“Christian Doctrine” (1)

Image - John Calvin

A famous Reformed theologian

A test in Reformed tradition Christian theology is coming up at the end of January. So last night I pulled out my old copy of Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr. Christian Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), and calculated that if I read 16 pages every night, I will have reviewed the whole volume by January 25, which would be just about right.

Pages 1-16 remind the reader that all theology is situated: every theologian is a particular individual, with a specific perspective formed by his or her experience of his or her own gender, race, social class, nationality and culture, and all those influential experiential and identity-forming designations.

And then there are the “criteria” for Christian theology – because “…as soon as we say that what we are concerned with is not just theology in general but Christian theology. Our task is to try to understand a particular view of God, human beings, and the world, the content and nature of which is no more a matter of personal opinion that is the content and nature of Marxist communism or Freudian psychology.”1

The criteria are three:

Jesus Christ –

The name Christ is by definition the clue to what Christian faith is. If you want to know what God is like, Christian theology says – look at Christ. If you want to know what real humanity is and how you can live a genuinely human life – look at Christ. If you want to know what God is doing in the world and in your individual lives – look at Christ. For Christian theology, the person and work of Christ is the key to all truth about God, ourselves, and the world we live in.

To say this does not mean that all questions are automatically answered, all problems automatically solved by repeating the magic words Jesus Christ. Christ is himself the question and problem of Christian theology, the mystery we must try to understand. But to say that he stands at the center of all Christian theology does mean that at every point we must let all our own ideas, feelings, and experiences be examined, measured, judged, and interpreted by the problem, question, and mystery of who he is and what he does.2

The Bible (interpreted in light of its own purposes, its own interpretation of itself, the principle of its witness to Christ, the rule of faith – that traditioned faith sets limits on what we can read in scripture, the rule of love – that interpretations can’t contradict the premise that God loves and commands us pre-eminently to love God and neighbor, and its literary and historical context)

The Church – Christian theology is theology for a diverse community, with a history and tradition, so needs to be formulated in conversation with that community, history, tradition.


1 Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr.,Christian Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994) 9.
2 ibid., 10.

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About HAT

Heather Thiessen (HAT) is a happily married 60-ish, Bible-reading, Presbyterian Church Sunday School teaching and choir singing, small fuel efficient car driving, still pretty much 2nd wave feminist and generally out lesbian Hoosier mom. (There are no monochrome states.) From time to time she teaches religious studies to students at a small liberal arts college in Louisville, Kentucky.
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