Love, Doctrine, and Mystery

Love, Doctrine, and Mystery October 12, 2019

This quote came to my attention not long ago:

There have been lots of things related to this theme that are worth sharing. For instance, this post challenging the idea that it is being overly intellectual that leads to a focus on doctrine and assent to propositions as defining faith, when it may be that the opposite is true:

I’d say an intellectual disinterest in the faith has a tendency to lead to a “head” religion.  American Evangelicalism is almost entirely about right belief, and the content of those right beliefs.  This is usually not due to some veneration of the intellect (although it can be that for certain individuals or congregations), but rather a definition of faith that involves being presented with cognitive content, assenting that content is true, and then never questioning it, again.

This is where the person with an intellectual interest in their faith starts to part ways.  It can’t be left alone, and if someone starts poking hard enough, eventually something happens that rocks the boat.

It doesn’t mean the boat capsizes or takes on irreparable damage, but you begin to realize that you’re not pointed in the same direction, and you can’t really go back.

Marika Rose writes:

The problem with transcendence, as I understand it, is this: classical Christian theology in the wake of Dionysius affirms that God is a different kind or order of being than creation, such that all of the language we have for God is wildly inappropriate for speaking about God. And yet, we still speak about God.


Reason Touched By Grace: Getting Faith and Intellect on the Same Page

Choosing Questions as a Way of Life

Right in all points of doctrine

Maybe certainty makes Jesus angry

From certainty to mystery

The Problem with Doctrines as Freestanding Assertions

What Should Churches Do with Questioners?

Julie McVey explored the conservative Christian practice of shunning, and moving beyond one’s conservative framework while sticking with Jesus.

David Hayward wrote about backsliding, growth, and Fowler’s stages of faith (with a cartoon to illustrate it, of course). He writes:

I remember when I first read James Fowler’s book, “Stages of Faith”. It shattered my fears of going off track or even backsliding. Instead, it helped me to frame the most anguishing periods of my spirituality as potential progress.

I happily discovered that doubts and questions are a crucial part of a healthy spiritual life…When I concluded spiritual valleys are necessary, my old concepts of spiritual growth changed.

I used to think of spiritual growth as linear. But I question that because it implies that you move along a line and leave the past behind you… forgotten, unappreciated, and unintegrated…

How Christian Theology Lost Its Way

We are the Christian Left

Bob Cornwall on theology in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a series exploring the topic

Knowledge: The Cure for Christian Fundamentalism

Sexism and Sins Of The Progressive Church

Why Christian Fundamentalism is Hard to Shake

There were a few other items related to progressive Christianity. In the first blog post below I appreciated this quote: “What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

What Lies About God Do You Believe?

Understanding Progressive Christianity

Young Earth Creationists Are Masters at Picking and Choosing

Understanding Progressive Christianity: A Historical Approach

There has been some interesting exploration on more than one blog of what it might mean to be post-progressive.


A Post-Progressive Take on the Bible


Reconstruction Is Not Re-Indoctrination

Yes, Reconstruction Hurts. Do It Anyway.

Finding A Firm Foundation For Reconstruction

4 Essential Elements of Reconstruction

When Reconstruction Is Worse Than Deconstruction

And from Richard Beck, a twelve-part series on post-progressive Christianity.

The Limits of Social and Political Activism

A Wake Up Call For Progressive Christians

See also his Faith Lies series.

Ben Myers on the Apostles’ Creed

What is said to be paradoxical in this piece about “Faith, Hope, and Trust” seems to me to be the very point: faith is about trusting precisely because we don’t know it all, and because we can never know it all, none of which invalidates the importance of trying to know and understand as much as we can.

Roger Wolsey faced an accuser who said he doesn’t understand a certain mystery “the right way.”

Randal Rauser on doubt and certainty

Allan Bevere shared a quote from Leslie Newbiggin

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  • I consider it a very high compliment to be featured in this article.

    Since I wrote that (my post, that is, not the previous sentence), it has really gotten me thinking about whether or not it’s accurate to say that, in the West, we have an issue with people being full of knowledge but lacking obedience or personal experience or some other important facet of faithfulness. We may in general be lacking in those things, but it sure isn’t because all those people have a zeal for “book knowledge.” It may be more accurate to say that we venerate uncritical doctrinal assent.

    • John MacDonald

      Phil said:

      It may be more accurate to say that we venerate uncritical doctrinal assent

      I think things become more and more easy and transparent for us the more expertise we gain in something, like developing from stepping on ice for the first time as a kid to making it to the National Hockey League as a star player, and that’s good, but knowledge becomes wisdom when we push even further to slow down and re-examine our assumptions critically, such as when we examine marriage enough to understand that the traditional concept of marriage is unjust and needs to be deconstructed/tentatively reconstructed. In this way Derrida says deconstruction is justice, and the goal of thinking is not simply to make things easy, transparent, and second nature, but to problematize our systems of thought by giving weight to perspectives that have been ignored or marginalized.

      • Scurra

        Isn’t that a variant of “the more you learn, the more you appreciate how much there is that you don’t know”?

        • John MacDonald

          I think so. There were many expert players in the history of hockey, but comparatively few who had such ability and a fundamental understanding that they saw, from within the game, how things worked so that they could play the game in a way no one ever had and achieve a level of greatness that actually changed how many future players understood and played the game. The superstars were still hockey players, but out of what they were grew something entirely different from what had been seen before, like with Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky. Jesus seemed to have a similar impact on the Judaism of his time for many who came after.

          • John MacDonald

            There was a tradition that Jesus was gifted in his understanding of Judaism at a very young age:

            Finally, after three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers (Luke 2: 46-7).

            So it would be reasonable that a grown Jesus would have been understood not simply an expert, but masterful and innovative. The most common title for Jesus in the NT was “teacher.”

  • John MacDonald

    There were a few other items related to progressive Christianity. In the first blog post below I appreciated this quote: “What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

    Makes you wonder why it isn’t easier, like learning to ride a bike, play hockey, or meaningfully navigate and use a workshop? Apparently such a way of existence represents a different kind from other various kinds of skill-acquired copings/dealings.

    • John MacDonald

      Maybe the “having-right-belief” emphasizers misunderstand faith to merely be an acquired skill like becoming a master carpenter, and misunderstand that real faith also brings along with it profound doubt, like Jesus with his terrified, desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, or John the Baptist’s doubts, or Peter’s doubts, or Thomas’s doubts …

      • John MacDonald

        Heidegger scholar Hubert Dreyfus talks about the difference in basketball between the expertly skilled Larry Bird and the doubting genius of Michael Jordan. Bird was a brilliant basketball player who moved effortlessly and anticipatingly on the court. Jordan, on the other hand, was all these things, but also had a subtle, profound doubt that allowed him to change and innovate while he played in a way no one had ever seen before. Because of this doubting and questioning, Michael Jordan fundamentally changed the way the game is played. Dreyfus says an exemplary example of this doubting, challenging, innovating type was Jesus.