What Christian Dogma Can Still Say to Us

Posted by & filed under christian dogma, dogma, father son holy spirit, John Backman, nicene creed, St. Paul, trinity.

by John Backman

Does Christian dogma still have value in a world that bears the scars of its misuse?

In too many cases, this dogma has been used to distinguish “us” from “them,” faithful from heretic, giving license to exclusion, hostility, and sometimes violence. Even the church’s most fundamental statements of faith, like the Nicene Creed. were born of the need to make distinctions. The irony is that many of the beliefs in the creed convey an entirely different, even opposite message to those who peek behind the veil and look at the inner wisdom therein.

Consider the doctrine of the Trinity: that God is both Three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and One. This is scandalous to faithful Jews and Muslims, for whom the utter Oneness of God is a non-negotiable truth. But aside from any discussion of factual accuracy, the idea of the Trinity conveys a compelling wisdom: it places the idea of relationship, of interconnection, at the very heart of God. If we Christians cannot even conceive of God outside of relationship—and the mission of our lives is to grow toward God—then connection and relationship must lie at the core of everything we are and do.

Then there’s the Incarnation: the doctrine that, in Jesus, God became fully human. The inner wisdom of this belief takes the importance of connection one step further. God, with no need to enhance the Divine perfection and completeness, with no need of us humans at all, took the enormous risk of becoming human—not just to deliver a message, but also to live an entire life, even unto a painful and humiliating death. This is connection on an entirely different level: a self-giving to experience what it’s like to be the other. It is, in one sense, the very definition of love.

St. Paul, the writer of many books in the Christian scripture, describes the Incarnation so eloquently: Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

What if we Christians—even better, we people—took this inner wisdom behind the dogma to heart? Perhaps we would hold relationships as the supreme good that they are. Perhaps we would follow the example of this God into self-giving love. With these doctrines as lodestars, perhaps we would relax our grip on the things that so easily distract us—like competitive advantage and the need to be “right”—and learn to reach across divides.

In my church on Sunday, as in so many Christian churches, we recite the Nicene Creed, with its grand and eloquent words about the Trinity, the Incarnation, and other treasures of the faith.  In my best moments, I am delighted to confess this creed, cherishing the profound reverberations its beliefs can have—the way they call us to love, to relationship, to connection—when we peer into the deeper meanings of the words.

As a blogger for Huntington Post Religion and an associate of an Episcopal monastery, John Backman writes extensively on contemplative spirituality and its ability to help us dialogue across divides. His articles have appeared (or will soon appear) in numerous faith-based publications, both progressive and conservative, including Episcopal Life, FellowshipPresbyterians Today, RELEVANTmagazine.com, and Prism. He maintains a blog at www.dialogueventure.com.


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Andrew Cort