What if a Doctrine Feels Wrong?

When universalists look at the idea of people going to hell, they often have an emotional reaction. The idea of people going to hell ought to provoke an emotional reaction, and the number of missions agencies and the fact that people continue to join them and support them shows just what people are willing to do as they respond to that reaction. The universalists, rather than increase their missionary support and go to the mission field, decide instead that eternal damnation is not true. Universalists’ feelings are not wrong, but their doctrine is. Even so, what if a doctrine feels wrong? Does that indicate anything?

There are others who eschew doctrine and dogma because sectarian squabbling disgusts them. Disgust is about something real, and it addresses subtle things that the intellect is not sensitive enough to pick up on. Apologists can arouse disgust and yet hurl better Scripture references than I can marshal even in favor of obvious things like the love of God. Non-denominationalists might condemn denominations because they alienate real Christians, but I condemn non-denominationalism because it gets rid of history and tradition while opening people to unconscious shifts in theology, and some of that is my gut feeling about non-denominationalism. Uncharitable debate is disgusting, but non-denominationalism is ugly. Non-denominationalism makes short work of spiritual lineage and opens congregations to the persuasion of preachers from no tradition whatsoever. In both cases, the negative reactions are true (although I will suspend my condemnation of non-denominationalism until I can offer hard facts), but they are weak and watery as persuasion. Feelings are true, but they do not say very much.

Feelings tell the truth about the world that we experience. Wolf-whistlers might be crude and vulgar, but they are actively responding to the truth of a woman’s beauty. Her beauty really is there, unless ten sweaty construction workers had the same hallucination at once. In the movieĀ The King’s Speech (2010), Britain’s feelings of foreboding in the face of a possible Nazi invasion were telling the truth of what was about to happen, and had indeed already begun to happen. Feeling fear when your country suffers military disaster and is looking at enduring a naval blockade and your only possible rescue will have to come from a country trying to decide whether the cost of war is really worth it is hardly unreasonable. Failure to reason, however, is unreasonable. When the King overcame his fear of speaking and gave his speech to encourage the people of Britain to hold on for victory and persevere to the end, his speech did not proceed A therefore B therefore C fashion from his feelings, though his feelings certainly informed his message to Britain and to the world. The speech answered the King’s and the people’s emotions, helping them to persevere against fear, despair, and submissiveness in the face of evil.

We often have to override our feelings to do the right thing. We often have to override the credibility of facts offered as proof, too. Did Han shoot first because he was a casual murderer or because Greedo was going to shoot anyway? The facts clearly demonstrate that he shot first, but what is that to those of us who believe that Han Solo has the right to defend himself in that hive of scum and villainy that is Mos Eisley? Dealing properly with both facts and feelings requires the virtuous cooperation of the head, heart, and hands as the will also plays a significant role in how everything turns out at the end. That street preacher might be saying some pretty wonky stuff, but the fact that I do not have to do anything about him is tremendously liberating: as it is, there may be nothing good for me to do. Recording the inciting incidents preceding towering infernos of rage or desolate plunges into despondency produce good data for planning future courses of action, and self-understanding helps us to act more quickly when circumstances demand it. What, then, should we do when a doctrine feels wrong?

The first thing to do is to protect ourselves from harm, at least long enough to honorably and intelligently proceed into suffering and martyrdom, and stay innocent of committing evil. If one side or the other of Calvinism vs. Arminianism feels wrong, your church adopts that side, and they still live out self-denying Christianity, what grounds do you have for denouncing your pastor as a damned heretic in anonymous placards posted in the church parking lot? If your church is telling you that the percentage of your salary given in tithes reflects the percentage of your soul saved for heaven, what argument can be raised against your swift jump to another church? The second thing would be to check whether others have the same perception that you have. Truth will show up the same under rigorous and repeated testing. As your like-minded friends list grows, you will protect yourself from being cut down as the tallest flower. It is also important to look into history for precedents to guide you in the present. Deciding what, if anything, to do requires that you rake facts together. You have to do something and your will results are guaranteed to be a mixed bag, but better small and measured action with readiness for more action than shooting your wad and having nothing left of good reputation, credibility, or resources.