Dogma, Doctrine and Adiaphora

In my previous post, it could be insinuated that I indicated that there could be disagreement over the Gospel, while everyone in the conversation stays safely within the realm of Christianity. Some may contend that the Gospel is the very core of Christianity and so to disagree over what constitutes the Gospel actually is to decide who is in and out of the camp of Christianity.

With this in mind, a brief conversation on different kinds of Christian conversation could be helpful. There are three main categories of Christian beliefs: dogma, doctrine, and adiaphora. Dogma are the absolute essentials of salvation. Doctrine are areas that we spar over and believe are critical to our theology and practice, but where we also could acknowledge there are differences of understanding about God’s call. Adiaphora are preferences we hold while realizing they are more trivial (though still are often loudly argued about).

Dogma is very limited. It ultimately ought to consist only of that which we worship. One of the challenges of history is that various people and leaders have tried to “level up” certain doctrines into the category of dogma. Anytime you say someone cannot receive salvation unless they participate in your belief, you’re moving that belief into the arena of dogma.

So what do we do with the conversation of the Gospel? Surely it is at the very core of what we believe, right? While this is true, with the Gospel including certain dogmatic elements, there is also much to presenting the Gospel that falls outside of dogma as well. How and when we present the Gospel, for example, would be an issue of adiaphora. Even parts of what constitute the Gospel could fall more into doctrine than dogma. For example, as we share the good news, do we begin in Genesis 1 (creation) or Genesis 3 (sin)? While we would all have our beliefs about this (I certainly do!), hopefully we could acknowledge that it’s possible to come into saving knowledge and understanding of God’s good news from either starting point.

With that in mind, we’re not going to put anyone on trial on this blog for being a heretic. There are enough Christians crucifying each other already and our goal here is to create a conversation. Feel free to bring these distinctions up and to ask what arena some of our conversations fall into…it will help us to keep our conversations in proper focus.

As you think about how you present the Gospel, do you tend to focus on issues of dogma, doctrine or adiaphora? Do you include some of all three? Could you have a “valid” presentation of the Gospel that only addressed one area?

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2 thoughts on “Dogma, Doctrine and Adiaphora

  1. Pingback: Beginning… | pomoyogo

  2. Good post.

    I have read about this concept of Christian conversation before from either Rob Bell or Brian McLaren, although (like many post-modern authors) I don’t recall whoever it was attributing the concept to anyone per se, i.e. I thought it was their idea. The variation was that God was at the center [dogma], Scripture was the second concentric ring [doctrine], and interpretation / commentary of Scripture was the outer ring [adiaphora].

    Either way, I find the concept helpful.

    Obviously, as you point out, “one of the challenges of history is that various people and leaders have tried to ‘level up’ certain doctrines into the category of dogma.”

    So, as long as you don’t mess with my dogma, I won’t condemn you 😉

    Looking forward to the conversation….

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