“Coming from someone who does not have a strong theological background but is pursuing a deeper understanding of theological principles, I found Putnam’s book well-written and informative.” – #ToddCPittman
Yep, I Said It!
When Doctrine Divides the People of God (Crossway, 2020) is an outstanding evaluation of Doctrinal Diversity and Christian Unity. The author, Rhyne R. Putman, received his Ph.D. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he serves as an associate professor of theology and culture. Putman has served in that capacity since 2010. In addition to his contributions to the seminary, he is the pastor of preaching and vision at First Baptist Church in Kenner, Louisiana. In addition to teaching and his pastoral duties, Putnam has published multiple volumes and articles. Rhyne and his wife, Micah, currently reside in New Orleans with their two children.
Coming from someone who does not have a strong theological background but is pursuing a deeper understanding of theological principles, I found Putnam’s book well-written and informative. To support the information he provides, Putnam uses various concepts and theories to address why so many Christians disagree on doctrine even though we share a commitment to Scripture.
Putnam divides his writing into two sections. He first writes about why Christians disagree about doctrine, and in the second section, he takes a look at what we should do about doctrinal disagreement. I feel that today, more than any other time in my adulthood, many things divide our country. One of those divisions raises the question in my mind: Why do so many similar Christians end up with such contrasting theological conclusions? To help me tackle that question, I appreciated Putman explaining in section one five reasons why we disagree on doctrines. Putnam starts explaining the foundation of the biblical belief system and leads into a breakdown of some of our reasons for disagreement. In his efforts to let the reader know that it is ok to disagree as long as the center of our focus is the Bible, Putnam did an excellent job of letting me see the foundation for those disagreements. First, we don’t all read with a perfect understanding of the Scriptures. Second, there are so many different methods used to interpret the Bible that everyone’s approach is different. Third, everyone’s thinking about things in a logical, sensible way results in a difference in reasoning. Fourth, many of us have a love-hate affair with our emotions and sometimes allow that to get in the way of reasonable biblical interpretation. And fifth, we all have presuppositions that we sometimes allow to influence how we receive the Scriptures.
The second section of the book addresses what we as Christians need to know and recognize about our theological diversity. I appreciated Putnam’s reference in Chapter 6 to the biblical proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens his friend” (199). This reference serves as a reminder that our theological diversity presents us with the opportunity for epistemic self-improvement. Putnam provides three questions that we should ask ourselves when faced with interpretive disagreement. For me, Chapter 8 in the book provided a fantastic insight into the discord and lessons learned from Whitefield and Wesley. What I like about Putnam’s writing in this book is his use of real-time questions using a historical context such as, “What would a letter written by an apostle look like in the age of the internet?” (241).
Putnam’s writing style and the issues he raised in the book are appropriate for the student of theology at any level. However, for those simply seeking a deeper theological understanding, the book is not a light read given its heavy scholarly weight. Regardless of whether the reader is furthering their education, profession, or spiritual growth, When Doctrine Divides the People of God is a treasure that will help all Christians better understand doctrinal disagreement and advice on how to agree to disagree. A big takeaway for me was that one of our most significant sources of controversy is our lack of unity and harmony when dealing with presuppositions of theology. If you want to understand how to disagree and remain true to your faithfulness towards God wisely, I encourage you to read this book. – #ToddCPittman