Do You Have a “Pet Doctrine”? Should You be “Anything”-Centered?

At times, statements are made regarding the center of theology. For some, the center and most helpful idea is a certain view of the sovereignty of God. For others, it is the gospel and the cross itself that is the center of theology (e.g. C. J. Mahaney’s work titled The Cross Centered Life). For some Charismatics, it might seem that “Kingdom power” or the supernatural gifts of the Spirit are the center (I speak in only general terms here.). I am not out of the picture on this either, as one could get the impression that I am “dispensational-centered” or “grace-centered.” To some degree, one could ask whether these kinds of centers are just picked because they are found most helpful or if they are a “pet doctrine.”  I would endeavor to just offer briefly my current perspective on this. Like others (c.f. this blog post by Mike Stallard with comments from several years ago), perhaps I am still a work in progress on this.

I agree that there are many areas that are important and, in fact, have an effect on the rest of our faith (see the analogy of a spiderweb by David Wolfe, cited by Mike Stallard in A Proposal for Theological Method: Systematic Theology as Model Building).  Of this, the sovereignty of God, the gospel of Christ, the Trinity, young-earth Creationism, and the like, are all important. I am desirous to have clarity in many nuances regarding each of these areas. However, as I think about my faith, I would not say that I am “sovereignty of God-centered,” “gospel-centered,” or “Trinity-centered.” I fear these kinds of labels are at times treated as a lens through which we read the Bible. However, there is no lens through which the Bible should be read. It should stand alone. Additionally, there is an interrelation in doctrine that necessitates a comprehensive picture of all the facts about every doctrine and about the entire Bible. Lewis Sperry Chafer expressed this general idea in claiming that “Systematic theology should be unabridged” in his essential requirements for doing systematic theology (in Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 11-12). He elaborated this point by saying, “Considering the interdependent and interrelated character of theological doctrine, the theologian, having eliminated all or any part of this great field of revelation [the Bible], cannot hope to hold truth in its right perspective or to give to it its right emphasis.”

I advocate for a more foundational key or center, if you will, of our faith. The true key of our faith should be the Bible and the proper method to interpret it, both in its individual passages and in terms of forming doctrine from it. I am referring to the doctrines of Bibliology and Prolegomena. In this, I am concluding that we should be people of the book in that we emphasize the Bible itself and the full scope of what it teaches, not just one area. Making these other doctrines a center can run the risk of overemphasizing one doctrine over against the other. Unless we have the Bible and the proper method for understanding it as the true center of our faith, we will not successfully have a true theology and a true faith. Everything else must flow out of these. Granted, as we develop our worldview, we will start building the spiderweb and certain concepts will be found as central in the entire Bible, and Chafer’s quotation above certainly admits that. As we find these central ideas, they can and should be emphasized. Whether we can identify a doctrinal center of the faith contained in the Bible, remains to be seen. Either way, I think that we must be careful to not let these central ideas to exert undue influence in our interpretation of individual passages. Part of my solution for this is my making the doctrines of Bibliology and Prolegomena a stronger teaching point in our studies of the Bible, in preaching, and in our thinking. Emphasizing these things may be more helpful and needful in the long run than emphasizing certain doctrinal points. We must be careful in how much we press the idea of a “center” of our faith. In this, perhaps, I am just again saying that we need to be balanced in our worldview.

2 thoughts on “Do You Have a “Pet Doctrine”? Should You be “Anything”-Centered?

  1. an interesting question comes about from reading the systematizations of previous centuries, with different presuppositions than the ones that show up in our systematizations! 😉 Another question would be how to read with some combination of critical skill, plus sympathy/corrective, other systematizations than our own.

    I’ll give an example: one pet peeve of mine in reading disagreeables is that their hobby horse is that bottom line, they always end up with something we must keep doing in order to call ourselves saved. No matter what verses they are reading, the conclusion is “see how we must continue to be! If we aren’t, we should go back and see what we really are like! Are we what we say”?

    Knowing, ahead of time, that there are “disagreeable”-types that always land on the same square such as this, how do I adopt a changing of the axes, so as to be able to see other things that they might have seen?

    1. Interesting questions. I need to think about some of what you say more. I agree in the need to let us be challenged by other systematizations perhaps and it can help sharpen our own arguments and maybe see some legitimate insights they may even,aeven as we integrate it into our own system. Good comments, thank you Larry.

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