Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Doctrine and Revelation. (I know: it's not a great title!)


Some weeks ago I joined the other YMC leavers on CME training and it took us back to the reassuring environment of the College of the Resurrection. The section that I particularly enjoyed was, strangely enough, on doctrine. No. Honestly. It was a very well delivered session and very thought provoking. Here is the gist. Those who know me well will see why it energised me:

No religious experience is "pure": it is always laden with interpretation. Doctrine is the doctor's prescription for understanding experience, but if it is removed from human experience it is wrong. Our responsibility, certainly as clergy but also as laity, is to evaluate doctrine and human experience in the light of each other.

Good theology is marked by a searching fidelity to God's revelation in Jesus expressed in scripture and the living tradition of the church. The first responsibility of doctrine, therefore, is to remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus and secondarily to the authority of the church.

We must remember, too, that the tradition of the church should not be static: our theology is dynamic because the church's tradition is dynamic: it develops and grows as our understanding of God develops and grows.

That leaves the intriguing possibility that the church's foundations may not be encompassed within scripture because God's revelation did not stop the moment the canon of scripture was fixed.

God's revelation takes place throughout history by his being active in our midst and this includes in the here and now in the midst of human experiences. This is, of course, personal: God does not communicate things or facts to us about his love - principles and protocols - God communicates through his presence in our lives.

Revelation is Trinitarian: the Word Incarnate draws us to himself by the Holy Spirit who continues to work in our lives. Revelation is, therefore, particularly Christological: the fullest revelation as Christians should argue.

Revelation requires a response. It is an encounter. The response is quite simply faith (or conversion) as we become more and more transformed into the likeness of God- not into the likeness of ancient theological formulae or rules.

God's revelation does something: it is no less than his saving activity in our midst and as such is always interpersonal - it is involved and active rather than passive. This is what makes theology possible - the critical reflection upon God's self-communication to us. No aspect is marginal to us and no age can necessarily claim to have nailed it. There is always more.

Working in education, this struck me very forcefully. I have often mused about the stages of God's revelation and speculated that God reveals as much of himself as each age is capable of understanding and accepting without each subsequent stage being the limit. In the classroom I "reveal" what the kids can cope with at their age: Key Stage 3, GCSE, AS Level and A2. Others take them on to degree level: B.A, M.A and Doctorate. Each stage is not the final revelation - there is more to come.