Why Practical Matters of Doctrine Truly Matter
Posted On June 14, 2023
Understandably, many laypersons are reluctant to take the deep dive into theological discussions. If highly educated theologians cannot agree on many of the most basic concepts of Scripture, then what would be the point of the average layperson trying to sort through all that? Not to mention that many theological discussions are downright boring!
At the same time, it seems that some sort of basic grasp of a Christian worldview is crucial to a vibrant spiritual life, even if some of that worldview is difficult to articulate in detail. A person’s worldview might be fairly succinct – perhaps little more than a rock-solid assurance that God loves us more than we know – but it has to begin somewhere. And in order for us to effectively engage with God for life, we cannot help but think about God and His hopes for us in some manner. But whatever those perceptions might be, they will inevitably impact our life for good or ill.
For example, if we have a deep-seated belief in our own depravity (even as a Christian) along with an image of God as perpetual, condemning judge, our interaction with God will probably revolve around shame, self-loathing, and keeping God at a distance. On the other hand, if we see God as a loving Father who is always seeking to rescue us from our own devices and restore us to fullness as one of His children, then we will be drawn to Him with hope and love and a desire to hold Him as close as possible.
Our view of reality truly matters!
But the point I wish to make here is that every point of doctrine we hold dear is intricately connected to our larger worldview as well as all of our other doctrinal positions and our practical everyday life. Imagine for a moment a dot, with lines radiating out in front and behind; something like this:
Whatever it is that we believe about a specific point of faith, it has implications that affect our daily walk with God and others, and it also reflects back on a number of unspoken presuppositions that have led us to this point.
For a highly relevant example: How do we express our view of the gospel?
One very popular view is that (1) God has moral laws about good and evil; (2) we are all guilty of breaking God’s laws; (3) thus we deserve irrevocable condemnation; (4) God is willing to shift our guilt to Jesus and declare us innocent; (5) we simply need to acknowledge our sin and ask for His pardon; (6) then we can go to heaven when we die instead of hell.
Now consider the presuppositions that would lead us to this place: (1) moral guilt and innocence are primary concerns for God; (2) all sin must be punished; (3) there can be no pardon without retribution; (4) justice must be satisfied before God can reconcile with us. If we continue digging, no doubt we could find more. So what are the implications that might impact our life? (1) The gospel is all about going to heaven when we die, and only indirectly impacts our life; (2) we need to look for something beyond the gospel for what this present life should look like; (3) there is no intrinsic connection between justification (being declared righteous) and sanctification (growing in righteousness).
Frankly, that has serious consequences for the Christian world. Apparently we can become Christians without becoming disciples. Or to put in another way, we can ask God to save us from hell without asking Him to become Lord of our life. If this sounds far-fetched, it might surprise you to learn that entire books have been written by seminary professors and theologians, arguing for this kind of distinction in order to avoid any sense of a works-based salvation. Their thought is that if salvation requires us to become disciples, then our works are being added to our faith in order to be saved. Again, this way of presenting the gospel points back to certain presuppositions and has real implications for life.
Now let’s restate the gospel in other terms that I believe are more consistent with the apostles: (1) God created people because He wanted a really huge family of sons and daughters to raise up to bear a family resemblance; (2) people doubted God’s intentions and went about establishing life on their own; (3) as a result, we fell into bondage to the kingdom of darkness; (4) God in Christ has launched a cosmic rescue operation to recover His children; (5) if we respond to God’s invitation for restoration, He will “rescue us from the kingdom of darkness and transfer us into the Kingdom of His Son,” regenerating us in the process; (6) thus our hope is to recover the life with God that He created us for in the first place.
As for presuppositions: (1) God loves us and wants us more than we can imagine; (2) relationship with God is the whole purpose of creation; (3) broken relationship is the whole reason for God’s intervention; (4) God does not need to be reconciled to humanity, as He has always been pursuing us from creation. And in terms of implications: (1) our reason for coming to God is to experience life with Him, so our justification is intimately tied together with sanctification; (2) there is no such thing as becoming a Christian without wanting to learn how to be a true child of God (i.e. discipleship); (3) judgment and wrath are God’s last resort, when people refuse to be reconciled; judgment is not a starting point for the gospel.
To say it again: every point of doctrine points back to a number of presuppositions and implies a number of outcomes. Doctrine matters.
Not that everyone needs to be an amateur theologian. But we desperately need competent teachers who can continually remind laypersons everywhere of what is true and what matters; and to do so in plain language, that not only clears away confusion, but which is borne out of presuppositions in a love-centric worldview, and has life-giving implications that reflect the promises of Scripture. And as a result, we are all further drawn into deeper relationship with God, rather than pushed into trying hard to measure up.