Thinking about doctrine…


Doctrines are not alien formulations which we must adhere to but the documentation of the most profound human experiences which, transcending time and place, are handed over from generation to generation as a light in our darkness.

—From Reaching Out by Henri J. M. Nouwen

In several previous posts I have offered critique on the book “Restoring Methodism,” a book which attempts to suggest that the restoration of the church is dependent upon a return to the original doctrines of our communion.

Unfortunately, I think that Nouwen’s optimism about the notion of doctrine as described above is not the norm. Certainly, the traditions of our church (which are often defined as doctrines) represent the story of faith as lived by our forebears and must be heeded. These are not stories easily cast aside as invalid for today, for they represent profound and deep concepts. To embrace doctrine is to embrace the larger story of faith that we find ourselves in.

The problem lies in those who would turn stories into law, those who take testimony and codify it. Story always leaves room for interpretation by the reader, while law wants everything cut and dried and in place. To understand doctrine as a part of the story of faith is to understand the limits of God’s actions in the story without trying to control the movement of the Holy Spirit in the world today. Yes, doctrines provide boundaries, but these boundaries are less like a chain link fence at the border of a foreign land, and much more like a river, a natural boundary meandering here and there through the guidance of God. We want to use doctrine to build fences. On the other hand, God uses natural means, things that ebb and flow between drought and flood in order to meet the purposes of the kingdom.

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