Skip to content

Dogma > Faith?

February 10, 2014


What happens to creativity and to the ongoing work of the Spirit when dogma is elevated over faith? Justo González describes the theological climate of 17th and 18th century Europe and makes some pointed observations that are worth reflecting on:

there were others whose zeal for true doctrine was no less than Luther’s, Calvin’s, or Loyola’s. But this was no longer the time of great theological discoveries, leading up unknown paths. Theologians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries zealously defended the teachings of the great figures of the sixteen, but without the fresh creativity of that earlier generation. Their style became increasingly rigid, cold, and academic. Their goal was no longer to be entirely open to the Word of God but rather to uphold and clarify what others had said before them. Dogma was often substituted for faith, and orthodoxy for love. Reformed, Lutheran, and Catholic alike developed orthodoxies to which one had to either adhere strictly or be counted out of the fold of the faithful. [1]

If we compared the climate of the church in the 17th/18th centuries with that of today, I wonder what similarities we might notice? Is it possible that some church history could teach us (Anabaptists/Mennonites too) something beneficial for this moment of time we occupy right now?

Dogma is probably the simpler and easier path. But what do we lose if dogma > faith?

[1] González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Vol. II: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York: HarperOne, 2010. 174.

  1. February 10, 2014 10:46 pm

    That’s one of the reasons I walked away from the Catholic Church – dogma is often substituted for faith. And if you questioned dogma, you were given a circuitous answer that wandered through academia and ended with no warmth or heart, just a basic “THIS IS THE WAY THAT IT IS.” Frustrating, to say the least…

  2. Ryan Robinson permalink
    February 12, 2014 10:31 am

    This is a pattern all through history, not just in the 17th-18th centuries after the Reformation. One of the central theses of my History professor in seminary, for the class which used that same book as our text, was that church history (and really other parts of history, too) moves in waves. Some radical invigorating change happens and brings life into the Church. Then a few generations later those changes have now become the rules – dogma or otherwise – without the creativity and copenness to the Spirit that spawned them, creating a stagnation period. Then somebody breaks through the rules and comes up with a new radical life-giving change… until that too stagnates and the cycle continues.

    We’re now into one of the larger renewal periods in history, I think (and many others smarter than me think). Of course there are many reactionaries clinging to their rules that may have been great things 100 or 300 or 500 years ago. But there is a widespread shift toward far greater flexibility as we figure out how best to follow Jesus in a new age.

  3. February 12, 2014 1:52 pm

    Thanks for your comment Rachel, and I’m very sorry for the pain of your experience. I’ve also noticed the tendency in some church groups to fall into a dogmatic, “this is the way it is” pattern. That might be an easier way-but only for those who hold the power. I’m hoping we can continue to summon the willingness to find other ways to operate, perhaps breaking some of these cycles that Ryan mentions.

  4. February 12, 2014 1:56 pm

    Ryan, thanks for providing the big picture view here. The reality of these waves/cycles is helpful to remember and thinking about this could help us be more aware of how we function as communities of faith.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: