007, Blogger jazzycat said…

    That is a good point and there are some groups that have formed such as "Together For the Gospel" that have been formed to affirm core doctrinal essentials. Their mission is to do the very thing you suggest, which is to be unified in core essentials of the gospel.

  • At 5:35 PM, November 14, 2007, Blogger Carla Rolfe said…

    The only significant change was in 1996-1997 when I was presented with the doctrines of grace and challeged to prove my doctrine of free will, from the Scriptures. I was unable to do it, and was faced with a serious dilema.

    Beyond that, refining is an excellent way to put it.

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