A common criticism of Evangelicals is that we are dogmatic. Since we do in fact have dogma, this would appear fatal. If you don’t like dogma, you will not like us.

It does not help to point out that non-Evangelicals also have dogma.

People don’t just dislike dogmatic Evangelicals, they are happy to dislike dogmatic Catholics and Episcopalians as well. It is just in the latter case that worrying about meeting a dogmatic Anglican is akin to worrying about being hit by a meteorite.

It happens, but rarely enough to be more a wonder than a terror.

It is true that secular society has dogmas, but these dogmas are not offensive, because Americans think they are based on “reason” or “science.” One should not throw battery acid into the ocean. Why not? Science says so as well as reason.

One might assume that showing the critic that “science” cannot produce an” ought” might help our situation, but it does not. The key advantage to their moral claims (“ought”) is the alleged openness to change. Science gives the facts about the ocean and then reasonable people decide what is best based on “reasonable” assumptions. If one questions these assumptions, the listener’s eyes glaze over with weariness.

Who would question reasonable assumptions?

It is easy to be critical of these attitudes, but not very productive. Instead, we should admit that “dogma” is not presented as we use it. Sometimes our public voice sounds as if “dogma” tells us where we dare not go, not jumping off points for wonder and intellectual speculation.

My experience has shown that just pointing out that “dogma” has been the product of intellectual speculation helps. I also argue that Evangelicals are open to changing “dogma,” but not if the arguments heard are just a repeat of old failed arguments. The mind of the Church has been persuaded of certain things, such as two natures of Christ, but who would not wish to hear a new metaphor or new approach?

The main benefit of dogmas, the laws revealed or discovered about the supernatural world, is that it allows us to discover new truths. We do not repeat discussions over and over, but can move forward to see deeper depths in the unlimited nature of God. High fantasy eventually fails us in the wonder of His Being, but each generation can stretch forward a bit more.

Augustine to Dante marked improvements in our vision! Of course, we must digest what Dante said and nobody agrees with all of it.

Dogma is not mostly a fort to hide inside, but a home base for intellectual adventure. Perhaps, we are not always good at demonstrating the liberating nature of dogma.

Articles by John Mark Reynolds

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