Doctrine, Theology, and Religion

doctrine

It should be no surprise with the multiplicity of world religions and various denominations within each that even defining the word doctrine has proven to be problematic. Millard Erickson asserts, “Doctrines consist of genuine knowledge about God, and that religion involves the whole person: intellect, emotions, and will. This view of doctrine and theology has two major advantages: it enables us to account for the full richness and complexity of human religions… [and] it fits more closely the actual understanding of religion and doctrine with which the early church and the authors of Scripture”[1] However, liberation theologians, such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, believe “Religion is clearly pragmatic, concerned with alleviating the injustices within the human race, [making] the role of doctrine speaking to those inequities. Theology, then, becomes a critical reflection on praxis.”[2] Others, like John Hick, take a more subjective view of religion claiming, “The essence of religion is an experience of the one great reality, which he terms the ‘Eternal One.’ Doctrines, then, whether of different religions or of varying denominations within a given religion, are the differing interpretations various groups of people place on this generic experience as they interpret it through the grid of their own culture.”[3] Lastly, postliberals like George Lindbeck hold to a view that “Rejects both the idea that religion consists primarily of its doctrinal teachings in proportional form and that it is primarily an expression of emotional experience. [This cultural-linguistic view] is the idea that religion is a set of categories or teachings that each culture constructs to interpret life and on the basis of which its members function.”[4] Erickson further explains, “Doctrine on this view, is a second-level activity that serves a regulative function. Rather than giving us ontological knowledge about God, doctrines are rules governing the community. [Ultimately,] it does not grow out of experience so much as it shapes it. It is a story, told by its adherents, on the basis of which serves a regulative function.”[5]

The extent to which Christians view the Bible as being, valid, primary, authoritative, and inerrant is the foundational piece to any doctrine. As P. D. Feinberg explains, “The question of authority is central for any theology, [so] biblical inerrancy is [a highly debated topic, which] views that when all the facts become made known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to any life sciences.”[6] Erickson similarly defines inerrancy as, “The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.”[7] Through the study of this course, this writer has become more resolute on the topic of inerrancy and believes the Bible makes no false or misleading statements about matters of faith and practice, but admits there are grounds to debate the infallibility of the church’s interpretation and teachings throughout the centuries. Human beings are flawed and Feinberg explains, “Human knowledge is limited in two ways: first, because of our finitude and sinfulness, human beings misinterpret the data that exists; and second, we do not possess all the data that comes to bear on the Bible.”[8] However, when it comes to the Bible, “The writers were under the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit, which rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or that resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.”[9] The main issue faced, throughout history, was how to preserve this revelation and for multiple generations, oral tradition was used, which certainly made it possible for specific details to be modified and/or changed. Because of this and other issues resulting in various scribes’ translations, this writer holds to more of a full inerrancy view. Absolute inerrancy has some questionable areas pertaining to history and science. For example, II Peter 3:8 says, “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.”

Feinberg further explains why the doctrine and debate of biblical inerrancy is very relevant to the church today, by illuminating how the Bible is a divine-human book so, “To deny the authority of the original is to undermine the authority of the Bible the Christian has today [and] to deemphasize either side of its authorship is a mistake.”[10] Additionally, biblical inerrancy does not explain how to interpret Scripture; that is the job of hermeneutics; however, it does assert, “Whatever statements the Bible affirms are fully truthful when they are correctly interpreted in terms of their meaning in their cultural setting and the [original] purpose for which they were written.”[11] Erickson adds, “Scripture inspired by God is necessary because it confirms the nature of God’s special revelations through Scripture”[12] and this is one of the primary ways God made Himself known to man. The argument for biblical inerrancy rests on the foundation that the Bible is the inspired Word of God or “God-breathed” (II Timothy 3:16). Additionally, as Erickson illuminates, “If the Bible is not inerrant, then our knowledge of God may be inaccurate and unreliable.”[13] The final argument for the inerrancy of the Bible is Jesus, Paul, and the apostle’s teaching Scripture as though it was authoritative, leading the church to continue that tradition and hold fast to the inerrancy of the Bible. Ultimately, it comes down to one’s belief in the power and authority of God’s Word and whether or not Scripture then leads a person to change his or her behavior and/or conviction.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

Gutiérrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1973.

Hick, John. God Has Many Names. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1982.

Lindbeck, George A. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1984.

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 383.

[2] Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1973), 6-15.

[3] John Hick, God Has Many Names (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1982), 42-51.

[4] George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1984), 32-41.

[5] Erickson, Christian Theology, 7.

[6] P.D. Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 156.

[7] Erickson, Christian Theology, 201-202.

[8] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 156.

[9] Erickson, Christian Theology, 169.

[10] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 159.

[11] Erickson, Christian Theology, 206.

[12] Ibid., 168.

[13] Ibid., 188.

[14] P.D. Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 156.

[15] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 169.

[16] P.D. Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 157-158.

[17] Ibid.,158.

[18] Ibid., 157-158.

[19] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 159.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Erickson, Christian Theology, 202-205.

[22] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 159.

[23] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 206.

[24] Ibid., 168.

[25] Ibid., 188.

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