“The gross distortions of Christian truth with which the church’s history is replete have often resulted from the misuse of good doctrines and not only from what we label false doctrine.”
- George Lindbeck
I just read this quote and thought I’d share it. It’s one worthy of pause and reflection.
Truth matters! Christians believe this resolutely. But truth must be understood in context. We must strive to understand not just that something is true, but also how it is true and why it matters. And knowing truth is not enough; what we really need is wisdom to apply the truth fittingly and lovingly. “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only,” says James the brother of our Lord (Jas. 1:22). Similarly,Paul talks about the importance of correctly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about theology is that theology is about memorizing and regurgitating doctrines. This makes theology boring, legalistic, and devoid of life and contextual richness. It’s like learning a bunch of mathematical or statistical formulas without actually understanding how they work or knowing when to apply them. Of course, doctrines have an important place in theological learning and thinking. But doctrines must be studied and understood in the context of their historical development and applied in the present with discernment and appropriateness.
Doctrine is the fruit of theology, not its beginning point or final end. It’s what results from the church’s emersion in Scripture and tradition, as it seeks to make rational sense of its experience of the living God in its midst. As such, doctrine is formulated and reformulated over the course of an ongoing dialogue taking place over many centuries – with much continuity to be sure, but also some revision. Genuine theology, then, is about the pursuit of wisdom. It’s about understanding all things in the light of God revealed in Christ. In all things, it seeks to glorify God and bear articulate witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Its doctrines are short-form ‘formulas’ that guide the church as it seeks to understand, articulate, and embody the truth in its life and mission.