Zizioulas on the Nature & Purpose of Doctrine

Book Review 18

Zizioulas’ edited compilation of lectures begins with an exploration of the nature & purpose of doctrine.

Zizioulas argues that theology issues from the worship of God & in the Church’s experience of communion with God.  Out of this communal and experiential matrix theology is born, and subesquently “sets out the teaching of the church (1).”  However, in order to interpret the teaching of the church, one must attempt to understand both the original biblical context and the teaching of the church on the one hand, and the contemporary situation on the other, an engagement that takes place on several levels of inquiry.  Zizioulas argues that we must seek to relate the doctrines of the church to the most pressing issues today.  The teachings of the church have a perennial relevance.   

This does not mean that the church’s doctrines are up for sale to the highest cultural bidder, because the authority of doctrine is grounded in the doxological experience of the community, not cultural relevance.  Thus, preaching is truly doctrinal only when the worshipping community endorses it as truth.   While acknowledging the normative character of the New Testament, grounded in the experience of it’s authors physical communion with God, “it is the task of the church to judge how to understand the teaching it has received in Scripture and doctrine and set it out in each new situation (7).”  The issue is one of priority; the church dictates how to best “understand and set out” its convictions as it worships God, which may take forms that are either pleasing or abhorent to the ears of broader cultural sensibilities.     

From this cursory overiew, it is evident that Zizioulas’ beliefs about the formation of doctrine is experiential, grounded in the authority of the worshipping community.  Although exegesis and cultural analysis both are valid enterprises in the interpretation and application of doctrine, the ecclesial community serves to check any emerging individualism in these tasks.  This is one obvious benefit Zizioulas offers in this initial section to our hyperindividualistic culture.  Also, the experiential and doxological approach to doctrine seems more at home within a view of reality where act and being aren’t torn asunder; careful exegesis, cultural analysis, and worship do not exist on separate levels of reality, but are all faithful tasks carried out by the body of Christ.

Despite these benefits, it is worth asking:  How can the body of Christ serve as the locus of authority rather than it’s “Head”: could this potentially imprison the knowledge & freedom of Christ within ecclesial traditions, despite the intent to interpret dogma with an eye on the times?  Does the church have a complete monopoly on God?  To better answer these questions, and to begin to peer more deeply into this model for understanding the nature & function of doctrine, but this is already too long of a post.  To be continued . . .

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