Occasionally, on Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Answering Questions about Christian Doctrine from Biblical Language Alone?
I’ve started to read a massive work on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity during what is called the Arian Controversy: The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God : The Arian Controversy 318-381 by R.P.C. Hanson. It’s already been eye-opening in a number of ways, and I thought a quote to help illustrate one of those points would be helpful. As the early church began to dispute the doctrine of the Trinity in earnest, it became clear that simply appealing to biblical language was not enough:
The theologians of the Christian Church were slowly driven to a realization that the deepest questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself. (xxi)
Hanson’s point here is that each side of this controversy appealed to biblical language and even tradition to support their claim to be orthodoxy. When faced with such discord, the Christian church was forced to come to a decision point, and Hanson notes that this decision was “to form dogma” (ibid). The Christian Church had to come to realize the necessity of coming to agreed upon interpretations of the biblical language, because the questions that were being raised were about that language itself.
This raises, of course, many additional questions, some of which are uncomfortable. For example: If such hugely important doctrinal questions could not be resolved simply by appeal to the biblical language, what does this mean for some forms of sola scriptura? It seems that some formulations of that doctrine clearly allow for tradition and even dogma to decide questions of interpretation, but more extreme forms surely cannot adequately defend orthodox Christian doctrine. Another question that it raises is: What kind of controversies does the church have now that each side appeals to biblical language on but can find no ultimate resolution there?
The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God has already been challenging and enlightening. It’s a behemoth at 900+ pages, but it seems well worth the time investment.
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On Christian Music– I wrote a post about the label “Christian music” and how that can lead to a number of difficulties with discernment.
Christian Discernment Regarding Music: A Reflection and Response– I reflect in depth on how we can use our discernment properly when it comes to music.
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I take the view that any question that the apostles didn’t explicitly answer is by definition non essential. I see no need for a continuing magisterium. We have the apostles creed which developed organically from the baptismal creeds. It summarises the main claims clearly stated in scripture. I don’t see the need for creeds stipulating answers to questions the apostles didn’t address.