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Jon is a first-year Bachelor of Theology student from a vibrant church. He is active in campus ministry and will likely become a church leader. Like many of his fellow students, he has shown up for Theology 1020E, Introduction to Christian Theology, with a great heart but little understanding of his faith, save some parroting of slogans. The university where I teach, however, is relentless in questioning the world. Jon's cul-de-sac faith is no longer an option; he is now in the secular realm, and his Christianity is under fire.

Like many beginning theology students, Jon feels threatened when he learns that there are many kinds of Christians. Initially, some of the ideas I present in class visibly upset him. But he slowly learns to major in the majors. Hardcore academic and historical theology, in my experience, almost invariably makes a student like Jon a better Christian—not in his heart per se, but in his understanding of God's call for him and his generation.

Jon recently commented in class that "things click now." He is growing up, and the study of Christian doctrine—the mind under grace—helps him to do this.

Doctrine. The word conjures in the modern mind a string of negative images: The Inquisition. Boring professors debating the number of angels on the head of a pin. Bloggers arguing endlessly while the church flags in relevance in the once-Christian West. Doctrine is a bludgeon, a curiosity, a rearranging of the deck chairs while the ship sinks. Vibrant Christians want little to do with it, and instead focus on spiritual disciplines, works of mercy, and authentic Christian living. Doctrine belongs to the past, when it was used mainly to divide believers. How many Protestants spend time pondering whether ...

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March 2010

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