Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dorothy Sayers on Creeds in Times of Chaos

Deeds or creeds. Mission or doctrine. Christian morality or dogma. Too often we're tempted to bifurcate these words and the teachings behind them. "Deeds not creeds" was the cry of 20th century protestantism. Today the the cry is much more difficult to attune your ears to; it's a chaotic cacophony. Today there are, in fact, too many creeds. Anything after "I believe" is a creed. And we're making creeds all the time. The question is, what will your confession sound like, a clanging symbol or voice of faith?

Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man, or bumper sticker, or church body rend asunder. It is deeds and creeds. It is mission and doctrine. It is Christian morality and dogma. Neither works (for long) without the other. For example, mission without doctrine is much like the snarky old joke about what you get when you cross a Mormon and an Atheist: someone who knocks on your door for absolutely no reason; it is a vacuum usually filled by anything but the Gospel. And yet doctrine without mission is equally absurd, for the church really does have the best news mankind is in need of hearing. And that good news is meant to be shared, like grandmas on their phones after the birth of their grandchildren: "Did you hear the good news? Well, wait 'till you hear this!"

In writing about Christian Creeds and morality, Dorothy Sayers pointed the church of her day to the fundamental importance of Christian dogma in the life of the Church. The dogma is the drama, she was fond of saying. And so it is. It's the substance that drives all the forms; it's the doctrine that informs our practice (to put it into Lutheran lingo).

And in looking around the religious landscape of this present day, both in Christian churches and in the market place of religious worldviews, it would seem that Sayer's question about Creed or Chaos? in her essay that bears the same name is still applicable. She could've written the words below in 2013 just as easily as she did in 1947. Her words provide a welcomed antidote to the saccharine poison flaunting itself today as theology. In a world that is punch-drunk with it's own religious fanaticism, Sayers points us to the sobering fundamentals of Christian theology and the importance of Christian apologetics as the hangover cure.

But, enough of my words. Here's Dorothy:

It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is , on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism...The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.

...There are the frank and open heathens, whose notions of Christianity are a dreadful jumble of rags and tags of Bible anecdotes and clotted mythological nonsense. There are the ignorant Christians, who combine a mild, gentle-Jesus sentimentality with vaguely humanistic ethics - most of these are Arian heretics. Finally there are the more-or-less instructed churchgoers, who know all the arguments about divorce and auricular confession and communion in two kinds, but are about as well equipped to do battle on fundamentals against a Marxian atheist or a Wellsian agnostic as a boy with a peashooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns.

This is the Church's opportunity if she chooses to take it...The task is not made easier by the obstinate refusal of a great body of nominal Christians, both lay and clerical, to face the theological question. "Take away theology and give us some nice religion" has been a popular slogan for so long that we are likely to accept it, without inquiring whether religion without theology has any meaning. And however unpopular I may make myself, I shall and will affirm that the reason why the churches are discredited today is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology.  (Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? in Letters to a Diminished Church. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2004, p. 49-50.)

I, for one, am happy to run with Dorothy Sayers towards sound theology and away from the chaos. On Christ the solid rock I stand (and run and confess and live) all other ground is sinking sand.

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