What is the Gospel of salvation? What is it that you must believe to be saved?
The minute you start identifying the necessary and sufficient conditions for benefiting from the Gospel with assent to a certain set of propositions, an uncomfortable consequence follows. You might call it the “blessed are the unreflective” clause. It goes like this:
“If you must believe p to be saved, then once you believe p, you had better not think anymore lest further reflection overturn p, thereby negating your salvation.”
The problem with the “Blessed are the unreflective” clause is evident in the clause itself: to put it bluntly, it blesses people for being unreflective.
Let’s say, for example, that you decide the doctrine of the Trinity is essential for salvation. In other words, to be saved, you must assent to the doctrine of the Trinity. It follows that at the first moment you assent to the doctrine of the Trinity, you had better do all you can to shut down further reflection, the kind of reflection we traditionally baptize as “faith seeking understanding,” lest that further reflection lead you away from the doctrine of the Trinity.
The preciousness is stated well by theologian Fergus Kerr:
“No doubt, under doctrinal interrogation, the ordinary Catholic will betray signs of a tendency towards incipient tritheism or (once alerted to the error of that) towards residual Sabellian neo-modalism—from which, at the slightest pressure, he or she will gladly recoil. In the end, even the soundest theologian or the most orthodox bishop will have to settle for the truth that may be held only by denying the alternative heresies.” “The Trinity and Christian Life,” http://www.atf.org.au/index.php?type=page&ID=1346)
Let’s say that Professor Kerr is correct. It follows that the moment you’ve got things right you should keep your head down and shut up lest further reflection result in you affirming one of those disturbing alternative heresies.
While I am sympathetic with this position, and as a theologian I certainly want to affirm the importance of right doctrine, I also find the implications of this picture positively terrible. It can’t be the case that being an unreflective company man is rewarded by the God of all truth. Surely something is amiss if careful and thoughtful reflection on the doctrine of God is reduced to a tiptoe through the minefield of potential heresy.
I know something about this. When I applied for tenure at my seminary a couple years ago there was a vocal orthodoxy bully that tried to block my tenure application (in other words, this fellow wanted me fired). The result was that my application went from a perfunctory three month process to a drawn out fifteen month affair. But in the end the spirit of open and free enquiry prevailed. I was awarded tenure. And in the process my school decided that the unreflective are not blessed.
That’s one small battle. Unfortunately we face not simply a battle but a war. It is the war over truth, and whether truth is to be identified with unthinking assent, or careful reflection.