Christianity 201

May 2, 2010

The Sheer Arrogance of Doctrinal Certainty

I’m not talking about the core 7-12 doctrinal statements on which we all agree, but rather the peripherals, the distinctives, the non-essentials.

I got thinking about this after stumbling over this blog post at Free in Christ which in turn contained a quotation from Alexander Campbell.   Taken to extremes, this quote could render anyone powerless to know anything, and in my opening sentence here, I am thinking it should not be considered to apply to widely held, commonly practiced Christian theology.

I also think we need to leave some margin for mystery.

But I am beginning to get both Campbell’s intent, and the blog poster’s interpretation of it — adding a wee bit of overstatement in this post’s title just to keep things lively.

I’ve taken the liberty to break it up into smaller paragraphs:

“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe.

But as such knowledge is not within the grasp of feeble mortal man, whose horizon is a point of creation, and whose days are but a moment of time, it is superlatively incongruous for any son of science, or of religion, to affirm that this or that issue is absolutely irrational, unjust, or unfitting the schemes of eternal Providence, or the purposes of the supreme wisdom and benevolence, only as he is guided by the oracles of infallible wisdom, or the inspirations of the Almighty.

Who could pronounce upon the wisdom and utility of a single joint, without a knowledge of the limb to which it belongs; of that limb, without an understanding of the body to which it ministers; of that body, without a clear perception of the world in which it moves, and of the relations which it sustains; of that world, without some acquaintance with the solar system of which it is but a small part; of that particular solar system, without a general and even intimate knowledge of all the kindred systems; of all these kindred systems, without a thorough comprehension of the ultimate design of the whole creation; of that ultimate design, without a perfect intelligence of that incomprehensible Being by whom, and for whom all things were created and made?

How gracefully, then, sits unassuming modesty on all the reasonings of man. The true philosopher and the true Christian, therefore, delight always to appear in the unaffected costume of humility, candor, and docility.”

–Alexander Campbell in The Christian System