Tag Archives: doctrine

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.”

On Doctrine

In the spirit of last week’s post, here are a few more quotes on the subject of doctrine:

“Nobody objects to a nondoctrinal Christianity because there is nothing to object to.” – Kevin DeYoung

“A nontheological faith cannot explain itself, but too theological a faith loses contact with the reason for its existence… Too much enthusiastic faith without a corresponding degree of theological understanding is almost certain to lead to error, perhaps to serious heresy. Too much doctrine unaccompanied by a living and growing faith is the recipe for dead orthodoxy.” – Harold O.J. Brown

“How is God’s name hallowed among us? When both our doctrine and living are truly Christian.” – Martin Luther

“The one thing I am here to say to you is this: that it is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is virtually necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion about what the church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.” – Dorothy Sayers

“As a man is known by the company he keeps, so it is with a doctrine.” – A.W. Pink

“There is nothing which is so wrong, and so utterly false, as to fail to see the primary importance of true doctrine. Looking back over my experience as a pastor for some thirty-four years, I can testify without the slightest hesitation that the people I have found most frequently in trouble in their spiritual experience have been those who have lacked understanding. You cannot divorce these things.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“Indifferentism to doctrine makes no heroes on the faith.” – J. Gresham Machen

“The gospel 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.” – C.H. Spurgeon

“If Error be harmless, then Truth must needs be useless.” – Abraham Booth

“Moral power has always accompanied definitive beliefs. Great saints have always been dogmatic. We need right now a return to a gentle dogmatism that smiles while it stands stubborn and firm on the Word of God that liveth and abideth forever.” – A.W. Tozer

The Exceedingly Great Importance of Doctrine

Is it just me, or has doctrine fallen on some really hard times?

I’m not trying to be funny here, honest. But an exchange I had recently with a friend started me thinking (again) about this issue. Take a look around today’s evangelical fishbowl and you’ll see people who are scared by doctrine, people who are annoyed by doctrine, and people who are flat-out indifferent to doctrine. Rarely will you see people with an earnest love for doctrine.

Of the three reactions named above, I find indifference to be the most unsettling. Why? Because indifference, as Carl Trueman observes, is the plague of modern Western culture in general and evangelicalism in particular. Because it is “at best the result of intellectual laziness, at worst a sign of moral abdication.”

Such indifference is on brazen display in comments like this one: Doctrine really isn’t all that important to me. I just want discipleship. I just want to become more like Christ.

Can anybody else say vague?

We need doctrine. Not because it saves us, but because it is important to understand the whys and wherefores of our Christian faith. Doctrine is teaching, and the crucial teachings of the church are the ones relating to truth about God. And this is unimportant… how?

“It is of exceedingly great importance,” writes Jonathan Edwards, “that we should have right notions and conceptions of the nature, attributes, and perfections of God.

It is the very foundations of all religion, both doctrinal and practical; it is to no purpose to worship God, except we know what we worship… It is impossible we should love, fear, and obey God as we ought, except we know what He is, and have right ideas of His perfections, that render Him lovely and worthy to be feared and obeyed.

Can anybody else say amen?

Book Review: The Christian Life

Sinclair B. Ferguson’s The Christian Life is likely the clearest, most concise overview of the fundamentals of the Christian faith you will ever read. It’s short, but filled to the brim with rich, scriptural doctrine that you can really sink your teeth into. And though it is considered an “introduction”, this book isn’t just for newbies; it’s something any and every Christian, regardless of age, will benefit from.

In the course of 200 pages, Dr. Ferguson manages to cover quite a bit of ground. Among other things, he touches upon the fallen nature of man, conviction of sin, election, justification, and perseverance of the saints. His approach is not only doctrinal, but practical as well. After all, theological head-knowledge is quite useless unless it is applied to our everyday lives. Likewise, you cannot live for Christ effectively if you are not first firmly rooted in the Gospel.

In Chapter 1 (Knowing is for Living”), Ferguson writes,

Most of us, by nature, are not students but more ‘practical’ types, ‘doers’ rather than ‘thinkers’. Yet both Scripture and the history of the church indicate to us that it is, generally speaking, ‘thinkers’ who make the best ‘doers’! Cast your mind over the life-stories of the men and women who have had the most practical influences on the church, or perhaps on your own life. You will discover that very few among them who were not students of Christian truth, however unsophisticatedly they went about their studies. From the greatest theologians, martyrs and intellectually gifted preachers, to those of lowliest gifts but spiritual power, all, perhaps without exception, have been students of the doctrines of the Bible, and therein lies one of the secrets of their usefulness. However paradoxical it seems to our natural minds, it is one of the facts of spiritual reality that practical christian living is based on understanding and knowledge.

One of the things I most appreciated about Ferguson’s writing is his infectious enthusiasm; his zeal for Christ is evident on literally every page. The reader cannot help but get excited at the Gospel truths presented in the book, even if he’s heard them a hundred times before. His tone throughout is wise, gentle, and warmly pastoral, more like that of a grandfather than of an academic. And the book is all the more readable for it.

I give The Christian Life my full-hearted recommendation. It’s not a “How To” manual nor a systematic theology, but rather crystal-clear exposition of the essentials of Christian doctrine. To quote J.I. Packer, “Christian beginners will get the benefit and the Lord’s older sheep, grown tough and stringy maybe, will find themselves edified and perhaps tenderized, too.”