If you are interested in this, you might want to read Jack Kilcrease's work The Doctrine of the Atonement from Luther to Forde. Though its frame of reference is decidedly Lutheran, on the issue of doctrine and its definition it addresses viewpoints across the spectrum and theologians in other church bodies as well.
So what is it? Is doctrine cognitive or propositional? Does our doctrines point to and flow from realities outside themselves? Are they objective truths -- true for everyone, every time, in every culture, and in every language? Or is doctrine experienced -- with different religions as well as different denominations have differing experiences of roughly the same truth? Or is doctrine language specific -- that is, is it specific to the formulations of that doctrine within a church body, a family of churches, a theological system, or a specific language and culture?
You see the mess we make. If doctrine is experiential, it is pretty difficult to call something false. It is like the conundrum of those who are offended by what is said when in reality they are offended by how they take it. If doctrine is how you take it, where is the offense, the stumbling block? It is all good, just different. If doctrine is linguistic, then who knows what anyone is saying. If words, like Humpty Dumpty said, mean what people want them to mean and nothing more or less, then who is to know what truth is at all. But, of course, that is the point here -- it is the conversation that is important and not who is right or who is wrong.
Which leads me to another blog and another post. In it one of Francis' papal advisors unpacks the papacy of Francis and attempts to give explanation or context to its many seeming contradictions. According to Spadaro, governing and reforming the Church are matters of “discernment,” “self-emptying” and “conversion” rather than imposing “pre-packaged ideas.” The goal of Francis is to create the “structural conditions” for a supposed “real and open dialogue” rather than resolving “who is right and who is wrong.” Well, that makes it clear where this Pope stands on doctrine. He clearly leans either to experience or language as the keys and not to propositional truth or rights and wrongs. In this lens, it is easy to see why Rome is in such a mess. Nobody knows whether anyone using the right words is meaning the right things by them and everyone is hesitant to challenge the primacy of experience.
It is the Protestant dilemma. If we defer to gender as how a person experiences gender or expresses it, then gender is no longer any real construct. But if we jump in this rabbit hole about gender or sexual expression, then we will have a hard time holding to any orthodoxy regarding Scripture or the teachings of Scripture (from sin to our Savior!). And that is exactly where the path leads us when experience governs truth or language is allowed to mean what we choose it to mean.
So, perhaps Rome is becoming Protestant in this matter. After all it is led by a man who has decided that Jesus did not mean what He said when He taught us to pray Lead us not into temptation and therefore has had to fix Jesus' words so that they express what He thinks Jesus meant. Isn't that where all of Christianity seems to have gone? True to me, truth in words that do not necessarily mean what they say, and truth that lasts a moment. How far will that get you?