Doctrine as an Expedient Means

I served a mission back when the commitment pattern was king. Prepare–Identify–Invite–Follow Up; those were the rules of the game. If we could get investigators to make and keep commitments, they would feel the spirit and ultimately receive a testimony of the gospel.

I’m wondering though, what this tells us about the role of doctrine (loosely defined) in the conversion experience. Does doctrine serve a functional role, where it is a means to an end? Is the value of doctrine, perhaps, more in its ability to bring about a particular result, rather than in its systematicity? To make it more concrete, the way I viewed “teaching the gospel” in light of the commitment pattern was not so much in getting people to understand the gospel as a comprehensive theology, as much as it was to get them to take action and experience the gospel for themselves.

My hunch is that the value of things such as the BoM is not so much in its ability to present a coherent argument for a certain ideology, as much as it is in its capacity to generate a conversion experience. It’s a raft of sorts, meant to get us to the other shore, and not to be mistaken for that shore itself.

  • lxxluthor

    I agree with your hunch. What sort of an end would the BoM be? Like all scripture its purpose is to “bring people to Christ” or conversion. Conversion is the goal. Tied to that is staying converted which the BoM and other scriptures are helpful for also.

    I’m struggling with the doctrine half though. It is clearly functional also and definitely does not need to be completely understood in order to induce a faith-creating experience whether it leads up to conversion or strengthens it. But it isn’t identical to the scriptures though. The scriptures convey doctrine and that is why they are vehicles and not destinations. What do you mean by systematicity? How could doctrine be “the shore” or anything else than a vehicle? I guess I’m not understanding what other role(s) you think that doctrine could play in the conversion process.

  • smallaxe

    What do you mean by systematicity? How could doctrine be “the shore” or anything else than a vehicle? I guess I’m not understanding what other role(s) you think that doctrine could play in the conversion process.

    By systematicity I mean a coherent narrative. In other words, I think that many of us, as Mormons, place too much value on ideological cohesiveness (everything must make perfect sense. I’m reminded of speculative questions such as what happens to the children of divorced parents who were sealed to them, but they then remarry and are sealed to different people?). Perhaps much of the value of doctrine is in the function it serves.

    The “raft” is a trope commonly used in (Mahayana) Buddhist sutras. “The other shore” is the goal of Buddhism, ultimately leaving the world of illusion and rebirth (samsara). Buddhist teaching is meant as an “expedient device”–a raft of sorts to get people there. It is a means to an end, and should not be mistaken for the ends itself. People take it as an ends when they become overly concerned with the logical consistency of the narrative. Another commonly employed story is someone being hit by a posionous arrow. When someone with the cure arrives, the administering of the cure is prolonged because the victim asks too many questions about the arrow (who was the archer? what direction did he shoot from? etc.). In the end he dies because he was so consumed by the circumstance that he neglects the need to be cured.


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