The Development of Doctrine

I found this quote to be an interesting follow up to my recent post on Archaeology and Biblical Truths.

Jaroslav Pelikan seems to suggest that not only do men discover different truths throughout history, but that there is a sort of divine providence in the timing and content of the discoveries. In other words, the Spirit has been invisibly guiding the gradual and systematic recovery of truth throughout church history.

Could this be what Peter is getting at when he says, “Therefore I will be ready always to remind you concerning these things, even though you know them and have been established in the present truth (2 Pet. 1:12).”

Proceeding on the basis of the premise that from the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas Newman argued that the highest and most wonderful truths though communicated to the world once for all by inspired teachers could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients but had required only the longer time and deeper thought for their full elucidation. To that observation he gave the label the theory of development of doctrine. He professed to be able to discern this rule of development at work throughout the history of human thought. There was a widespread sense that every period of the church and of theology has its particular problem to solve and every doctrine has its classic age in which it first comes to be fully understood and appropriated by the consciousness of the Christian world.

In the first three centuries, the Trinity

In the age of Augustine, sin and grace

In the Middle Ages, the sacraments

In the Reformation, the full exposition of the Christian soteriology

In the period of Protestant orthodoxy, the inspiration of scripture

And now the turn had come for ecclesiology which had long been the principle point of division within all the denominations. Many heirs of the nineteenth century would come to believe that it had bequeathed this special assignment to the twentieth century, which some of them therefore came to call the age of the church.

–Jaroslov Pelikan


5 thoughts on “The Development of Doctrine

  1. I’m digging this. Obviously this topic is very mysterious, but it does seem as though one generation can’t handle too much.
    As stated above, each time period had a certain thing to discover/rediscover. Even though there was so much light during the Reformation of the basic principles of Christianity, such as Scripture being the only base and justification by faith, the reformers saw little concerning the unity of the Body, or of Christ’s second coming. That was reserved for later time.
    And it leads to a great principle: we must keep up to date with the Lord. Since He is continually revealing more of His word, we shouldn’t stay stagnant in one area. Instead, we should continually seek after Him, and His up-to-date speaking, to fully enjoy Him.
    Wouldn’t you say?


    • Yep. Agree entirely. Even if you could be Martin Luther or John Calvin today, it wouldn’t be adequate. Watchman Nee has an awesome message on this point entitled, The Flow of the Spirit. Because God is living and purposeful, He is always moving. Psalm 68 poetically describes His dynamic and progressive move.

      Hebrews 1:1-2 is another great example. God spoke many times and in many ways in the Old Testament to the fathers in the prophets. But He has moved on to speak in the Son. If you don’t advance to God’s speaking in the Son, then you are not at the forefront of God’s move.


  2. This is all pretty awesome. We do need to keep up-to-date and be established in “the present truth” (2 Pet. 1:12)

    Today I was reading about His “going forth” from days of eternity (Micah 5:2). There has been a going-forth, a flow, a progression, from eternity past unto this very point of time of God’s speaking, God’s move, and thus the revelations to match His move.

    But I feel like we need to know our past, our inheritance, to know how and where we can progress further and be established in the present truth.

    Do you have any recommendation of a good overview of the recovered truths/revelations that I can read? Something that clearly shows me where I am and where I need to go.

    I’d like to know what exactly “the present truth” is.


  3. Pingback: Evangelism and Church Extension | life and building

  4. Pingback: Archaeology and Biblical Truths | conversant faith

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