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Why should I care about doctrine?

This article is adapted from a post on 9 May 2009 at www.thinkingmatters.org.nz as “Key Terms: Doctrine, Theology and Worldview”

I want to define some key terms (doctrine, theology and worldview) and give an analogy as a way to think about them together.

First is the word doctrine – a belief. It could be any single belief about anything, or it could be a set of beliefs about a particular subject. Here we’re mostly interested in the set of Christian doctrines, which will be beliefs affirmed by Christianity. Think of a doctrine as a brick, or a collection of bricks stacked on top of each other.

The next word is Theology. This is made out of two Greek words; Theos, that your Bible translates “God,” and Logos, which is “rationality” or “the study of.” So theology is the study of God and by extension, the study of God’s revelation. If a doctrine is a brick, then a theology is a wall. Now your wall can be as big as you want. It could be one brick! You might think that there is no God and theology is worthless. But you see, that is a belief about God and therefore a theological belief. So in other words everyone is a theologian – because everyone has some opinion about God or the Bible.

Theology is that first order discipline which studies God and his revelation, and that second-order discipline which that seeks to form a coherent worldview from all sources of available knowledge. While philosophy employs reason and experience, theology considers the possibility of specially revealed knowledge as well. Thus theology is oft called the Queen of the sciences.

On this definition anyone with an opinion about God or some aspect of his revelation is a theologian. Ironically this means Richard Dawkin’s disdain for the discipline can be directed at himself also, for even fundamentalist atheists are theologians. He who thinks that God cannot be known is doing theology, making him an agnostic theologian. There are folk theologians aplenty, and fewer professional theologians, with relevant degrees and who teach on the subject. Theologians employ a specific way thinking, as do scientists try to think scientifically, mathematicians think mathematically and historians think historically, etc. It is hoped that theologians worth their salt have well developed thoughts. So the issue is never if one is a theologian, or what type of theologian you are. Rather, the issue will always be either if ones theology is correct, or is well thought through.

For practical reasons, sometimes people find it helpful to define theologian in a more narrow fashion. They reserve the title for those who study and intentionally reflect on theological thought. The sort of theologians we want to pay attention to and become are those who take time to examine their beliefs about God and his revelation. In other words, we want to make an effort to construct a wall that is made of the same quality of material (true beliefs), that all fit well together (are coherent), and have a strong foundation (corresponds to reality).

Where does Christ fit into the analogy? Perhaps he is a particular brick or a section of the wall; the foundation stone; the mortar that holds everything together, or all of the above. Perhaps here the analogy is pressed too far and begins to fall apart.

The higher you build your wall, the better the view you have of surrounds. Your worldview is the way you view the world – or the set of beliefs that influence your perspective. The Christian worldview is, I would contend, the strongest castle. Perhaps some bricks in your wall are missing, damaged or unconnected. Well, like Nehemiah, let’s set about fixing it together. In the process, you might have to pull a tower or section of a wall down. This can be painful, but you’ll be better for it. Let’s start building together!

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