In my last post we worked through the Apostle Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2), looking for doctrinal content. Here’s what we came up with, in systematic theological terms:
- The Hebrew scriptures are God’s Word (Ac 2.17) and therefore reliable (Ac 2.16).
- God directs history (Ac 2.23).
- God does miracles; history includes some number of supernatural events (Ac 2.22).
- Jesus did miracles (Ac 2.22).
- Jesus died by crucifixion and rose again (Ac 2.23-24, 32).
- Jesus continues his divine work from heaven (Ac 2.33-34).
- Jesus is God (Ac 2.36).
- Jesus is Christ, the fulfillment of the Hebrew messianic prophecies (Ac 2.36).
- There is a Holy Spirit (Ac 2.17).
- People are sinful (Ac 2.40).
- Salvation is available to all peoples (Ac 2.18, 21, 39).
- Salvation is available freely (Ac 2.21) through repentance (Ac 2.38).
- There is a coming “Day of Yahweh” (Ac 2.20).
When we put all this into our chart, we end up with something like this. (I’ve truncated our data slightly for simplicity’s sake.)
Where do we go from here? Well, we repeat this same process on the other apostolic sermons in Acts, filling in the other columns on our chart. A quick result might look something like this, though a more careful study—which you’ll do, right?—would yield more doctrines in the first column.
And then you see where the overlaps are—which doctrines are most emphasized in this database of sermons. For illustration purposes I’ve simply counted the number of sermons in which each doctrine appears and then sorted the list on that column, with the most common doctrines at the top. You can see that “quick and dirty” result here.
What are the biggest ideas?
- The deity of Christ
- Forgiveness of sins
- The death and resurrection of Christ / witnesses
- The reliability of Scripture
It’s no surprise that our list includes “the gospel” as defined by Paul in 1Co 15.3-4.
Now, we’re not done yet. As I noted in a previous post in this series, we need to evaluate the other datasets that my friend Tom Wheeler identified in his dissertation, and then we need to compare all the lists we end up with to see if there are patterns there—which there are—as justification for producing a “meta-list,” which should serve as a pretty good indicator of What We’re Going to Fight About.
And then we need to decide where to draw the line. How far down the list do we decide this is a doctrine that isn’t “emphasized”? How far down the list do we go before we decide that we’re not going to fight about that one? I’d suggest that that’s a literary-analysis question: where do you draw the line at emphasis?
Tom’s dissertation has done a good job of that already. But you can do that work yourself, you know. You don’t have to be a scholar like Tom; with the Word and the illuminating work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, you have all the tools you need to do this study for yourself. Maybe you’ll notice something he didn’t. And even if you don’t, you’ll benefit immensely from the study, and you’ll approach doctrinal controversies in this polarized and freaked-out world with a calmness and a confidence that will communicate grace, mercy, and peace to all those around you.
That’s worth the effort, right?