Dogma is the Drama

In a recent article in the Kairos Journal, we are reminded of the late Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957). Sayers was a well-known British playwright, author, and scholar.

Graduating from Oxford University in 1915, she was among one of the first groups of women to achieve this distinction. Sayers had a knack for unmasking misperceptions of the faith. In her day, efforts to redefine Christian practice and teachings were fueled by an apparent boredom with presentation of doctrine. In her Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine, she countered this mentality, critiquing the appalling apathy and biblical ignorance of those who called themselves “Christian.” Sadly, though, times have not much changed and her words are as pointed as ever.

In the remaining portion of the article, we are given a few quotes from Sayer on a subject that I think should be of particular interest to church members and pastors. In the following quotes, Sayers dispells the growing misconception that doctrine is boring and useless. I will provide a few excerpts, but you can read the entire article by signing up for the Kairos Journal here.

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine-dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man-and the dogma is the drama.

. . . for the cry today is: “Away with the tedious complexities of dogma-let us have the simple spirit of worship; just worship, no matter of what!” The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.

It is the dogma that is the drama-not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death-but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realize that here is something that man might be glad to believe.

Dogma is the drama. May we not forsake it for something more ‘entertaining.’ To do so would appear to be, according to Sayers, a misunderstanding of what is truly captivating. I would add along with these keen observations from Sayers that a teacher can also have a numbing effect on his listeners if—as Edwards put it—his affections don’t correspond with the glory if his affirmations. Both are needed, especially for the preacher and teacher.

HT: Ray Van Neste

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