The Danger of Doctrinal Frameworks (Repost)

This piece was originally posted back on August 26, 2008.  As I’ve been reading over some of my past blog posts, I came across this post and thought it was worthy of a “repost” because it is still a problem that dogs so much of Christianity.  I have made a few changes to the format but not to the content.  I must also point out that even though this post deals with the way this issue from the stand-point of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, the problem at hand is in no way isolated to restoration churches.


I have been reading Christianity’s Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath.  As Lutheran’s and Calvinist’s began to distinguish (divide?) themselves from each other, McGrath makes this interesting observation:

“Perhaps more importantly, given the central role of the Bible for Protestantism, this new trend meant that the Bible tended to be read through the prism of ‘confessions’ – statements of faith that frequently influenced, and sometimes determined, how certain passages of the Bible were to be interpreted.  This shift was a contributing factor to the rise of ‘proof-texting’: citing isolated, decontextualized verses of the Bible in support of often controversial confessional positions.  Paradoxically, this development actually lessened the influence of the Bible within Prostestantism, in that biblical statements were accommodated to existing doctrinal frameworks rather than being allowed to determine them, and even to challenge them” (p. 103).

Does that not sound so familiar?  What McGrath calls ‘doctrinal frameworks’ I have called doctrinal constructs in my preaching/teaching before.  The Restoration Movement (RM), a movement that began as a noble cause too, has followed this same historical path as well.  While the RM never developed an official “written” confession or creed, an unwritten creed certainly became solidified over time as the measuring stick for soundness of faith.  This unwritten creed was our framework or construct through which the Bible was read and in many circles still continues to be read.

It is not surprising to discover that proof-texting was the common means of defending this doctrinal construct from anyone who dared to question whether the construct was consistent with scripture itself.  Nor is it surprising to find the same division that came about among the Reformation Movement also became a part of the RM movement.

Perhaps Christians cannot live without such constructs but I do not buy that.  A doctrinal construct is not scripture itself nor is it Jesus Christ.  A doctrinal construct is a third-party participant that stands between scripture and the Christian or Jesus Christ and the Christian.  As McGrath points out, such a construct forces us to read/interpret scripture and follow Jesus as the construct demands rather than reading/interpreting scripture and following Jesus as scripture and Jesus demand.  While we all have lenses through which we read scripture, we ought to strive to identify and demolish such lenses (as well as these 3rd party constructs).

If you are interested, my friend and former Professor, John Mark Hicks, has posted an entire hermeneutical series on his blog that attempts to help us in this endeavor.  I believe he has done an incredible job and rendered a valuable surface for those of us who are on the journey with God.  Just click on his name and the link will take you to his blog and the hermeneutical series he did.

3 responses to “The Danger of Doctrinal Frameworks (Repost)

  1. Non-Confessional Groups are more schismatic than Confessional, in the main. But one must distinguish Creedal groups from Confessional. Confessional Groups attempt to dogmatize everything- eg, Westminster Confession, Augsberg. The Creedal only dogmatize when forced to do so by heresies that attack the essence of salvation. No, but look at the Baptists, and the Plain Mennonites, and they divide over the smallest of issues.
    Rejecting Confessions is laudable. But rejecting Creeds is folly.

    • I think there is much value and need for historical creeds (e.g., Nicene, Apostles) so that we can understand why it is our ancestral Christians believed what they did. But I also think post-Apostolic creeds such as I mentioned served a different purpose than many of the Reformation creeds. The former seemed to be more about defining the basic Christian belief against heresies while the later seemed to be more about trying to mark who was a “true Christian” based on whether a person made the particular creed their confession. In such case, I see that as making salvation dependent on Christ plus the confession…which is a heresy itself. Nevertheless, the problem with any creed is epistemology…how do we know it’s correct and what if it isn’t?

      • Rex! hot dog, we are almost on the same page! Yes, the early Creed were primarily apophatic, telling us what the Faith was not. And yes, the question is one of epistemology. The Epistemology of the Church is and has always been, that which is believed by the Church, quod uibique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus. The Ecumenical Councils, followed the pattern of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and they came to conclusions, that allowed them to think deductively about the Christian life and Scripture at later times. It seems that the use of deductive thought is what is needing delimiting in your searching. But the Ecumenical Councils, as gatherings of the Bishops of the Church, were not the final word; they had a final step of being received by the whole Church. There was the Robber Council before the Fourth, that was rejected by the Church; and there was the Council before the Seventh that was also rejected, in the final analysis by the whole Church. And such was also the case in Jerusalem ‘it seems good to us the Holy Spirit and the whole Church’, and so an epsicopal convocation was ratified by the Spirit in the whole of the Church. So epistemologically, the Church as the ground and the pillar of the truth, is the epistemological certitude we have…and it is certitude because it is the Body of Christ, inhabited by the Spirit and preserved by the three witnesses, the Water and the Spirit and the Blood, the three witnesses in the earth. God preserves the Church, not by having a magisterium over it, or a man with his finger in the Bible over it such as a Luther or a Pope, but by having Grace within it. And of course, to have the Church as the pillar and ground of the Truth, one must have a Church that is both invisible and Visible, and has a historical continuity and footprint, which monophysite ecclesiologies that have emerged since the Reformation are loathe to admit. But the Church in its fullness is visible and one.

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