Doctrine in the Church is important. I am a fan. The doctrines of the Church have helped me better understand the nature of sin, the salvific work of Jesus Christ, the function of the Holy Spirit and how the Church is to be in relationship with the world. I am going back to school in fact to study doctrine, specifically the doctrines come out of the late antiquity period.
In my studies thus far I have discovered something about doctrine that has deeply affected how I understand that conversations around doctrine. I am embarrassed that I had not seen this before, and in many ways am disappointed in myself for not seeing it sooner.
So what is the discovery? Here it is:
Doctrine is the point of entry.
That is it. Doctrine is the point of entry into the conversation and understanding of the Christian faith. So why is this “discovery” worth noting? It is because I the primary problem I have had with theologians who cite doctrine is doctrine is used as a point of arrival.
It is like when you have a math book in school and all the answers are in the back of the book. There are many ways to get to the solution that is provided in the back of the book, but what is important is that you get the correct answer. Doctrines are often treated as an answer in the back of the book, and you can have many ways to get there, but ultimately you have to come to already stated position.
For example, Christians have a doctrine of the virgin birth. There are many people who will work to prove this doctrine, because the doctrine is the point of arrival - not the point of entry. When doctrines are points of arrival, then we have to defend and prove them. When doctrines are points of entry then we discover more than the doctrine teaches.
If the virgin birth is not the point of arrival, but the point of entry then the questions change. Rather than asking “how did the virgin birth happen?”, we get to ask “what sort of claim is being made about Jesus through the doctrine of the virgin birth?” Oddly enough when I ask the second question, I come to a deeper understanding of God in Jesus than I do when I just search for reasons to justify the virgin birth.
Doctrines are important, because they invite the disciple to enter into the transforming story of God. The irony is when we insist doctrines are the point of arrival, many discover those same doctrines as their point of exit.