I noticed that the Evangelical Theological Society is discussing the need to kick out Clark Pinnock for his views on open theism and the whole debate just reinforced to me how far I must have strayed from the evangelical fold. The need to enforce conformity with a list a mental assumptions doesn't get to the top of my list any more, and within evangelicalism, it seems like a foundational point. I guess what is striking me in this instance is the passion, energy and time dedicated to the dispute over various doctrines. As Evangelicals we hold these doctrines to be of paramount importance, so important that we organize something like the ETS to keep everybody's thinking in line. Now I agree that assent to a given doctrine can be useful as an intellectual foundation for the acting out of our faith (though I have also seen that this is not always necessary) but I am increasingly aware that many of the doctrines that we consider vital for "orthodoxy" have little relation at all to the action that God in Christ considered of primary importance - Love.
I suppose we place so much value on these doctrines because we think assent or non-assent directly affects our salvation. If you believe in the Nicene Creed you are in the orthodox category and are numbered mong the "saved". If you are a JW or a Mormon and you don't hold to some of those ideas about God, etc, you are outside the fold and are unsaved (well, from the Evangelical perspective anyway - for the JW's and Mormons I supposed it would be exactly reversed). But my problem is this notion of saved/unsaved doesn't really line up with anything we see in Christ. Christ was so vague about adhering to a set of beliefs, yet so clear about what brought salvation. For him, a person's conversion/ acceptance into the Kingdom of God has to do witha heart transformed by Love that consequently manifests loving actions.
Look at the story of Zacchaeus. The moment at which Christ declares that salvation has come to him has nothing to do with doctrine. There is no sinners prayer, no assent to the deity of Christ, no agreement with the notion of a triune God. Rather, he decides that he is going to give away a bunch of his money, and that single act is indication enough that a heart has changed and Zacchaeus has crossed over from death to life.
Same with the rich young ruler. He has been a good boy, been keeping the commandments. But when he asks Jesus what he must do to really get it right, Christ's answer again has no relationship whatever to mental assent to doctrine. Instead, it again points to the truth that when a heart changes, a turn from selfishness results in loving action, and that is what God requires.
I suppose Matthew 25 would also fit into this category (the sheep and the goats). Again, entry into paradise is dependant on the loving action that reflects a changed heart (it should be noted that this loving action isn't one of the heavy, duty-driven, I-have-to-do-this-because-God-demands-it variety, as the sheep don't even realize that they have been touching Christ as they reached out in compassion. They were only doing what happen naturally when a heart comes to be motivated by the kindness of God...)
How about this idea? I think much of our desire to hammer out creeds and codes to assent to is control based and has much to do with the freedom/law question of a few posts back. It is much easier to check off a list of beliefs to reassure yourself of your own right-ness with God, rather than living within the "gray area" of Love, where you must continually interact with God, and reorient yourself in his direction. We seem to want to kow for sure who is "in" or "out". But is that even in our job description? This is one area where I am firmly with the Eastern Orthodox in their belief that it is no one's job to judge salvation except for God himself. But then, what is the job description? I would say that it has a lot less to do with enforcing doctrinal conformity and a lot more to do with making the focus of our faith the acting out, the demonstration of the unconditional Love of God.
...more on this later....