Monday, March 07, 2005


Last week I bought a book on confessional Lutheran dogmatics. When my wife saw the title, she asked, "Isn't dogmatics a bad thing?" I explained that "being dogmatic" is generally a bad thing, but "dogmatics" as a field of study isn't. But then when I explained what it is (I can't remember the words I used), I had to admit that it did still sound kind of negative.

But last night this occurred to me. When you learn to play a musical instrument, one of the first things you have to do is master playing scales. And artists in training generally learn to master realism before moving on to abstract art. And I read once in an introduction to one of William Faulkner's novels that only great writers who are masters of grammar can really get away with breaking the rules the way Faulkner does.

Although I don't think I've heard this principle applied to theology, having interacted with many armchair theologians, the strength of the analogy is clear to me.

While thoughtful theology quite regularly requires us to release our tight grip on dogma, a theology that isn't rooted in the foundations of historic Christian tradition is apt to go quite far astray.

I suppose this is really what George Lindbeck is getting at in The Nature of Doctrine, but I had never made the connection before.

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