A Concise History of Christian Doctrine






A Concise History of Christian Doctrine


















A Concise History of Christian Doctrine

The significance of fundamental Christian doctrine can scarcely be stressed. First, the Christian doctrine creates a line of differentiation between Christ’s kingdom and other secular cults. While most parties debate over nonessentials without concluding in fallouts, when it comes to fundamental Christian doctrine there must be agreement. Indispensable Christian doctrine is the basis on which the gospel of Jesus Christ was founded on. From his divinity to the eschatological conviction that Jesus will reappear to dispense His judgment, fundamental Christian doctrine is basic to the gospel. All other religions mystify, compromise or disagree with these fundamentals[1]. For instance, Muslims dogmatically condemn the doctrine of Christ’s exclusive divinity as the unpardonable sin of evasion. They willingly assert the sinlessness within Christ, but obstinately refute his sacrifice on the cross and his consequent resurrection as the source of salvation. Gonzalez’ method for examining doctrine is to describe the outstanding features within the confines of a doctrine and those that fall outside the confines, therefore protecting his core theory that doctrinal facts are essentially mysteries.

Israel, the Church and the Bible

Gonzales divided his publication into individual doctrines. His book started with introductory remarks and an outline that mentioned his approach. Gonzalez then jumped right into the dispute with the first chapter titled “Israel, the Church, and the Bible”. The chapter concentrated on the apocrypha, the link between the Old Testament and the New and the Canon. Gonzales also discusses Marcion heresy in detail. After the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the Jews were obliged to encrypt their consecrated writings and their laws in a bid to maintain the social fabric together. The issue of whether God was existent during the Old Testament period also arose with many comparisons of the erased books such as the Apocrypha being used to validate God’s existence in the Old and New Testaments. The process of accepting the New Testament by the 16th Century Reformers took about 100 years. However, one prominent feature within Christian history was its anti Judaist nature even though most of the authors in the New Testament and Jesus himself were Jews.


The next chapter to be covered by Gonzales was the doctrine of creation. Christians basing their arguments on the Old Testament acknowledged God as their creator. Gonzales pointed out that there were other older sections of the Old Testament besides the Genesis. Jews considered God their devoted redeemer from Egypt before the doctrine of creation was entrenched. While Christians adopted the Jewish position, they faced several problems: polytheistic unpredictability that resulted in Gnosticism’s urgency for the soul to break out from the body’s fraud[2]; and Roman divine transformation that elevated Emperors to the level of gods. The doctrine of creation in the Old Testament re-emerged in Christian reverence. The god of deliverance and salvation was linked to the God of creation. For Christians, all the elements of life were left to God. Neo-Platonism offered two hurdles: it established that the world was a coherent place but a section of them argued that everything was heavenly (Monism). However, others assumed the conventional dualist stand that God created the heavenly but the physical universe was a mistake.


Christians when countered with the pompous history of theoretical Hellenism and the risk of persecution responded that God’s actions were not restricted to the Christian meanings or the Jewish customs. They appended themselves to a Neo-Platonic conception of a hypostatized logos expressed by Alexandria and linked this with the gospel to assert that Jesus had transformed into a human being. However, there has constantly been an inconsistency among Christians staying in a foreign culture, forcing them to live dual lives. The creator and deliverer are the same entity while Jesus is the ultimate goal pursued by all Christians. Gonzales pointed out that the Church in recognizable cultures lost the capability to perform self-evaluations effectively. The 5th Century Roman Church became entrapped in the Imperial ends; however, the 20th Century German Church was destabilized by liberalism and lost its aptitude to go up against Hitler.


Christians adopted the Jewish perception of God that was strongly influenced by Neo-Platonic characteristics: omnipotence, omniscience, impassibility, omnipresence and immutability. Christians also adopted the Platonic dilemma of ‘participation’; in what way can the people communicate with their Maker? The Logos[3] stood between people in the world and God. The solution was to connect salvation and creation; the same Creator is the savior, the same person who preached to Israel was the same one who spoke in Jesus. While worshipping, right from the start, Christians referred to Jesus as ‘Lord’ Kyrios, the phrase used in the Septuagint for Hebrew YHWH. Jesus was at the heart of worship, expected the worship and compliance from the Christians; believers were baptized in the name of the Trinity. Despite his Platonic viewpoint of God, Justin Martyr died for Jesus. Arius stated that the Logos was formed within time while Nicea argued that the word integrated in Jesus Christ was fashioned before time started. Arius proposed that Jesus was a creature and not God and even though He was the first creature, he was still a mortal being. Many people denied the fact that they were persecuted, and that they knew people who died as martyrs, for a mortal being.



By ‘soul’, the ancient scholars were referring to that which offered life to the body and therefore, plants and animals had souls, but they asserted that the soul was divine in a manner that the body could not. Most people held that the soul was eternal. However, Christians argued that the soul was a living thing and not heavenly; the soul was strictly mortal while all elements that contained immortality were confined to God. The soul existed long after the human body was dead mainly because God allowed it to live; in the same way, God allows the body to resurrect. Humans were made in the image and resemblance of God. Wisdom, power, liberty and virtue were deep-rooted in human beings thanks to the embodiment[4]. In the early times, the Greek East stressed on how close human beings were to the heavens. Gonzales quoted Origen’s theory that where he rejected the part of divine substance because an everlasting soul could be misconstrued as divine; received and relayed like bodies. However, creationism acknowledged that every soul was created uniquely and directly by God.


In worship after Paul’s time, Jesus was Christ, the Lord’s chosen, the Messiah and the savior. Ebionites argued that he was only mortal while the Docetists asserted that he was heavenly. Conversely, Christians argued that Christ was both human and divine. The Antiochene and Alexandrine schools of thought failed to agree and the Western Church, much more engaged with sacred rather than idealistic matters, gained prominence by being unbiased and arbitrating the catastrophe[5]. Gonzales attempted to bring out the idea that Christ was one individual having two natures. While it failed to explain the incarnation, the information written by Gonzales clarified that Jesus was just like man but only that He was divine. The author made it clear that Christianity was united on the concept that Jesus was the redeemer but there was debate over how this status was achieved. Arguments by Anselm of Canterbury pointed towards the inability of human beings to repay the debt they owed God. He also pointed out that the slightest sin was considered an endless offence. The other two assertions by Anselm revolved around the fact that God could only repay himself and that it was virtually impossible for a human being to repay God’s debt[6].

The Church

The first mention of the church in Gonzales’ publication was when Paul mentioned the local Church in Corinth in the bible book Corinthians 1:18[7]. By the turn of the 3rd Century, most Christians believed that the sanctity of the Church, joint in worship, mainly Eucharistic, was prejudiced by sin but the only pejorative offences were murder, adultery  and apostasy; but a section of Christians asserted that there could be repentance and restitution, even for these problems. Gonzales wrote on Augustine works that asserted the lack of deliverance outside the Church using its four tenets. Concerning the apostolic and holy catholic, Augustine emphasized the distinction between the ideal invisible and the prejudiced tangible church that was consequently adopted by the Protestants. However, the two are related; consequently, the tighter union of the two must be influenced by reparation[8].

The Sacraments

In the early formation of the Church, the elements of sacraments such as baptism and the Eucharist. Gonzales used High’s definition that factored in materiality, consecration and institution. He also referred back to the Donatist debate concerning the unworthy nature that makes a sacrament useless and lacking in reassurance. Gonzales separated his discussion into two topics: Eucharist and baptism. In discussing the baptism section, Gonzales outlined the regulations outlined in the Didache that started as initiation and cleansing. This procedure was mostly done when people were just about to die to affirm their human commitment.


Gonzales started the chapter by comparing salvation among Christians to the ecstatic experience among philosophers. From his discussion, it was evident that salvation was closely linked to creation as the conclusion of mortal life. Christians not only believed in life after death but of salvation as part of a new creation. Christians, conversely, came to perceive the soul as being immortal and to stress its life after death. The continuation of the Empire pointed away from the perception of a competing heavenly realm. This also pointed towards the existence of problems in the earthly realm. The intention of baptism was to send people to heaven[9]. In explaining salvation, Gonzales argued that grace empowered Christians to do the deeds that save them. The initial sin was eliminated when infants were baptized and the Eucharist was promoted to a more significant position in the Church. In the same chapter, Calvin brought out the argument that religion that focused only on salvation lacked the significant aspect of pleasing God.


Tradition is passed on between successive generations and Christianity is deeply rooted in different traditions. The scripture is alive with traditions  that have existed for several years. Gonzales argued that since the scripture belonged to the church , any differences about scripture were really a difference about the traditions. Different scholars provided their opinion on the relationship between tradition and the church. Tertullian, Origen and Augustine all provided dissenting  arguments on the link between these two phenomena. This perception of the church having traditions was an entrenched opinion since most of the 9th century believers assumed that their practices were similar to those of the earlier apostles[10].

The Spirit of Hope

This chapter identified the source of modern Christian development as the Holy Spirit instead of sequential leaders. There existed a struggle between parties that innovated using the Holy Spirit and parties that denied this claim. However, Gonzales established a common conclusion that the Holy Spirit connected believers from different cultures in one Gospel. Attention should be drawn to the fact that Gonzales’ book was not a structured theology, or a doctrinaire outline from a convinced standpoint. The author was devoid of any content that tried to convince the reader of the merits of a certain doctrine. However, Gonzales’ book outlines the historical origins of the different doctrines of the Christian faith and the discussions involved in all the doctrines.













González, Justo L. A concise history of Christian doctrine. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2005.

[1] Justo  González. A concise history of Christian doctrine. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 227.

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] Ibid., 27-9.

[4] Ibid., 48.

[5] Ibid., 89-91.

[6] Ibid., 67-68.

[7] Ibid.,122.

[8] Ibid., 34.

[9] Ibid., 87.

[10] Ibid.,105.

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