Monday, May 24, 2010

Christianity and Liberalism I - Doctrine I

This is my second post on Christianity and Liberalism by J Gresham Machen. In Chapter 1 of his work, entitled 'Doctrine', he makes a compelling argument that Christianity cannot be separated from doctrine. As a quick overview, in this chapter Machen skillfully counters those who erroneously feel:
1. Doctrine is irrelevant because all doctrine are basically the same
2. Doctrine is irrelevant because Christianity is a "life" not a "doctrine"
3. The early church did not have doctrine
4. Paul created doctrine apart from or different from the early church
5. Rather than have doctrine we should go "Back to Jesus"

He concludes with 2 warnings about what adhering to the doctrinal basis of Christianity does not mean:
1. It does not mean that if doctrine is sound it makes no difference about life
2. In insisting upon the doctrinal basis of Christianity, that all points of doctrine are equally important.

Early on in reading this chapter, I realized I had a different idea of "doctrine" than Machen. I'm still wrestling with the subtlety of the difference but I think it is a significant difference nonetheless. Here's the difference:

Cherry: Christian doctrine is the belief or set of beliefs held and taught by the Christian church
Machen: Christian doctrine is historical events and the meaning of those events

For the record, I like Machen's definition better than mine.

The differences in our definitions might become more obvious with the following quotes which I found compelling. They are used to punctuate two of the sections mentioned above but here they are in isolation (emphasis mine):

"Christ died for our sins," said the primitive disciples, "according to the Scriptures; he was buried; he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name "gospel" or "good news" implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. "Christ died"-that is history; "Christ died for our sins"-that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.

The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried" - that is history. "He loved me and gave Himself for me" - that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church

Machen continues to weave the 'definition of doctrine' into the 'defence of doctrine' throughout this chapter. I find his definition more robust than mine because it quickly points out the common areas that are attacked in Christian beliefs - the historicity of the events, the meaning of those events and the need for both.

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