Evangelicals may well be nervous about the notion that doctrine develops. Examples of Catholic dogmas such as the immaculate conception of Mary and her assumption immediately come to mind. Isn’t that where development of doctrine inevitably leads?
However, before we throw out doctrinal development, we might want to listen to what Vanhoozer has to say about it. His understanding is hardly different from Congar’s. Although he does not ground development in Christology the way Congar does, I suspect that Vanhoozer would agree with Congar on the christological foundation. Vanhoozer speaks quite freely about the “meaning potential” of biblical texts, and makes this observation: “As the potential of the Old Testament is realized over the ‘great time’ of the canon, so too the potential of the canon is realized over the ‘great time’ of church history.” Vanhoozer explicitly uses “development of doctrine” language to describe this unfolding of the meaning potential of the biblical text: “The development of doctrine is thus a matter of improvising with a canonical script.” In fact, Vanhoozer’s language emphasizes development in some ways more strongly than does Congar’s. We repeatedly encounter in Vanhoozer the language of imagination, as well as related terms, such as improvisation, spontaneity and creative understanding. For Vanhoozer, development of doctrine is based on the church’s creative improvisation on the biblical text.
–Hans Boersma, J.I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver. B.C., Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011)