Monday, July 7, 2008

Is Doctrine Necessary?

Is it really necessary to be concerned about theology or doctrine? After all, shouldn’t we be more concerned about addressing the felt needs of hurting people, about encouraging people to live real and authentic lives before the world? Only in the climate of modern Christianity would such a question be asked.

The current mantra seems to be this: doctrine divides but love unites. Therefore, do not emphasize doctrine or else you will be guilty of one of the worst offenses in all of Christendom: causing schisms and destroying unity. Modern Christianity has become so steeped in pragmatism that doctrine is relegated to a category of intellectual concern with little or no bearing upon the dynamics of daily life. It is clear that there is an appalling dearth of doctrinal and theological precision in the pulpits and the pews of American churches. This is obvious in at least 3 ways:

  • The proliferation of media ministries, specifically: those that present teachings that are contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine (they are so popular that it would bring recriminations to any who would call them unorthodox).
  • Those who boast in an absence of doctrine in the name of tolerance and acceptance. “We have no creed.”
  • The tendency of Christians to follow the latest evangelical fads without thinking critically about the substance or content of those issues.

T.C. Hammond addressed this concern nearly 70 years ago. His words are even more applicable in our day;

The student certainly ought to know something about the intellectual processes, which have governed the interpretation of the message of God through the ages. Those who have been trained to classify and think clearly in their secular branches of learning ought to be applying the principles of their mental training to the understanding and teaching of divine revelation. Unfortunately, we find very often that ‘educated’ Christians are foremost amongst those who mix things that differ. We often hear it glibly said, ‘You see, I know no theology!’ and frequently this particular ignorance is regarded as a matter of pride. The study of Christian doctrine is often thought to be dry and uninteresting. By a singular perversion of ideas it is sometimes said to be ‘unspiritual!’ ‘Doctrine,’ ‘theology,’ ‘dogma’ are thought to have an unpleasant ring to them, to be solely the art of making hair splitting distinctions, and altogether remote from the vital issues of salvation.

Every serious study has its dogmas. The medical practitioner speaks a peculiar language of his own and writes prescriptions in an ancient hieroglyphic. The medical man is expected to know the technique of his special study. A student who boasted that he depended on ‘common sense’ in diagnosis and had never made a serious effort to absorb the principles of this art would, we hope, become disillusioned by the absence of patients, who would prefer to suffer than risk his ‘common sense.’ Yet, sometimes even ‘professional’ ministers of the gospel content themselves with a minimum of theological information. ‘Amateur’ Christian workers often display commendable eagerness to ‘save souls’ and yet are themselves satisfied with a very hazy knowledge of the real nature of salvation.[1]

[1] T.C. Hammond, In Understanding Be Men rev. and ed. by David F. Wright (Leicester, England: IVP, 1968), 13-14.

1 comment:

a.b m said...

Good stuff. There, now you have a comment.