Doctrines need a chisel taken to them now-and-again. A Theology degree of many years ago needs reviewing and updating every so often in the light of life's journey. Healthy foundational doctrines can build up unhealthy scale on them. Exposed to time, scale turns to habit and tradition. In the hands of power, scale turns to rules, conditions and laws. In the hand of the legalistic, scale turns to burdens and bondage.
Thus history shows doctrines declared by the patriarchs, being rescued from the Pharisees and Sadducee by Jesus Christ. Thus they had to be rescued again from the hands of the medieval church authorities by the Reformers. This book tries to chip away a little of the scale of my early learning by exploring the mechanics of how doctrines are formed and become contaminated.
You may not agree with some of the arguments- that is good, so long as the principles of how doctrines can become corrupted is exposed and watched.
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A person of faith is a person on a Journey.
For the person of faith, walking by faith produces evidence to reinforce this faith. Evidence accumulated deepens faith. So called 'long-shot' chances become certainties and coincidences occur far too frequently to be the product of mere chance. This process encourages spiritual growth.
The more the growth, the clearer the vision. The clearer the vision the more spiritual attributes like hope, faith, love, joy, peace, assurance and patience develop. This is the process of growth in a spiritual life.
This cannot be separate from the mental processes of questioning, debating and arguing. Questions and arguments do not dampen spiritual experience nor do they suggest doubt, instead they formulate doctrines. This is the process advocated by Paul when he says 'everyone should be able to give account of the faith within'. Doctrines are not the essence of a believer's relationship with God, spiritual experience is. Doctrines are flexible hypotheses expressed out of the experience of faith; they are formulated by growth in faith. If doctrines dictate a person's belief then the relationship with God is second hand and shallow. If relationship dictates the doctrine then the doctrine will be flexible. One thing relationship with God teaches us is that God will not be put into a mould. God does not act just because doctrine dictates.
Doctrines are not confined to the religious person, Scientists form doctrines which they call Hypotheses. Cooks form doctrines but they call them recipes. Doctrines are simply a summary of discovery.
If experience and established doctrine conflict it is doctrine that must give way. Like the scientific hypothesis, a doctrine is a prediction laid out at the end of the day's questioning. From there on a person is on a journey of faith to discover if the prediction is true or false.Without the journey of proof, hypothesis is at best wishful thinking or at worst superstition. After the journey of proof, a hypothesis is usually modified and corrected, becoming the stepping stone for yet further discovery.
The danger comes when the person of faith transfers his or her trust from relationship to doctrinal consensus. When the doctrine carries more weight than the relationship, it stunts the relationship. When doctrine is subject to the relationship, doctrine gets modified and the spirit grows.
How would a scientist prove relationship? A scientist might match two sets of genes to prove mother and child relationship, but a genetic mother may not be in a motherly relationship with her natural offspring. Whereas, a non-genetically related adult may well relate as mother to a child.
The scientist experiments on the basis of immovable material laws, the spiritual is not bound by material laws but can still be observed in relationships. There can be no material law to prove relationship of a mother and child if their relationship is not legal or genetic. In such cases the concept behind the term 'related' can leave the scientist concluding there is no relationship between a mother and child when there clearly is. Each person will define the terms of an argument from the ground of personal understanding. This underpinning starting point is the source of misunderstanding between science and religion.
Consensus in understanding relies on the integrity of the both science and religion to gain better understanding of what each has to say. So, in this book, the statement in paragraph one of this book is as given. A person of faith is a person on a journey.
I-think-i'd-better-think-it-out-again is a revisiting of of my arrogant and dogmatic youth in the light of mellowing ageing. It is 'a turning out of clutter in my shed'a review of all the things I stored away that have become obsolete with the advancement of technology. It is based on a relationship with a creator God which began in my young days and has continued through the mellowing years of insight. Coming from a lifelong engineering bias, it is what I call an engineering review of the situation.
I told one or two people I would write a theological book from an engineering point of view and I could see them scratch their heads as to what I meant. An engineer is someone who thinks from outside the box based on what he or she knows goes inside it. I realised I was biased toward engineering when, as a child, my parents asked why I had to take everything apart? I could not look at a clock accepting it told the time, I needed to know how it knew andhow it expressed its understanding of time. Taking it apart did not alter the nature of time, nor did it take away the knowledge that time exists. It simply examined the way a clock delivers its expression of time.
An engineer starts from a different point to a scientist. The engineer presumes there is a design behind everything. When an engineer looks at a machine he will see how it takes account of material laws such as laws of leverage or stress or strain. But he will never assume that the machine adapted itself to accommodate these laws. No! The natural assumption is that a designer took these into account long before he looked at which material he or she would use to build the machine. These natural assumptions presume that there is a purpose behind the machine. Also assumed is the machine was built to fulfil a function. Also assumed is that the machine did not decide the function for itself -the designer stroke inventordid.
One famous philosopher put it like this 'There is only one chair - that is the original concept all the others are copies'1. An engineer assumes a creation has started from an original thought or need, turned into a concept, proposed in a statement of mind and feasibility studied by thought and logic. From concept it travels through desire and thought process on to the planning stage, through material choice, onto communication through word or drawing. All this comes before it appears in the concrete world as an article.
Then, as new materials are found and new principles are laid, an engineer, while happy to romance in yesterday's steam train, moves onto practicality and efficiency modifications with diesel or electricity. Such re-examination of design makes far better everyday sense. The train concept still exist to pull freight or passenger, but the driving power is different due to latter day technology, material development, and advancing ideas.
So it is in this book - read on if you will!