Do We Doctrinally Program People?

Jesus is Lord Papyrus 27 from RomansOne of the last steps in the ordination process in my denomination is the creation of a personal Statement of Faith. It’s supposed to be something like The Apostles’ Creed in our own words.

A friend of mine had two versions of his statement of faith. The first one conveyed what he actually believed. The second one conveyed what he believed his denomination’s Commission on Preparation for Ministry wanted him to believe.

This makes me crazy, and yet I get it.

Once upon a time, church officials were most interested in doctrinal orthodoxy, specifically tailored to a specific tradition and/or denominational theology. As Phyllis Tickle pointed out at the recent Chicago Presbytery Clergy Retreat, this book changed that a bit. Phyllis compares McLaren’s book to Luther’s 95 Theses. And yet most denominational entities are not crazy about their Lutheran students, for example, sounding too much like Anglicans or their Presbyterian students sounding like Baptists.

I see it more like this: Picasso demonstrated that he could be a classical painter before moving into his blue period and then cubism. The Commission for Preparation for Ministry wants to know that you can explain traditional doctrine about the Trinity or the theories of The Atonement before explaining a more generous orthodoxy.

What we also want in a professional minister is – in the words of some of my colleagues – the gifts that a seminary professor cannot teach: evidence of the Spirit of God and the ability to be a “Meaning Maker” (thank you NS).

I would rather have one new pastor who can articulate authentically what he/she believes than ten new pastors who can spout “what we want them to say.” I personally love progressive Reformed Orthodoxy. What do you believe?

Image from Papyrus 27 which is the oldest copy of the oldest statement of faith: Jesus is Lord.

2 responses to “Do We Doctrinally Program People?

  1. Totally agree. I’ve seen way too many clergy contort themselves into pretzels in this way, to the point where I’m not sure they even know what they truly believe any more. I think this is incredibly damaging to our clergy AND to our church. Simply being able to know and articulate what you truly believe is incredibly hard work, and valuable work. I wish we were better about that for all our members — including the clergy!


  2. Had Presbytery meeting last night with both kinds of statements – found it frustrating. Wish I had read this before then! Thanks.


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