In The Christian Faith, Michael Horton continues his Introduction: The Dogma is the Drama: A Theology for Pilgrims with Doctrine, the Grammar of Faith. “The great doctrines of the Christian faith arise out of this dramatic plot” (p. 20) that he addressed in Introduction A: Drama. Doctrine can be a bad word for many in our culture, even for Christians but as Horton notes doctrine means teaching, and we need it as it is what “defines and refines our understanding of the unfolding drama”. (p. 21) “The Gospels focus on the dramatic narrative as Jesus Christ is actually winning out redemption, while the Epistles unpack the significance of those events.” (p. 20).
I teach rhetoric to high schoolers and I am teaching them to be good communicators. Horton explains, “as an effective communicator, God tells us what he is going to do, does it, and then tells us what he did. Doctrine summarizes those divine accomplishments”. (p. 21) Horton explains that doctrine will become abstract if it is separated from its dramatic narrative, like those math axioms that so many of us had trouble understanding in high school.
Teaching in a classical tutorial, I have read Dorothy Sayer’s The Lost Tools of Learning that outline the stages of learning: grammar, dialectical (logic) and rhetorical. Horton believes that these same stages occur in Christian growth and develop whether through children who have been raised in the church or through new converts. This made we wonder if we are doing a good job in this area. Some churches have developed plans to teach their children along with parental help, the doctrines, including the catechism, for instance. They have a plan of what should be taught at the various age levels, sometimes developing the curriculum themselves. Other churches have purchased materials, that are basically a moral approach, not gospel oriented or that tend to water down the Bible. What do churches do for the recent converts? Some have materials, I know, and others have them discipled by older believers but often there is more of a sink or swim approach. If, “theology is the concern of every believer because it is the grammar of the Christian faith”, and I agree with Horton that it is, we need to make sure we are teaching it. I am not just concerned with the children, teens and college students, or new converts but also women. I love theology and often women’s groups have some fluffy study rather than confronting the meat of the Word, or wrestling with the concepts of theology that would really cause them to grow.
Horton, says that “in systematic theology, we are drawing together all three of these stages at once, teaching the vocabulary and rules of speech (grammar) of Christianity, investigating its inner consistency and coherence as well as comparing and contrasting it with rival interpretation (logic), so that we can defend our faith in an informed, compelling and gentle manner (rhetoric).” (p. 22)
May we as Christians think through these things and dig into the Scriptures and theology so we can live out I Peter 3:15, 16. “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness andrespect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (ESV)
What are you doing to grow in your understanding of theology?