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Monday, 10 January 2011

The Map of Truth

"Theology" and "Doctrine" bad rap
In our western world, 'theology' and doctrine are hated words: polluted by association with fundamentalists who bomb innocent people, made distasteful by unpleasant characters and thought incredible by post-modern minds.

And yet of course everyone who believes anything holds to some kind of doctrine. "I believe that Roy Hodgson was a great/rubbish Liverpool Manager" (delete as appropriate)  is a belief held to by Liverpool fans as firmly as any fundamentalist conviction.

Christians should not be ashamed of doctrine or theology. Quite to the contrary, we ought to love truth because we follow the one who claimed to be The Truth, spoke the truth and lived a life of complete  integrity. Against the tide, we ought to resolve to hold on to truth.

Only "asking questions"
One reason doctrine gets a bad rap is ignorance. Doctrine is nothing other than asking questions of the Bible. For example, we might ask the Bible "Who are angels and what do they do?" An accurate and prayerful summary of the texts yields the doctrine of angels. Not exactly rocket science.... but on the other hand there are finally balanced truths about the character and nature of God which do require hard humble work.

A Map of Truth
Another way of looking at doctrine is to think of truth as a map. We start off  on our Christian journey with a very rudimentary understanding of Truth. Let's liken it to this map from 500BC (I refuse to use the pathetic BCE). You will see that it is just so 'cartographer-centric' - it revolved around the tiny world of the guy who drew it. That's what a young believer's theology looks like, "my little world-shaped".

Over the subsequent years explorers bumped into new lands, and discovered the outlines of the ones on their map were wrong, so they reshaped the map until it looked something like this, c500AD. A lot better, but where are the Americas and why is Africa joined up with Antarctica? But it's better than the previous one, you have to admit.

Many years later we get our modern map, which we all recognise as "the Truth" (or shall we say, we all take on trust as the Truth, since not one of us have time enough to verify it for ourselves.)

Let's say this final map represents the final truth of God. Not one of us has access to final truth, for we are finite and sinful, and the Scriptures, while sufficient are not exhaustive.

Growth in doctrine is the life-long joy of making our map closer to The Map. As we read the Scriptures, and walk with God we discover now and then a new island - perhaps even a new continent. We are fools if we don't redraw our map. Or else we discover the shape of one of our continents needs re-drawing and out comes the rubber and pencil once more.

A danger with doctrine is that we think we've got the final map; and then we stop growing. How foolish! The truth is that our map of truth never looks any better than the 1500AD map of the world to the right. As if little minds or hearts could ever in this world (or even the next?) fathom the greatness of the God of Scripture.

The joy of doctrine is that it is a highway to knowing the Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise, and his Son, Jesus Christ, whom to know is life eternal.

1 comment:

  1. Love this. There's a lot of very relevant theology in maps!