Monday, July 5, 2021

Doctrine, Truth and Pluralism: upcoming unit at Pilgrim Theological College


This unit is being run on six Fridays across July, August, September and October. See below for details about:

The issues in the church that background the contemporary study of doctrine

Dates and topics

Reading list

For enrolment information contact the registrar of Pilgrim Theological College at .


As in churches across the world, debates in the Uniting Church about marriage and VAD are the latest in a long-line of topics which have raised many questions and generated deep anxieties about doctrine. And they won’t be the last! At one extreme it is said that doctrinal constancy is an essential marker of maintaining Christian identity: doctrine can’t be changed. At another extreme it is argued that changing doctrine is simply a response to the movement of the Spirit: changing doctrine is not a problem. Both those positions obscure the complexities and fruitfulness of Christian doctrine. The focus on specific issues and decisions also obscures the ongoing general work that doctrine performs in liturgy, mission, activism, preaching, prayer and discipleship.

Against these background factors, this unit explores in detail critical questions about doctrine which inevitably come to the surface when churches make key decisions and/or when they make truth claims:

  • What is doctrine and what does it do?  
  • Does doctrine suppress the Bible’s theological diversity?
  • Why, how and should doctrine change?
  • Are doctrine and belief the same?
  • Does doctrine adjudicate between different beliefs or does it help us navigate between them?
  • Can doctrine be transferred from one context to another?
  • How can damaging doctrines be recognized and corrected or abandoned?
  • How does doctrine enrich the human experience of God?

Our rhetoric about ‘unity-in-diversity’ can do only so much theological work, but it can be strengthened by a well-developed and creative discourse about doctrine. This unit introduces the key contemporary, wide-ranging and lively global discussions about Christian doctrine. 

Dates and Topics:

July 30

AM:    When churches decide: anxieites about doctrine in an age of spirituality, pluralism, post-truth and same-sex marriage

PM:     Origins, history and genres of doctrine

August 6

AM:    Contemporary debates: are doctrines propositions, expressions, rules, prompts, catalysts of experiements?

PM:    Doctrine, Bible and Context: not a question of which comes first, but of how they spiral around the living Christ

August 13

AM:    Doctrine as wisdom: on not confusing the work of doctrine wih the discipline of systematic theology

PM:     Doctrine beyond the intellect: doctrine, the emotions and prayer

September 10

AM:    Case Study 1: Creation

PM:    Laudato si': putting doctrine to work at a time of crisis

September 17

AM:    Case Study 2: Anthropology

PM:    Willie James Jennings' The Christian Imagination: race and learning alertness to doctrinal distortions

October 10

AM:    Doctrine in the global church: source of continuity, innovation, disagreement and difference all at once.

PM:    Doctrine in denominations and in the local church: doctrine in worship, formation and activism.

Summary Reading List

Cocksworth, Ashley. Prayer: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark, 2018.

Chan, Simon. Pentecostal Theology: An Essay on the Development of Doctrine. Blandford Forum, Deo, 2011.

Charry, Ellen T. By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Helmer, Christine M. The End of Doctrine. Louisville: WJKP, 2014.

Green, Gene L., Stephen T. Pardue and K.K. Yeo. Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Higton, Mike. The Life of Christian Doctrine. London: T&T Clark, 2020.

Kim, Grace Ji-Sun and Jenny Daggers, eds. Reimagining with Christian Doctrines: Responding to Global Gender Injustices. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014.

Rodgiruez, Ruben Rosario. Dogmatics After Babel: Beyond the Theologies of Word and Culture. Louisville: WJKP, 2018.

Thomasson-Rosingh, Anne Claar. Searching for the Holy Spirit: Feminist Theology and Traditional Doctrine. New York and London: Routledge, 2014.

Tonstad, Linn Marie. God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude. New York and London: Routledge, 2016.

Vanhoozer, Kevin. The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology. Louisville: WJKP, 2005.

Volpe, Medi-Ann. Re-thinking Christian Identity: Doctrine and Discipleship. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

Zahl, Simeon. The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.