Jesus wants you to be doctrinally inconsistent–more from Oswald Chambers

Jesus wants you to be doctrinally inconsistent–more from Oswald Chambers July 22, 2014

It’s been a while since I passed on an Oswald Chambers quote from my rector, Father Dave Robinson of  St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. He’s been slacking but I forgive him (because Jesus says I have to).

The title of this reflection is “The Conditions of Discipleship,” the July 2nd reading at My Utmost for His Highest. It is based on Luke 14:26-27, 33. I reproduced the second part of that entry below (paragraph divisions are mine.)

The Christian life is a life characterized by true and spontaneous creativity. Consequently, a disciple is subject to the same charge that was leveled against Jesus Christ, namely, the charge of inconsistency.

But Jesus Christ was always consistent in His relationship to God, and a Christian must be consistent in his relationship to the life of the Son of God in him, not consistent to strict, unyielding doctrines.

People pour themselves into their own doctrines, and God has to blast them out of their preconceived ideas before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ.

I think Chambers’s point is wise and needs little clarification: a “consistent” doctrinal system should never be confused with a consistent relationship with God. In fact, one’s doctrinal system may need to be “blasted” in order to cultivate that relationship.

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  • I like that Chambers quote. The mistake I used to make was to confuse faith with assent to a host of propositional claims about theology and history. While I think that belief in some propositional statements are important to the historical faith (i.e. the Apostle’s Creed), that is not the same as living out the faith. It isn’t even close. Jesus indicates what a litmus test of faith would address (Matthew 25:35-40), and Paul supports this (I Corinthians 13:2). Note that having the correct view on the doctrine of atonement or the most orthodox view of baptism is not cited as evidence of faith. There are plenty of negotiable doctrines that, if treated as essential, become idolatrous.

    • Brian P.

      Having lost the belief of nearly all the historically propositional, all that remains is opportunity to live out. But how can one discuss such with others?

      • Communication is difficult regarding spiritual matters, because everyone feels they have a firm grasp on what they’ve talking about, and they don’t. We’re speaking in approximations, in limited language. It’s hard enough to talk about physical objects with a “real world” point of reference. But when we talk about God, many people feel overwhelmed, or view it as a fool’s errand. Apparently even Jesus was not understood by his own disciples in several instances. Can you imagine the disciples’ facial reactions to Jesus’ words in John 6:54?

        I think Kierkegaard had the right idea though. Living with paradoxes and uncertainties cannot incapacitate us from acting. Trying desperately to harmonize the Bible isn’t going to make any bit of difference – the moment you start doing that is the moment you’ve given up on allowing the Bible to speak for itself and have given yourself permission to speak for it. If we want to live out faith, we’ve got to move on from that point. And there simply isn’t any physical evidence, any dogma, any doctrine to provide the platform for that. I can’t get past the Hebrews 11:1 definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (NIV) Some people want to make it: “Faith is confidence and assurance. . . and I can prove it all to you scientifically and historically!”

        The whole “leap of faith” idea isn’t helpful to me, because once a leap is made it is over and you are on “the other side,” as it were. You’ve supposedly gone from “unbeliever-land” to “believer-land.” But that’s not how it works. Many times I live in periods of doubt; most believers do. And I know nonreligious people who experience “periods of belief.” I think the discussion can begin with honesty about that internal conflict, and with the realization that many times doubt is not the enemy of faith, but an ally that keeps us checked and balanced.

        • Brian P.

          Honesty is good.

        • Communication is difficult regarding spiritual matters, because everyone feels they have a firm grasp on what they’ve talking about, and they don’t.

          Hence the biblical emphasis on humility. You might like Eric Schwitzgebel’s The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. Perhaps you’d also like unarticulated background.

          • Brian P.

            Humility is good too.

  • Rick

    “But Jesus Christ was always consistent in His relationship to God, and a Christian must be consistent in his relationship to the life of the Son of God in him, not consistent to strict, unyielding doctrines.”
    Isn’t he kind of speaking (writing) out of the both sides of his mouth. He states a doctrine (Jesus and God, consistency in life of the Son, etc…), but then talks about strict doctrines. It is like what Tim Keller says: one can say they don’t want doctrine, just Jesus, but as soon as you start describing what you mean by “Jesus”, you start having a doctrine.

  • Some quotes from Alan Lewis’ book ‘Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday’ that are helpful to me:

    “How can dogmas, rendered static, finished, absolute,
    recover their dynamic and be reformed other than by critical subjection once
    again to the church’s originating, self-identifying story? Whereas the purpose
    of doctrine is to preserve that story, there are times and instances when it is
    necessary for the story in turn to critique and reform the church’s doctrine,
    thus exercising its own priority as God-given Word over the reflections,
    conceptualizations, and formulations of the church.” pp. 140-141

    “For theology is the servant, not the master, of the story, and as we have said
    above, although doctrine can and does vitally safeguard the story by giving it
    conceptual precision, it may also blunt and betray aspects of the gospel, or
    allow it to stagnate and ossify within the bounds of absolutized dogma, rigid
    orthodoxy, or cultural conditioning. The reality, veracity, and power of the
    Word itself is confirmed when the story breaks free of those chains, subjecting
    our axioms to critical judgement and creative refinement. “ p. 165

    ‘The Spirit may inspire any and every generation to truthful articulation of the
    mystery of Christ through its own worldview and forms of thought and speech.
    But no language, philosophy or epoch can comprehend the Trinity itself, any
    more than the Holy Spirit may be identified with the spirit of any age or
    culture. That is why, however distasteful, unfashionable, or perilous the task,
    the church, for the sake of the world it serves and addresses, cannot refuse
    the imperative to reform and purify its preaching in every generation and be
    prepared to draw fresh lines between falsity and truth, heresy and gospel,
    authenticity and apostasy,’ page 354

    • peteenns

      I haven’t read the book, but these are wonderful quotes, Jim. Thanks for posting them.

  • Marshall

    Nice. The thing would be to stay in the present. “Spontaneous technique”.

    Dr. Chambers is opposing a Jesus-following life to a “consistent” doctrinal system, that is, Law … he also talks about devotion to a cause, that is party or politics. Not the same, I don’t think. Two distinct ways to take your eye off God.

  • This is a great point. I’m always somewhat troubled by any doctrinal or theological system that is too rigorous and internally consistent. It’s too easy to start thinking we have all the answers and the we understand God. In the same way that my relationship with my wife (or any other human being) resists being clearly and precisely defined, so my relationship with God is not about intellectual assent to points of dogma but about watching, listening, following, questioning, doubting, and embracing the mysteries.

  • It sounds like Chambers is affirming mystery. Or should I say Mystery with a capital M, that which cannot be put into words. The relationship between Christ and a Christian figures in this quote as such a Mystery. The words of doctrine may be useful in clearing out the confusions that unnecessarily divide people from each other, may meet the needs of our intellectual life, may be true as far as they go, etc, but what ultimately matters is not an understanding, but that which surpasses understanding.