At Last . . . Now . . . an Open Confession: Dodd and Ketcherside: Kerygma and Didache

By Ron Halbrook

Ketcherside might well pay “special tribute” to C. H. Dodd (1884-1973), and we would do well to pay special attention to him, too. Ketcherside says there are “two different messages” in the New Testament, as explained above. (Paul apparently disclaims the second message, which they call “doctrine,” because he said he knew “nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified” and he forbad adding any additional messages! (see 1 Cor. 2-2 and Gal. 1:6-9.) Ketcherside, like Dodd, tries to label two distinct bodies of teaching by different terms, but both are teaching nonetheless. (1) Kerygma is the original teaching which Christ did about himself and which others did about him, consisting of facts and events in his life. Most of this original “gospel” is lost, according to Dodd, but we can dig through the New Testament in search of clues which allow us to recover the main outline of its content. (2) Didache is subsequent teaching done by the followers of Christ as they transformed, developed, and utilized his original teaching. This “teaching” grew out of an effort fo preserve and direct the body of believers. Dodd argued that this “doctrine” evolved when the disciples saw their expectation of Jesus’ immediate second coming was not fulfilled.

At any rate, Dodd and Ketcherside agree that preaching the gospel is one thing and teaching the doctrine is another. How foolish when we realize that “doctrine” simply means “teaching-a thing taught,” and that the gospel is teaching-a thing taught, therefore, doctrine. “Preaching was an inclusive activity, not restricted to the proclamation of a missionary messenger. Kerysso- needs a message to complete its meaning. This message was an inclusive message of what God had done toward a particular people, and what the response of the people should be to what God had done” (Robert C. Worley, Preaching and Teaching in the Earliest Church, p. 32). “The thing taught”- the doctrine – in the New Testament proclaims both what God has done and what we must do; there is one message, not two, and all of it is the Gospel.

Ketcherside’s position is an erosion of faith in the Bible as the Word of God, in favor of the Liberalism-ModernismHumanism of men like Schleiermacher in the last century and modified by men like Dodd and Richardson in this century. Dodd is supposed to represent a somewhat conservative reaction to the extreme rationalism and optimism of Liberalism in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Liberalism had rejected the Bible as an objective report of historical events and in addition rejected the reality of the events themselves which are reported in Scripture. Dodd maintained many of these critical premises but conceded the reality of at least some of the events reported in Scripture (without conceding that the Bible report of those events was objective and accurate on all counts). Dodd felt God made a somewhat objective revelation of Himself through certain events in history; while the Bible is an important report of those events, it is not the objective revelation of God and therefore not infallible or inerrant. Our problem, according to Dodd, is to work over the Biblical record. in search of the saving events – particularly the Kerygma – imbedded therein.

The writings of Dodd, especially The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments, were influential in the form criticism movement as it sought a “primitive Kerygma” beneath the Biblical records. The New Testament is not the teaching of Christ but was written by later Christians who transformed and developed the original teaching about Christ to serve the growing corporate needs of the church. Yet, within the New Testament are found general summaries, outlines, and fragments of the primitive Kerygma. The “gospel” turns out to be seven events of history, as recounted in his Apostolic Preaching (p. 17):

The prophecies are fulfilled, and the new Age is inaugurated by the coming of Christ.

He was born of the seed of David.

He died according to the Scriptures, to deliver us out of the present evil age,

He was buried.

He rose on the third day according to the Scriptures.

He is exalted at the right hand of God, as Son of God and Lord of quick and dead.

He will come again as Judge and Savior of Men.

Dodd claimed that this “gospel” saves men and not the didache or “doctrine.” In his History and the Gospel, he shows that the writings of Paul exhibit “the character of nomos [law] in the sense of commandments regulating the conduct and life as governed through the dictation of a legal authority” (Ibid., p. 50, cf. Worley, p. 20). While we should “not lightly dismiss any theological propositions” or “dogmatic beliefs” found in the Bible, we must realize that “in morals and religion no purely objective evidence is obtainable.” The Bible does not give “authoritative information, in the form of dogma, upon matters known only by special revelation,” but it does contain “the sincere utterance of men” which in turn can awaken and redirect the powers of sincere searching in other men (The Authority of the Bible, pp. 297-300, 295ff). In other words, the saving events of the “gospel” should and must be acknowledged, but the “doctrine”-though having the character of law-does not necessarily have to be obeyed strictly.

Dodd recognizes that the Bible “has been regarded as the supreme doctrinal authority in faith and morals, divine in origin and consequently infallible.” Also, if the Scriptures are verbally inspired, “they consequently convey absolute truth with no trace of error or relativity” (ibid., pp. 8, 35). But, in the first place, critical studies have shown such views to be scientifically and historically untenable. Source-criticism (study of the “proximate” written sources from which the Gospels were written) and form-criticism (study of the “oral tradition lying behind the proximate written sources”) have shown that the four Gospels are “not in any case inerrant” because they differ “in matters of fact and in interpretation of fact.” “. . . .we have no reason to assume that the writers were supernaturally protected from the natural infirmities to which the human mind is liable” (The Gospels As History: A Reconsideration, pp. 8-9). Or, as he put it in another of his books (About the Gospels, p. 15), “there is a margin of uncertainty” in these records though they agree on certain facts.

Not True Just Because In The Bible

The old view required that all statements of Scripture on religion and every other subject be regarded as “exactly and literally true.” Thus, Paul’s epistles were seen as providing “a fixed scheme of theology.” But the second reason the old view of Scripture authority must be rejected is that men see that scheme differently. “Observation and reason” cannot always agree with Scripture. The Bible contains some “outworn morality” along with inaccuracies “in matters of science and history.” The Bible does not claim “infallible authority for all its parts” and “some of its greatest writers” admit expressing opinions or making mistakes. God speaks by means of Scripture, but “it is in some sense which is not incompatible with its human imperfection.” In the Fundamentalist position, there is “an end of intellectual adventure and discovery, to say nothing of moral responsibility.” When we discover what a Bible writer says, we must ask, “Is this what I am to believe about God? Is it true?” The answer cannot be, “Of course it is true, because it is in the Bible.” Certainly the epistles do not present “a static finality in religion.” In the New Testament, some scribes do attempt “to fix in a ‘form of sound words,’ the ‘faith once delivered to the saints,'” but this must be dismissed in favor of the faith which grows and develops (represented by the better New Testament writers). “If the Bible is indeed ‘the Word of God,’ it is so not as the ‘last word’ on all religious questions, but as the ‘seminal word’ out of which new apprehension of truth springs in the mind of man” (The Authority of the Bible, pp. 817, 35, 297-300).

The “gospel” is a story of fixed and certain events in history, but all “doctrinal” issues are open questions -NOT involving salvation, NOT involving fellowship. This is precisely the Denominational Theology which Ketcherside has imbibed! He might quibble with Dodd’s views of inspiration and revelation (though he has written some things which sound close to Dodd even there), BUT HE HAS ACCEPTED THE BASIC PREMISE OF MODERNISM-LIBERALISMECUMENICISM WITH REGARD TO “DOCTRINE.”

It will do no good to cry, “Alexander Campbell!”, who is not a religious authority in any case, because he advocated unity through Restoration of the Ancient Order rather than through Ecumenical Liberalism and Liberal Ecumenicity. Campbell tried to distinguish between “gospel” and “doctrine” (more on that shortly), but it did not lead him to the 20th century view of “unity” which has its roots in the premises and assumptions of Liberalism-Modernism-Humanism. Moving on its own premises-premises foreign equally to the New Testament and to the Campbells-Liberalism claimed that there is no doctrinal exactness in the New Testament, no pattern of organization and worship for the church, and that the Bible was never intended to provide a pattern for the church. Ketcherside constantly hammers these themes. These themes are rooted in “the rise of New Testament criticism” and so-called “modern scholarship”-thus the ultra-liberal Disciples of Christ hold “that ‘dogma’ in the primitive sense does not consist in theological opinions but in historic facts,” i.e Dodd’s kerygma (The Nature of the Unity We Seek, Issued by the Study Committee of the World Convention of Churches of Christ (Disciples), pp. 5,6,9). This Liberalism “has had a profound effect on unity efforts” (Howard Elmo Short, Christian Unity Is Our Business, p. 18). Though Ketcherside, Garrett, and their proteges often quote the Campbells, they are mostly interested in that nebulous something which Liberals always conjure up when looking to the past: “the spirit” of these men. Leroy Garrett does not hesitate to say that the concept of speaking where the Bible does and being silent where it is, is “impossible” to work-though “the spirit of the slogan” is commended. He says the approach to unity which calls for a “thus saith the Lord” for all we do in religion is clearly “wrong” (Restoration Review, 1969, pp, 26-30, 47).

Dodd’s view, the Liberal-Ecumenical view, of unity has become the foundation of Ketcherside, Garrett, and company. Dodd is a recognized pioneer of ecumenicity, with his “Letter Concerning Unavowed Motives in Ecumenical Discussions” (Ecumenical Review, Vol. II, No. 1, Autumn, 1949, pp. 52ff; cf. Dodd, et. al., More Than Doctrine ). Due largely to Dodd’s “insights” on non-theological factors in division, ‘the organized ecumenical movement appointed a special commission to study these factors. When the movement solved certain “issues,” new ones were raised. This suggested to Dodd that the issues were not the real problems but that unavowed motives were. (1) “Confessional or denominational loyalty” is such a motive, causing us to constantly search for “our ‘sacred traditions’ or our ‘historic principles,’ which we must on no account compromise.” It is unlikely that there are “principles of difference so fundamental that no accommodation can be found,” even between Protestants and Catholics. We must be more willing to say bluntly, “We have been mistaken in holding this view, and I have been mistaken in defending it. . . . We are very conscious of shortcomings in our denominational life, if you can give us counsel, let us go with you” (More Than Doctrine, pp. 8-9).

(2) Behind the “standards, ideals, habits, convictions, prejudices, which taken together make up a distinctive mentality,” lie unavowed “social and political motives.” These motives maintain religious divisions within nations (Anglican and Nonconformist in England) and between nations (Luthernism, Eastern Orthodoxy, American denominationalism, East Europeans behind the Iron Curtain). For instance, objections to the “episcopacy or the sacredotal conception of the ministry” are based “only to a slight degree . . . on distinctive religious convictions or traditions”; they are based largely on unconscious loyalties to a “way of life” which is “in part religious but in part social wind political” (Ibid., pp. 10-11).

There is truth in these charges so far as man-made churches are concerned. Man-made churches are shaped and animated by human concepts wid human loyalties, just as are the realms of society, education, philosophy, economics, politics, etc, But the Bible reveals a church built by Divine Concepts and a Divine Pattern. “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11). “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9), Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18), and His church is just as distinctive from the churches of men as he himself-Divine, THE SON OF GOD.—is distinctive from men. The church for which he died and of which he is head, is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim.. 3:15). This divine truth, “the faith once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), is SO FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT from the doctrines of men that THERE CA BE NO ACCOMMODATION FOR COMPROMISE between them.

Churches of men may wrestle with the implications of social and political democracy in relation to their clerical systems, but God’s people reject outright all concepts of a sacerdotal priesthood because they are irreconcilably antagonistic to Christ and his teaching. (1) A clergy-laity distinction, (2) priestly mediators between God and man, for forgiveness of sin, (3) men standing between other men and God, whose special domain is to understand, interpret, and dispense God’s Word, and (4) the elevation, honor, and reverence of certain men, are all opposed to Christ and His commands for His people.

Yes, God’s people move on principles totally unknown or barely discernable in the churches of men. When those who claim to be God’s people as distinguished from human denominationalism, begin to approach religious problems-such as the problem of uni . t1v -the same way denominationalists do, then they have forsaken their claim and the Christ of Scripture. Ketcherside, Garrett, and their followers talk about “our” need of gaining “counsel” from “other denominations.” They tell us that division is more a “psychological and sociological” problem than “a matter of doctrinal differences” (Garrett, R.R., 1968, p. 34). These men are engulfed in the denominational view of the church. They are conducting their new unity movement on the same human concepts and human loyalties which are operative in all man-made denominations, in Modernism-Liberalism-Humanism, and in the realms of philosophy, politics, economics, and such like. They have exchanged the wisdom of God and the truth of God for human wisdom and human theories.

If they want to see the ultimate end of their course, let them take a hard look at men like Dodd, to whom they pay “special tribute.” Dodd’s concepts, like the whole thrust of Liberalism and Ecumenicism, leads to universalism-and a humanistic universalism at that! “As every human being lies under God’s judgment, so every human being is ultimately destined, in His mercy, to eternal life,” argued Dodd. He added, “This ‘universalism’ has never been generally accepted in the Church, though it has been held by some theologians of credit in antiquity and in modern times” (The Bible Today, pp. 117-118). Do not be fooled by the reference to “eternal life;” it is characteristic of neo-orthodoxy to engage in such double-talk with Biblical terms. The “restoration of all things” is “the ultimate state of mankind,” according to Dodd. This is symbolized by “the holy city, New Jerusalem,” a consummation “beyond all experience” as we have known it so far. “The whole human race” and “the entire created universe (are) to be ‘redeemed’ and ‘reconciled’ to its Creator. . . . This is the final meaning of the entire process in time” (Ibid., pp. 117-119). The ecumenical process is working with that ultimate goal in mind-to usher in a consummation of human experience in united nations, united peoples, a world made up of the New Humanity. The church is “a kind of preliminary model . . . of what the final state of mankind is to be in God’s design.” The church is “the one people of God, and the I earnest’ of the ultimate reconciliation of all mankind. At a level deeper than all our divisions the unity already exists” (Christ and the New Humanity, pp. 2-3). This is the ultimate end for which the kerygma is proclaimed. Ephesians 2:11-15 in its “theological” aspect teaches “that in the Christian view the ultimate hope of the unification of mankind rests upon the reality of the act of God in Christ” (Ibid., p. 13). One of the goals of “the ecumenical fellowship of the church” is “to explore” the depths of the Gospel in search of “conceptions . . . suitable for shaping a new community of mankind,” and thus to contribute to the solution of “our urgent problem of reconciliation between nations” (Ibid., p. 15-16).

Ketcherside, Garrett, and various cohorts will object that they are opposed to humanism, that they are simply trying to exalt Christ; they will object that we are unfairly waving the red flag of “Liberalism;” they will deny “guilt by association;” they will claim that they have not avowed the consequences set forth above. But the sad truth is: (1) They have been positively influenced by Liberalism, particularly by Neo-orthodoxy; (2) they have imbibed the premises of Ecumenicism: (3) they share the assumptions of the very Humanism which they decry, whether they have acknowledged their consequences or not. We do not charge that they believe in Humanism per se, but that what they believe and teach leads logically, consistently to Humanism-a humanistic universalism. Dodd deserves every bit of the “special tribute” these men can give. The reader can judge for himself as to the validity of our evaluation. At any rate, these are the reasons we have fought and shall fight so hard against the new grace-unity movement (which has the gospel-doctrine distinction as a keystone). These are the reasons we have urgently warned brethren about those in our midst who have swallowed Ketcherside’s error.

The Gospel-Doctrine Distinction: Shattered Keystone

An important keystone of Ketcherside’s teaching is the supposed distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine.” In fact, this distinction has been so stressed that when it is shattered “there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” He has repeatedly asserted that “gospel” and “doctrine” differ in content, that their dissemination requires separate offices, and that they are presented to two entirely different classes of people. This is made of prime importance in his teaching on Grace-Unity-Fellowship. God’s grace covers all who accept the “gospel” regardless of what they believe or practice in the separate realm of “doctrine.” Thus the widest “doctrinal” diversity is acceptable to God, but there is unity in diversity” because men uniformly accept one gospel.” Ketcherside is bold in affirming this distinction, but he is among those who understand “neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm” (1 Tim. 1:7). Ketcherside thinks his position is impregnable in Scripture, but we shall root out, destroy, and thrown down his distinction by Scripture (Jer. 1:10).

In the first place, since Ketcherside is so impressed by Dodd’s scholarly support, we might notice that Dodd has been raked over the coals by other scholars. Dodd and others have tried to establish a distinction between gospel and doctrine on the bases that they differ in content (one being the recital of historic events, the other interpretations, deductions, and applications), in the location where spoken (one spoken in open fields, public forums, and other “missionary” locales, whereas the other spoken only where saints gathered-or earlier in the synagogues), in the activity involved (one being emotional ejaculation, the other intellectual instruction), or in the persons addressed (one strictly for the uninitiated, for sinners, the other only for those who have accepted the first message and desire fuither instruction). Dodd’s thesis has suffered at the hands of Robert H. Mounce (who said that “‘preaching’ as used by Mark and Luke is sufficiently broad to include teaching.'”), Krister Stendalil (argued that “gospel” might include exhortation and ethical instruction as well as event narrative), John J. Vincent (said, “The didache was (he gracious kerygma of God. The kerygma was that The didache described God.”), Floyd V. Filson (“The preacher had to teach as he preached; the two tasks could not be separated . . . “), Hermann Diem (“There can be no rigid line of demarcation between” gospel and doctrine.), Bo Reicke (Teaching is a form of preaching, each overlapping with the other in instruction, edification, and invitation.), Ragnar Asting (who attacked Dodd’s thesis of the evolutionary development of “doctrine” following on the heels of “gospel”), Hans Werner Bartsch (denied Dodd’s thesis that “doctrine” developed when Jesus failed to return), Henry J. Cadbury (denied necessity for Christ to fail to return in order for “doctrine” to be stated), Harold Riensenfeld (said the content of the two did not differ), H. G. Wood (argued that primitive belief was “an inseparable combination of kerygma and didache.”), John H. P. Reurnaim (calls “Paul’s Epistles . . . kerygma continuing his initial preaching . . .”), and Joachim Jeremias (who said didache is not simply an outer ring around keiygma).

Robert C. Worley’s Preaching and Teaching in the Earliest Church traces out the review of Dodd by the above men, then concludes in summary, “In the more recent comments on Dodd’s original ideas, there is less conviction that the content of preaching and the content of teaching are so distinctive that they can be separated into their own unique forms.” The “two major ideas” which have emerged are “that no fundamental distinctions can be made between the content of preaching and the content of teaching,” or “that differences can be made between types of content, but these are inseparable in their presentation. The materials are so woven together in their necessary relationships that it is mistaken and inaccurate to separate them” (see pp. 38-83). Worley comments on the effort of some to find the supposed distinction even in Judaism. After including Acts 15:21 (“For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues,”,) in his discussion, he concludes in summary,

“Neither preaching nor teaching denotes a distinct style or kind of activity, These words refer to the variety of activities that took place as the congregation was exhorted, instructed, and edified. It cannot be claimed on the basis of existing evidence that preaching was a more spiritual, emotional, or vigorous activity than teaching, or that preaching was a missionary activity while teaching was for the local congregation. These distinctions cannot be made on the basis of the existing evidence.”

It would be a mistake to pass off Worley and the others cited as “the expected defense made by conservatives and legalists,” because these men basically represent one generation of Liberals reviewing the work of another generation of Liberals. Obviously Ketcherside’s attempt to bolster his gospel-doctrine distinction by appeal to the accepted conclusions of sound Biblical scholarship, is a failure.

Truth Magazine XX: 38, pp. 598-602
September 23, 1976