This is a study book for small group discussion and dialogue. It has twenty-four chapters covering the standard doctrines of the Christian faith, including faith, the Bible, experience, the Spirit, God the Father, Jesus Christ, prayer, love, sexuality, judgment, and life everlasting. The sequence of chapters is not especially orderly. For instance, why should
experience come before the Godhead, or why should
the Spirit come before
God the Father and
Jesus-Christ? There is a reason, however, why Jesus-Christ is hyphenated.
Christ is not a surname but an honorary title.
The book has 105 pages, with less than five pages per chapter. Each chapter has a sub-title, designed to stimulate the imagination. The chapter on faith, for instance, is sub-titled,
a jigsaw puzzle or a scrabble game?
Reimer cites the jigsaw puzzle form as the way not to pursue the dogmatic imagination of faith. That game is predetermined, with a specific number of pieces. Each piece fits only one spot. Jigsaw puzzles are usually done alone. Scrabble, in contrast, is a group game. It does have its rules and limits—a limited number of squares and an unalterable alphabet with predetermined values for each letter. Much depends upon the factor of fate in picking letters and getting good opportunities for words. Much rests on the skill and vocabulary of the player, with high value placed on reason and intelligence.
But the jigsaw/scrabble analogy does not really clarify the central question. What is this game called
One way to respond to this question is to examine the evolution of Reimer’s ideas on a particular subject in a number of his writings. The ethical issue of sexuality is a good case. Chapter 19 in The Dogmatic Imagination gives a short answer. Reimer has longer answers in his book Mennonites and Classical Theology: Dogmatic Foundations for Christian Ethics (Pandora Press, 2001), and in his chapter in To Continue the Dialogue (Pandora Press, 2001), edited by C. Norman Kraus.
The ethics of same sex partnership is a hot current issue. The game of dogmatic imagination involves a progression down the traditional categories of Christian dogmatics, beginning with the doctrine of creation. Traditionally, as documented in the book of Genesis, we were created male and female for the purposes of procreation and companionship. This principle is hardly contestable: the penis and the vagina were made for each other, and the gay argument that they were made another way lacks the dogmatic cogency of the doctrine of creation. But the plot thickens in Paul’s epistle to the Romans with the doctrines of sin and redemption:
God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
[But], there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set [us] free from the law of sin and death. The dogma of redemption implies that the sexual orientation of gay people can be changed from homosexual to heterosexual. And so on with the doctrines of the Holy Spirit, the church, and the eschatological fulfillment.
But neither for Reimer nor for the gay community do we win at this game of dogmatics. The dogmatic imagination won’t let us. Discerning God’s ways with us is just too mysterious to imagine and fathom. On the empirical level of analysis, the gay community is slowly but surely winning in the Episcopal Church, and perhaps even in the Mennonite Church USA.
Reimer’s chapter in To Continue the Dialogue ends with a section entitled
Practical Implications: Three Options. These are: (1) We can continue to maintain what the church has traditionally held, namely, that homosexual activity is intrinsically evil and must therefore be rejected. (2) Homosexual acts are intrinsically imperfect and a departure from the dogmatic view; but there are exceptions under certain extreme conditions. (3) Homosexual activity is morally neutral, to be evaluated only in terms of its relational integrity. The third position holds that God’s intent is determined not primarily in terms of some arbitrary command in the Bible but on the basis of a relational Christology.
Where Reimer comes out at the end of chapter nineteen of The Dogmatic Imagination is less clear than in the other two of his cited writings. In To Continue the Dialogue he wrote,
I find myself, at this point at least, leaning toward the second option. This is certainly not what we would have expected when playing the dogmatic game.
Reimer’s movement on this issue seems to imply what Peter Berger calls the
principle of alternation in his book, The Precarious Vision (1961).
What is involved here is not just uncertainty and doubt about the legitimacy of one’s views, but the curious ability to look around the corners of one’s own Weltanschauung, the ability to imagine oneself holding quite a different position. (p. 17) Perhaps the best thing to be said about Reimer’s Dogmatic Imagination is his implicit commitment to Berger’s principle of alternation—the assumption that the alternative to what one believes to be true may in fact be true, an essential condition of any authentic discernment and conversion.