:: Thursday, December 19, 2002 ::
The Drama is in the Dogma
I've been re-reading Dorothy Sayer's classic work "The Whimsical Christian" the last couple of days. Being a C.S Lewis devotee, I have always appreciated Sayers because of her clarity, intellectual honesty, and piercing insight.
Thinking more about my friend's dilemma with his pastor over doctrine and truth, I remembered Sayer's fantastic essay, "Creed or Chaos."
"Christ, in His Divine innocence, said to the Woman of Samaria, "Ye worship ye know not what" � being apparently under the impression that it might be desirable, on the whole, to know what one was worshipping. He thus showed Himself sadly out of touch with the twentieth-century mind, for the cry today is: "Away with the tendentious complexities of dogma � let us have the simple spirit of worship; just worship, no matter of what!" The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular. (Creed or Chaos?, 19)
This essay is now out in a new book format
Carol Olson, a Catholic writer, comments on Sayers' point:
"An often missed fact is that all people hold to dogmas � beliefs which guide their thinking and actions. G.K. Chesterton observed that "Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas � Trees have no dogmas." The person who boldly proclaims "Humanity needs freedom from dogma" is like a scientist confidently asserting that "People can live without oxygen." The issue is not whether dogma is good or bad, but whether a particular dogma (whether called such or not) is true or false. While people need oxygen to live, they can die if their air supply is poisoned. 'Dogma is boring and impersonal' is a common complaint today. Many Christians remark, or at least think 'I don't want to hear a bunch of theology. I just want to have a personal relationship with Jesus.'
[James, I'll be getting you a tract on that concept right away!]
"They might as well tell the doctor "I don't want to know anything about my heartrate, blood pressure and cholesterol level � I just want to be healthy." There is no opposition between Jesus and theology....When dogma comes across as dry and dull, it is usually due to either poor teaching or lousy listening, but it is not a fault of the dogma, as Sayers liked to point out. Besides, many Christians have attended church for years without hearing much real dogma. They have instead heard insipid messages about "being good" and declaring that "all we need is love" without any clear definitions of goodness or love, nor what they have to do with God, Jesus Christ, sin, and salvation."
Clifton recently wrote about this issue of dogma under the title Thinking About Salvation IV. He said:
"Now I know that some are [wary] of dogma, fearing it's divisive qualities. But truth divides. That's just how reality works. We may not be able to know everything infallibly, but there are things we can know certainly. Without dogma, Christians lose their identity. Indeed, if I understand 1 John right, they lose eternity. One either confesses Jesus as God in the flesh, or one does not. If one does not, one is not a Christian. That's John, not Clifton. Dogma is necessary."
The real problem with my friend's pastor is not that he believes doctrine isn't necessary. He most assuredly does! The problem is that he really wants to preserve "the cult of the nice."
"The cult of the nice" is a term I use to describe people who spend all of their lives and all of their energies refusing to deal with reality, never talking about tough, complex or embarrassing issues, and for the most part living a life in total fear of being persecuted, confused, controversial, or embarrassed. They want to be "nice," they want to be "tolerant," they want to have an easy life, full of material and spiritual comfort, with no struggle, no ascetical labors. The "cult of the nice" hates anyone who challenges this paradigm, who dares to be "mean-spirited" or principled, or who claims there is truth etc....
Sadly, most of the people I work with, most of my family, and almost all western Christians that I know are in varying degrees part of "the cult of the nice." And my friend's pastor is just one more in a line of "Christian" teachers and pastors who have spent a lifetime in this way of living and interacting with God, other people, and the world.
I could write for hours about the "cult of the nice"...but for sanities sake (both yours and mine), I think I'll leave it at that for now.
:: Karl :: 11:01:00 AM [Link] ::