Last week Nate wondered about how to define “church doctrine.” Near the end of the comments thread, two people very articulately wondered about why we should bother doing so. (Here’s a link to the full discussion).
“At the risk of being perceived as a bone-headed realist, doesn’t that suggest that searching for some meaningfully mandatory set of doctrines is missing the point? If such a set of doctrines really isn’t an operationally determinate criterion, why should we conclude that it matters?”
Joseph Spencer then usefully reminded us that the word “doctrine” simply means teaching, and posited that the function of church doctrine is not to systematically address every theological question that could come up, but to teach members to look at the world differently.
I’m not sure I have anything useful to add, but I think these are interesting questions, so I want to consider them again and try to ask some related ones:
*How* does doctrine matter? It is true, as Greenfrog points out, that one can quite happily go along improving onesself, working out one’s salvation, with only rudimentary doctrinal understanding. For most of us, it would take a long time to live out the ramifications of the most simplistic understanding of the doctrine that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Are there ways in which better understanding of doctrine helps us be better at living, or are we frittering away valuable time in mere contemplation?
If, as Joseph suggests, doctrine is actually about changing the Saints’ focus, rather than doing theology in the way it has been traditionally understood, do we need, say, a society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology to do that traditional form of theologizing? How can/should/might the two kinds of doctrinal understanding inform one another? Can we imagine a church in which the General Authorities consult doctrinal experts or people with technical expertise (in the way the Pope consults with Catholic scientists, for instance), or is that raw hubris? Do we agree with the assertion that “the mantle is far greater than the intellect,” and, if so, does that limit the ways we think about doctrine or the importance we assign to those thoughts?
Talk amongst yourselves…