The Importance of Sound Doctrine
CrossWay Community Church
September 8th, 2019
“That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference. … In nothing is vigour in the actings of our inclinations so requisite, as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious.” (I.II.1)
“If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of in the word of God, is, undoubtedly, because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.” (I.III.1)
“God has given to mankind affections, for the same purpose as that for which he has given all the faculties and principles of the human soul, viz. that they might be subservient to man’s chief end, and the great business for which God has created him, that is, the business of religion. … Where are the exercises of our affections proper, if not here? what is it that more requires them? and what can be a fit occasion of their lively and vigorous exercise, if not such as this? Can any thing be set in our view, greater and more important? any thing more wonderful and surprising? or that more nearly concerns our interest? Can we suppose that the wise Creator implanted such principles in our nature as the affections, to lie still on such an occasion as this?” (I.III.3)
“The devil does not assault the hope of the hypocrite, as he does the hope of a true saint. The devil is a great enemy to a true Christian’s hope, not only because it tends greatly to his comfort, but also because it is of a holy, heavenly nature, greatly tending to promote and cherish grace in the heart, and a great incentive to strictness and diligence in the Christian life. But he is no enemy to the hope of a hypocrite, which above all things establishes his interest in him. A hypocrite may retain his hope without opposition, as long as he lives, the devil never attempting to disturb it. But there is perhaps no true Christian but what has his hope assaulted by him.” (II.XI)
“Men not only cannot exercise faith without some spiritual light, but they can exercise faith only just in such proportion as they have spiritual light. Men will trust in God no further than they know him: and they cannot be in the exercise of faith in him, further than they have a sight of his fulness and faithfulness in exercise.” (II.XI)
“It is not God’s design that men should obtain assurance in any other way, than by mortifying corruption, increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.” (III.2)
“The only certain foundation which any person has to believe that he is invited to partake of the blessings of the gospel, is, that the word of God declares that persons so qualified as he is, are invited, and God who declares it, is true and cannot lie. If a sinner be once convinced of the veracity of God, and that the Scriptures are his word, he will need no more to convince and satisfy him that he is invited; for the Scriptures are full of invitations to sinners, to the chief of sinners, to come and partake of the benefits of the gospel. He will not want of God any thing new; what he hath spoken already will be enough with him.” (III.I)
I’m looking at establishing a ministry at our church where we’d form a group that would read and discuss various works of theology and Biblical studies together. The following comes from a document I was working on this morning in which I outline various convictions and commitments underlying this pursuit.
We strongly believe that growth in Christian understanding plays a vital and central role in our development as maturing worshipers of Jesus. When we ignore the pursuit of Christian understanding, we do so to our detriment, and the detriment of our churches (IOW, our churches our healthier when its members are growing in Christian understanding). In an age where Biblical and theological illiteracy abounds, we are committed to standing against this tide. Amidst a prevailing Christian culture that downplays the importance of theology and doctrine, we unashamedly and counter-culturally commit ourselves to this discipline.
We believe that rigorous Biblical and theological study is not something reserved for pastors and theologians, but is the right and privilege of all believers.
To be clear, we are not interested in a version of “theological mastery” which simply knows concepts or engages ideas as something like a hobby or mere intellectual exercise. We are after theological maturity. Such theological maturity entails not only (1) a right understanding of Biblical teaching and its theological import, but also (2) a deep conviction and belief in these things, as well as (3) a correlating theological discernment — the ability and inclination of character (virtue) to apply such theological knowledge to new and complex situations (what the Bible at times calls “wisdom”).
The apostle Paul says, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor 8:1), and “the one who thinks he knows obviously doesn’t know as he ought” (8:2). We want to take this seriously. As John Calvin said in his Institutes (paraphrasing), A genuine knowledge of God necessarily entails transforming us into worshipers of God. Legit theology is more than just ideas entering our minds for contemplation. To truly apprehend God is necessarily to be into made a worshiper of God and walk away transformed by the encounter. Or as Augustine said in his classic work on Doctrine (paraphrasing), all proper doctrine promotes the two-fold love of God and neighbor. If we are not increasing in our love of God and neighbor in our study of scripture and theology, we’re doing it wrong.
We understand that the way we are transformed as followers of Christ is through the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:1-2) and reorientation of our loves. Both scripture and experience testify to the impactful role that our thinking (our beliefs about God, the world, and ourselves — our “worldview”) has on the way we live. We were created to be worshipers. As such, we are always in awe of something (our god), and our imaginations captured by some vision of the good, the true, and ultimate. The direction of our lives ultimately follows the compass of our hearts and the rudder of our beliefs. Because of sin, however, our mind and affections have been colonized by false gods (idolatry) and deceived into false visions of the good life. We need a rehabilitation of heart and mind. We believe we that the avenue to our affections, among other things, is through the engagement and transformation of the mind.
As outlined above, we wholeheartedly believe in the practicality and life-impactful significance of theology. Without the goal of life-impact (the very telos of theology, i.e., the very reason God has made himself known to us), we have actually distorted the very nature of theology and we exhibit an audacious affront to the design of God’s self-revelation. In other words, it’s no small slight, but actually an incredibly serious transgression (Mt 15:8; cf. Titus 1:16).
At the same time, however, we reject the current popular sentiment (a very American attitude) that theology’s value is to be measured by our own preset notion of what is “practical” (i.e., our felt-needs), and setting up application as our starting point for our approach and what we deem worthwhile. Yes, we expect to be transformed as we encounter God (and with that comes “application”). But we also understand that God knows what we need far more than we do, and that none of his self-disclosure was given in vain (none of it is unimportant for our study). Simply knowing and enjoying God (the very end for which we were created) is a good enough end in and of itself, notwithstanding its life-impacting benefits which surely do also follow. Moreover, the most impactful thing we can experience is not actually more “practical instruction” (prescriptions on “what to do”) — the history of Israel under the law bears this out — as good as sound practical instruction is; but to have our hearts convinced of the worth of God as we are struck with the awe of God. Our deepest problem is a disorder of worship; and therefore that which will meet us at the deepest, most life-impacting level is to walk away from our study as increasing worshipers and enjoyers of God.
We enter our pursuit with the belief that God has gifted the church across the ages with men and women who are great resources to us in understanding God’s Word and his truth. Although the central tenets of the Bible are clear (perspicuity) and the Bible is sufficient for knowing these things adequately, we reject that hubris which ignores the help of others and the collective wisdom found in the communion of the saints. We uphold the Biblical place of teachers, and value learning from the writings of others, even those who may be outside our exact tradition, as they can serve to broaden our perspective. In distinction from such presentist tendencies that place nearly exclusive attention on contemporary productions, we especially value the historical authors, whose works have proven worth, having stood the test of time, who give us a sense of rootedness in the Christian tradition, and whose voice cuts through our sometimes near-sighted contemporary perspectives.
We live at a crossroads which only increases the urgency of this pursuit. We live in an age in which the plausibility structures that once gave Christianity credence are quickly deteriorating and in which we are regularly being desensitized to sin and acclimated to false outlooks on life. The pressure to cave and compromise Biblical truth is potent. False teaching abounds. And the contemporary issues that challenge us are proliferating at a pace that’s dizzying. For those of us who are parents, we also face the task of discipling our children through this ethically and religiously volatile maze. At the same time, many in a previous generation moved away from certain traditional practices of theological education (e.g., catechisms, creeds, pedagogical hymns, etc.) at precisely the time when we now feel we may actually need them most. That crowd sought more “fresh” and pragmatic approaches. Among other things though, we see the damage caused by what was left behind and the void this abandonment has now created. We therefore desire to recover / retrieve the pursuit of theology for both ourselves, our families, and our churches.