Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Catch-22 Doctrines

Over time, a church's teachings grow. I'm not talking about the space of mere years, but the course of centuries. Every once in awhile, though, as the church keeps adding to its teachings, the old doctrines and the newer ones don't blend well.

I'll start by picking on my own group: Lutherans. Originally Lutherans were a plain-spoken people, taking straightforward approaches to Scriptures, and being open about the fact that the early church held some Scriptures in higher regard than others. There were books in the Bible that the early church accepted from the beginning, and others that were only accepted gradually or reluctantly. Lutherans had no problem saying that the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation "had a different reputation" in the early church, in ancient times -- a more uncertain reputation, to be exact, than the well-accepted books such as the gospels, or most of the letters in the New Testament. To this day a well-trained Lutheran theologian will handle some books of the Bible with more caution than others out of respect to the earliest church's different opinions of them.

Over the long years the idea of "attested by the early church" was assumed and was no longer the central focus; "inspiration" started to gain in importance. Is Scripture inspired? Does inspiration have levels? Does "inspiration" allow for treating books differently depending on whether or not the early Christians received them? If all the books are "inspired" in the same way, on the same level, then does that leave any room to say "no doctrines are based on the books that the early church did not receive from the beginning"?

How can a book of the Bible be "inspired" (and possibly inerrant, according to some groups) -- but not suitable for forming doctrines?

I've noticed that some other groups have "Catch 22" scenarios in their teachings, areas where there is tension (to say the least) between different teachings.

If any fellow-Lutherans read the blog -- what do you think?

For the non-Lutherans out there -- have you seen any "Catch-22" doctrines around?


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

First, a somewhat related comment. I've read that because some Christian groups are relatively new, they don't have an historical perspective, what has stood the test of time, also they sorts of things you mention about certain Bible books. I don't know about the scholars in those groups, but certainly the average pew sitter who has just heard about "inspired" and "literal" could come to a simplistic view. There is, for example, not one Biblical view of marriage.

For me personally, although I appreciate the Psalms, I don't take them in a way that could pin doctrine on them. They are too human.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

ISTM the world is brimming with "Catch-22 Doctrines".

How could the unchanging God change His attitude toward a sinner once that sinner repents?

If Christ (He Who is God) paid our debt to God for us, how is it we don't owe Christ?

If the unchanging God had been mad at us (in some sense) how is it Christ, Who is one with the Father, wasn't? Or was He, and if so, what sort of anger was that, in which He consented to be born a helpless Babe in a manger, and to die for us?

And on and on.

Interesting to ponder!

Weekend Fisher said...


You mentioned "I don't know about the scholars in those groups" -- thing is, some of those groups simply don't have scholars -- not in any sense that Lutherans (or Catholics or Orthodox) would recognize. If you look at the world class theologians, you'll notice some groups are completely unrepresented.

That's one of the things that, in my mind, is the hallmark of a reactionary splinter group: the tradition doesn't produce *any* heavyweight theologians. No Zizioulas, no Bonhoeffer ... you get the idea.

I have a kind of mental check-list for groups, for whether they are serious groups or just reacting to something on the outside. And one thing on that checklist is "No scholar inside the group has enough depth and breadth to be taken seriously by those outside the group".

Argh, I'm rambling, sorry. I feel a post coming on ... :)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Anastasia

Those are fun.

True confession, though -- I got my button pushed by that first one because that sounds like one that I've had to answer a few times from anti-Christians, back when I had time to go to message boards for longer conversations.

So, please forgive me, I know it wasn't meant this way, but I have trouble letting that one go. I'm going to get it out of my system:

Q How could the unchanging God change His attitude toward a sinner once that sinner repents?

A God is always for good and against evil; that never changes. When we repent, we don't change God; we change what side we're on.

Sorry about being that way. I promise I'll leave the others alone. Catch-22 doctrines almost cry out for someone to do that. So ... hard ... to ... resist.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF