Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Nature of Doctrine

Again, I've been listening to a podcast from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary about the recent General Assembly report on the doctrine of the Trinity. In the lecture, Charles Partee spends some time discussing the practice of theology and the nature of doctrine. Here are some excerpts (the emphasis is my own)...
I would have liked to have seen a much more dramatic approach to the question of what it is to do theology. That is, how does one create doctrine, and for what purpose.

This is my suggestion. Theology in my mind is not science. It simply is not science, and the disciplines of science have only a tangential reference to what theologians do. Secondly, theology is not philosophy. We do a lot of talk about reason and synthetic a priori and analytic a priori and concept of experience and all those kinds things. But in the last analysis, theology is not philosophy no matter what tools that one might appropriate from that discipline. At the same time, theology is not poetry. There is a real reference. There are factual components, and what we do in theology is to make truth claims of a particular sort.

My conviction then is that what theology is trying to do is not explain but protect. It maybe entirely too avant garde for a committee of the General Assembly to try to make that point. But I would suggest that in a classroom setting that you at least reflect on the notion that theology is not the truth but is in fact an attempt of the reverent Church to protect the truth which is quite beyond our comprehension…

In the Christian Church for all our academic emphasis, the first orders of speaking are, in fact, preaching, hearing, singing, and praying. Theology is in my judgment a second order of activity. It is an attempt in our thinking to be faithful to these other parts of the church’s life. The whole language of the Christian Church is not classroom language but is church language. Therefore, a lecture and a sermon are very different activities.

Candidates for ministry vow to "receive and adopt the essential tennets of the Reformed faith." As we examine candidates and discuss essential tennets within the church, some reflection on the nature of doctrine is necessary. Theology is secondary to worship. Our theology must not begin with humanity or an abstract notion of God. It begins on our knees in worship. Ultimately, doctrine is in service to the Church. If it does not protect the Biblical witness, then it is useless. I agree with Partee here.

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