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Monday, November 27, 2006
Truth & Doctrine
During my seminary class this evening on world religions, we were discussing the role of institutionalized religion in society and individual lives. Conversation arose concerning the extent to which traditional religious belief and practice (of any variety) exist as a "crutch" for the masses who need something more certain and tangible to hold onto than what is really known about reality. And the question then arose, "what is the relationship between truth and doctrine?" In other words, to what extent does (or even can) doctrine correspond to truth/reality?

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posted by Jemila Kwon at 8:30 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 11/28/2006 09:15:00 AM, Blogger lydia

    Good question. I needed to sleep on my answer, or I would have responded last night.

    to what extent does (or even can) doctrine correspond to truth/reality?

    I believe that:

    - Absolute Truth does exist.

    - Human beings aren't capable of knowing the full scope of Truth in this lifetime.

    - Humans cannot be omniscient. God is, however, and She does reveal a portion of the Truth to us.

    - Some of this Truth is found within Christianity. (I also believe that a certain degree of Truth can be found outside of Christianity, but that's another post ;) )

    - It isn't possible to have a doctrine that lines up with God's Truth 100%. Even if we could somehow know the entire breadth of Truth, IMO our cultural, religious, and personal biases and faults would prevent us from embracing all of it while we still live on this side of Heaven.

    After typing all of that up I still don't think I'm much closer to giving an answer to the original question, but this is what I have so far. I'll add more later if I can come up with anything.

  • At 11/28/2006 09:37:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    okay so Lydia had an excellent answer and said most of the stuff I would say... thanks! ;)

    I think there really needs to be a distinction between doctrine - truth - reality - and perceptions of reality. Doctrine is usually formed based on perceptions of reality and not necessarily actual reality or truth (although I would say that that is its goal). So when the consensual perception of reality shifts then doctrine has to shift with it. Theoretically such a paradigm shift is not based on mere cultural opinions, but an attempt to gain a more full understanding or clearer picture of reality. Those who would rather cling to a doctrine based on old perceptions of reality instead of attempting to move closer to a clearer perception are those who get labeled dogmatic or blamed for using religion as a crutch to support their faulty view of reality. Case in point would be racism in America. About 200 years ago the consensual imagination began to shift and more and more people began to realize that people of color are people too. That challenged political and religious assumptions and caused a lot of strife. Eventually the paradigm shifted and doctrine had to change - although certaim denominations with Southern in their current name clung to the old perceptions. But over time those groups too changed their doctrine until today there are only small groups that use the bible to support racism. One can only hope that the same occurs with other civil rights issues...

  • At 11/28/2006 09:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Jesus is the Truth and all doctrines should be measured against His person. It is easy to pull a few scriptures out of context of the whole and create a doctrine that seems to contain truth but if that truth does not meet the measure of the character of Christ it truly has no truth.

  • At 11/28/2006 10:28:00 AM, Blogger Jackie

    Thank you Lydia and Julie for your excellent answers. I would add that all doctrine is contextual, meaning formulated in a specific time and place to respond to specific situtaions/wants/needs. The contextual nature of doctrine limits its universality. If there is universal truth, I don't think any particular human being can know it. I believe that truth exists, but is always clothed in particularly. For how else could we hope to even begin to understand it?
    Oh, and I think truth is more often a story than a doctrine.

  • At 11/28/2006 11:31:00 AM, Blogger lydia

    all doctrine is contextual, meaning formulated in a specific time and place to respond to specific situtaions/wants/needs

    I agree.

    truth is more often a story than a doctrine.

    I like this.

  • At 11/28/2006 09:38:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Julie, you wrote:

    "I think there really needs to be a distinction between doctrine - truth - reality - and perceptions of reality."

    What do you see as the distinctions between reality and truth?

  • At 11/29/2006 07:06:00 AM, Blogger Nancy

    I suppose you could say that doctrine evolves out of our attempts to understand Truth. It is the result of an intellectual approach to coming up with answers regarding the meaning of our existence and knowledge about the Creator.

    Jesus claimed to be "The Truth". So, I agree with C.S. Lewis in the idea that the Truth is a person, not a set of rules. So, while study is important as a means of getting to know Jesus/Truth, so is spending time interacting with Jesus. Worship, prayer, and meditation or other spiritual practices are ways in which we can interact with Jesus/Truth. Maybe some doctrine changes over time as our understanding of Christ is refined. But Christ, and the Truth of the Creator and creation never changes, regardless of our understanding. It waits on our discovery and it invites us in.

  • At 11/29/2006 10:26:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    What do you see as the distinctions between reality and truth?

    Here I was using reality as that which is potentially knowable and truth being something beyond knowing (although it can be absolute) and therefore in the realm of faith.

    it doesn't exactly fit any of the classis theories of truth (corespondence, coherence, pragmatic...). But so often critics of postmodern emergent types are appalled that we don't believe in "absolute truth" by which they mean "reality". So not only do they misunderstand what we are saying in the first place, they don't mean the same things with their words as we do.

  • At 11/29/2006 11:03:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    Julie, I have been amazed to find this to be true in my own sphere. I keep bumping into this "all-or-nothing" way of thinking about the postmodern Christian's beliefs about Truth. It seems that because one might think that Truth is not obtainable in its totality this side of Heaven, we are seen as rejecting Truth outright. Argh!

  • At 11/30/2006 08:38:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Julie, thanks for clarifying. I've always conceptualized reality and truth as the same thing -- at least when each gets a capital letter. I tend of think of "perceived truth" as synonymous with "perceived reality" with both referring to the stuff we think of as absolute unless we're being intentional about recognizing that only God (who is Ulimate Reality/Truth) has unadulterated access to the capital letters.


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