Key Terms: Doctrine, Theology and Worldview

Today I want to give you a few definitions that I think you’ll find helpful and then give to an analogy as a way to think about them. All are welcome to comment, ask questions and disagree with the definitions, but I will be strict on this post to make sure the comments are topical to what is written here.

First is the word doctrine – a belief. It could be any single belief about anything, or it could be a set of beliefs about a particular subject. Here we’re mostly interested in the set of Christian doctrines, which will be beliefs affirmed by Christianity. Think of a doctrine as a brick, or a collection of bricks stacked on top of each other.

The next word is Theology. This is made out of two Greek words; Theos, that your Bible translates “God,” and Logos, which is “rationality” or “the study of.” So theology is the study of God and by extension, the study of God’s revelation. If a doctrine is a brick, then a theology is a wall. Now your wall can be as big as you want. It could be one brick! You might think that there is no God and theology is worthless. But you see, that is a belief about God and therefore a theological belief. So in other words everyone is a theologian – because everyone has some opinion about God or the Bible.

Theology is that first order discipline which studies God and his revelation, and that second-order discipline which that seeks to form a coherent worldview from all sources of available knowledge. While philosophy employs reason and experience, theology also considers the possibility of specially revealed knowledge. Thus theology is oft called the Queen of the sciences.

On this definition anyone with an opinion about God or some aspect of his revelation is a theologian. Ironically this means Richard Dawkin’s disdain for the discipline can be directed at himself also, for even fundamentalist atheists are theologians. He who thinks that God cannot be known is doing theology, making him an agnostic theologian. There are folk theologians aplenty. Examples multiply. The issue is not if one is a theologian, but is ones theology is correct.

For practical reasons, sometimes people find it helpful to define theologian in a more narrow fashion. They reserve the title for those who study and intentionally reflect on theological thought. The sort of theologians we want to pay attention to and become are those who take time to examine their beliefs about God and his revelation. In other words, we want to make an effort to construct a wall that is made of the same quality of material (true beliefs), that all fit well together (are coherent), and have a strong foundation (is correspondent to reality).

Where does Christ fit in the analogy? Perhaps he is a particular brick or a section of the wall; the foundation stone; the mortar that holds everything together, or all of the above. Perhaps here the analogy is pressed too far and begins to fall apart.

The higher you build your wall, the better the view you have of the surrounds. Your worldview is the way you view the world – or the set of beliefs that influence your perspective. The Christian worldview is, we’d contend, the strongest tower. Perhaps some bricks in your wall are missing, damaged or unconnected. Well, like Nehemiah, lets set about fixing it together.

10 replies
  1. Simon
    Simon says:

    I wish more people would take Rob Bell’s advice and make their faith like a trampoline, not a brick wall.

    :)

  2. Simon
    Simon says:

    That doctrines are more a means to an end; they help you jump higher. He would not say that they are ONLY a means to an end, of course (Though I would tend to).

    He specifically contrasts the trampoline idea with brick wall theology – exactly what Stuart talks about – and that a brick wall faith is precarious because if one brick crumbles the whole wall can collapse; and so it is therefore also a more defensive, aggressive worldview (e.g. see the most recent fruitfulfaith thread).

    The trampoline view is more positive, forward-looking; the jumping is the goal, not the springs. Not concerned with constantly Justifying and ruminating over what is deriveable and proveable. Taking truth as more self-evident, as I would argue Jesus did.

    I do thoroughly recommend Velvet Elvis. No doubt it is entirely different to your views of christianity, Bnonn. But that’s a good thing, no? :)

  3. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    He specifically contrasts the trampoline idea with brick wall theology – exactly what Stuart talks about – and that a brick wall faith is precarious because if one brick crumbles the whole wall can collapse

    Even if this is true, it’s only a problem in the case of a faulty worldview. Plenty of bricks in my worldview have crumbled since I was converted, as I analyzed my beliefs more closely. The wall did not collapse. I replaced the bad bricks with good bricks, and the wall is now stronger.

    it is therefore also a more defensive, aggressive worldview

    In other words, a worldview that takes truth seriously, at the expense of the wants of the self.

    The trampoline view is more positive, forward-looking; the jumping is the goal, not the springs. Not concerned with constantly Justifying and ruminating over what is deriveable and proveable.

    In other words, a worldview that takes the wants of the self seriously, at the expense of truth.

    Taking truth as more self-evident, as I would argue Jesus did.

    Of course, Jesus took the Scriptures as the self-evidently true revelation of God.

    I do thoroughly recommend Velvet Elvis. No doubt it is entirely different to your views of christianity, Bnonn. But that’s a good thing, no? :)

    Velvet Elvis may be a view of Christianity, but it is not itself Christianity. Rob Bell is not a Christian—not with a “gospel” that essentially reduces to “live like Jesus lived”. Bell is simply one in the long line of liberal, popular preachers who appropriate Christianity to their own ends, tickling the people’s ears with just enough of the good of Christianity to make them happy, without any of that uncomfortable sin nonsense. And when you leave out the uncomfortable sin nonsense, you leave out the gospel (aka, Christianity).

  4. Ian
    Ian says:

    Bnonn: Did your view of what Christianity actually is change when you discarded those bricks in favour of new ones?

  5. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    It depends on what you mean by “is”. Obviously my views of some Christian doctrines have changed, and in that sense my view of what Christianity is has changed. But my view of the gospel itself has not changed—and neither could it, since it is plainly laid out in the Bible (eg, 1 Corinthians 15), and the gospel is the core of Christianity.

  6. Simon
    Simon says:

    I think you fit Bell’s brick wall model very well Bnonn. I think Splitting is childish and defensive. I think that Jesus took the self-evidently true as the truth, which is why he contradicted many sriptures.

    Granted, one could just insist that one is simply replacing bricks in one’s worldview; I could claim that I did this, too, starting with christianity and then replacing bricks. Rob Bell could claim this, also. But to do this is to obstinately avoid the comparison of the brick wall to another view.

    I wonder and worry that if you were offered a real means to, say, world peace that you would turn it down because it didn’t fit with your theology.

  7. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    I think you fit Bell’s brick wall model very well Bnonn.

    I don’t have a problem with that.

    I think Splitting is childish and defensive.

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to, so it’s hard to comment. Are you talking about schisms between denominations? In what way is that childish and defensive? As usual, you’re big on silly opinions, and tiny on substantial arguments.

    I think that Jesus took the self-evidently true as the truth

    And what, pray tell, is the “self-evidently true”?

    which is why he contradicted many sriptures.

    Oops, your ignorance is showing. Jesus didn’t contradict any Scriptures, let alone many. I wonder if you could provide even one compelling example that anyone who wasn’t totally inept at reading couldn’t easily refute.

    I wonder and worry that if you were offered a real means to, say, world peace that you would turn it down because it didn’t fit with your theology.

    Do you stay up at night, tossing in your bed, bothered that I might be put in this position? That lil ol Bnonny will get a chance to implement world peace, and turn it down? I wonder on what basis you would do that. Have I suggested that world peace, as a goal, is at odds with my worldview? Did the Christianity you learned discourage that sort of thing? Aim for violence and stir up strife instead? Or are you just worried that the only way world peace will be achieved is if Christianity is true, and Jesus comes again?

  8. Simon
    Simon says:

    Exactly. What is self-evidently true? If christianity is true, what within you can have judged it’s truth independantly? Self-evidence is all we have. As you have said yourself, you are quite happy that non-christians and non-christian cultures can derive morality and truth. Embrace that. Not only that truth itself, but the derivation must be truthful, too. Indeed, where does the derivation end and the moral begin? It is not black and white like you seem to want to demand.

    To my understanding (and immediate recollection) Jesus harvested on the Sabbath, didn’t condone the stoning of a prostitute/adulterer.

    (I think maybe you misunderstand my point about world peace. I’m saying that you seem so sure that the truth is as you see it and that you are right, that if real truth passed you by, you would not recognise it. The real truth is world peace, not the method by which it is attained)

    I find it sad that you are so afraid of your bricks crumbling that you feel the need to attack people – it’s not very christian, is it? Including attacking Rob Bell – you claim that he is expending truth for selfish means. I find it incredible that you can be so self-important about your opinion of truth. Is Rob Bell less learned than you? Does he have reasoning which is worthy of contempt? Should he treat your reasoning with contempt? What is christianity if it isn’t the ability to evaporate contempt of this kind? Is he deceitful?
    What is the best way for you to deal with him? The way you deal with him is dictated largely by your worldview, of course. I’ve got to say, your worldview doesn’t look very attractive. I would agree that the truth is not necessarily attractive, but a person with the truth is. Because a person with the truth doesn’t spend their time viciously defending their bricks, but spends their time trying to jump higher.

  9. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    I have been very lenient where I said I would not be. As this last comment was off topic and lacked substance it is worthy of deletion. I invite Bnonn to post on the topic of Jesus, the law and what he thought of truth, if he thinks your false exegesis worthy of correction. In the future on this thread, please stay within the bounds of discussion outlined in the article above or refrain from commenting. This is your first and final warning.

    In response to your previous comment: even trampolines need springs.

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