More Than Doctrine, But Not Less

St. Theophan the Recluse:

Christian faith is not a doctrinal system but a way of restoration for fallen man.

Question: how does “restoration for fallen man” make any sense apart from doctrine? And how is one supposed to communicate the need for (and beauty of) this restoration without using doctrinal language?

As my pastor pointed out, “restoration for fallen man” is, in and of itself, a deeply doctrinal statement with massive implications. How did man come to be fallen? What does this fallenness mean? Can man truly be restored? If so, how? These are doctrinal questions in need of doctrinal answers. We help no one – least of all the lost – when we pretend otherwise.

Spurgeon understood this well. “The gospel,” quoth he, “is a reasonable system, and it appeals to men’s understanding; it is a matter for thought and consideration, and it appeals to the conscience and the reflecting powers. Hence, if we do not teach men something, we may shout, ‘Believe! Believe! Believe!’ but what are they to believe? Each exhortation requires a corresponding instruction, or it will mean nothing. ‘Escape!’ From what? This requires for its answer the doctrine of the punishment of sin. ‘Fly!’ But whither? Then must you preach Christ, and His wounds; yea, and the clear doctrine of atonement by sacrifice. ‘Repent!’ Of what? Here you must answer such questions as, What is sin? What is the evil of sin? What are the consequences of sin ? ‘Be converted!’ But what is it to be converted? By what power can we be converted? What from? What to? The field of instruction is wide if men are to be made to know the truth which saves. ‘That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good,’ and it is ours as the Lord’s instruments to make men so to know the truth that they may believe it, and feel its power. We are not to try and save men in the dark, but in the power of the Holy Ghost we are to seek to turn them from darkness to light.”

(Hark! What is that I hear? ‘Tis the sound of St. Theophan having his butt handed to him by the Prince of Preachers. C.H. didn’t even break a sweat.)

St. Paul:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

The Christian faith isn’t just about head knowledge. It cannot be reduced to doctrine. But to echo the words of Dr. Trueman, “it cannot be meaningfully separated from it either.”

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