I have a Phd to write in about three weeks, and so can't really follow the discussion properly, but I wanted to chuck this in:
It seems to me that in large part the ambivalence displayed by someone like Andy (and I include myself) towards the role of doctrinal commitment in Christian life is linked to a more general question about the intellect - and this in turn is closely linked to the religion vs. spirituality debate (hopefully).
Something like this: there has been a bit of flip-flop thing going on in the West regarding the place of the intellect in human life - both in group life (church doctrine, etc) and in the life of the individual. The Enlightenment tended to make the reasoning self right at the centre of the human person; various counter-Enlightenment movements react against this by asserting the opposite - that we become more human through feeling, spontaneity, and impulsive action. In some ways, philosophical post-modernism displays the same flip-flop movement - if the reasoning, autonomous subject can no longer be seen as autonomous, sovereign, etc, then the opposite must be true - we are just a product of social forces, linguistic constructs, etc.
But as with any oppositional reaction, I suspect that opposites are complicit with each other. It's either/or thinking - if the intellect cannot be everything, it must be nothing; if there is no longer the possibility of (a certain kind of) truth, then there must be no truth.
I have come to the following conclusion regarding intellectual life, and the role of intellectual understand in the Christian life: doctrine is made for humans, not humans for doctrine
. The intellect is a good servant, but a bad master. I am wholeheartedly committed to pursuing understanding of Christianity with rigour, fearlessness and intense curiousity. My mind is an incredible gift, and 'gives into' my life in profound and indispensable ways. But my intellect is not the sole point of contact between 'me' (whatever that is - I suspect it is a multiplicty only held together in a meaninful unity through a presence that is greater than me - hemmed in behind and before) and 'God'. All kinds of activities, relationships, and aspects of myself mediate to me the reality that is 'God'. The intellect is one of these.
As a result, I think that it is important for me to pursue God with my intellect. This seems to include both intense doubt, and intense conviction, increasing subtly and nuance, argument, elaboration, confusion and clarity. If the intellect is a servant, it is important to work out exactly how it works best, so that it can give what it gives most fully. For me, this seems to mean a large amount of provisionality about any doctrines, and a perpetual openness; as well as a growing commitment to certain ways of expressing things, linking things up, etc.
This growing conviction about the role of the intellect as servant goes along with a certain of spirituality, so far as I can see, and it's no coincidence that through becoming more and more involved in intellectual exploration of my faith I have found that meditation and contemplative prayer are more important, because they emphasis the limitations of thought.
As an intellectual involved in church life, I notice that there is a fair amount of distust of the kind of intellectual pursuit I am committed to. As far as I can see, this is because people are afraid of the flip-flop - or more specifically, the 'flop' part of it. They are afraid that if one thing comes undone, then everything must be wrong - it's either/or. I can't help but think that if the church moved out of the either/or approach to the intellect (in which fervantly confident evangelicals become definitively vague post-evangelicals in a very short space of time, for example), then it would easier for people to see the worth of specific beliefs, traditions, etc; i.e. the worth of 'religion'.
It's a case of understand that how we believe what we believe is just as important as what we believe.
I have to go and finish a chapter...
Edited by stu, 19 August 2010 - 11:18 AM.