Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Knowing Jesus Means Knowing Doctrine

I wrote recently about the danger of pitting Jesus against the Bible and diminishing both in the process. It seems to have struck a few nerves and resonated with others and I am glad for that.. But that isn't the only dangerous teaching that plagues the church under the guise of being wise and clever. A close cousin to the diminishing of Scripture is the dismissal of the importance of theology and doctrine. Many take pride in denouncing as egg-headed and irrelevant the deeper study of God: "I am just going to love my neighbor and not worry about all that doctrine stuff, it just divides us anyway!". Even though statements like "God is love" are inherently doctrinal statements, albeit simplistic ones, the reality is that whenever you create a framework for understanding or explaining God you are engaged in the process of theology.

Where the problem arises is in not recognizing that one is engaged in the work of theology when in fact you are, which can lead to some pretty squirrely doctrinal positions. This is often the result of either a) creating a doctrinal position in a vacuum or b) failing to see the doctrine you are formulating in the bigger picture of Scripture. Those sound similar and they are.

What is partly to blame here is the commonplace phenomena on social media where "either-or" replaces "both-and". In other words we think that the Christian must choose between loving their neighbor and studying theology. That is foolish. The two are inescapably intertwined. We only know that we are called to love our neighbor because the witness of Scripture tells us so and even that brief exposition is a work of theology. "God is love" is a three word doctrinal statement that no one will ever fully grasp no matter how long they live. On the flip side, we cannot study theology properly if it remains a strictly academic exercise. Theology must happen in community and it must be lived out. There are absolutely egg-heads in academia that huddle behind piles of books and debate whether God can make a rock so big, even He can't lift it. I think that is what most people who speak against the study of theology are really concerned about but in doing so they end up denigrating the entire work of theology and the church and individual Christians end up less faithful and less equipped to minister to others as a result. We are in an era where we need more theology, not less, but we need to do it the right way. We need a theology with hands and feet, a theology that is done for the service of the local church and in turn for the benefit of the lost in that locality, not for presentations at scholarly conventions, although there is a place for that. 

For me, theology is done locally and communally. It shouldn't be restricted to the clergyman who has been to seminary but it is rather the vocation of every Christian as they grow in Christ. I have written in the past about the need for a community hermeneutic and that same idea applies to the work of theology. It needs to draw from all of the brethren, even the less mature who contribute by asking questions. What it ought not be is a restricted area where the pastor of each church decides which aspects of theology he will share with the rest of the body.

We cannot be ambassadors for a King we know nothing about.  As the picture from Together forthe Gospel states, when we get God wrong we invariably get everything else wrong. That truth is why people presume to dictate to God what He may be and what He may not be rather than bending the knee to our Sovereign without the hubris of preconditions to our worship. You can look back at all of the errors in history and see that failing to give God His due is at the heart of nearly all of them. Being willfully ignorant of theology isn't a sign of maturity, it is a sign of someone who is intellectually lazy.

There is a very stark division forming in the church between those who are largely disinterested in what the Bible teaches apart from a handful of ethical issues, as well as wearing their lack of theological study as a badge of honor, and on the other hand those who take the increasingly unpopular stance that God is competent enough to preserve His revelation for His people and that He didn't preserve said revelation for it to sit on a shelf getting dusty but actually intended for His people to search and study what He has preserved. We stand on the brink of a truly disruptive seismic shift in the church and going into the days to come willfully disarmed is the height of foolishness. 

1 comment:

Aussie John said...


The problem, as I see it, is that on both sides of the issue, as you explain it, is that much of the "doctrine" and "theology" is NOT from the Bible, but from tradition, or what some author, vintage or modern, has written.