Tim Keller recently blogged about the place of doctrine in the Christian life by quoting Martin Lloyd-Jones. I would recommend just reading that post, but I'll offer some of my own comments on it here. He started by responding to churches who tend to de-emphasize doctrine. This can come out in alot of ways: "deeds not creeds" is probably the most popular tagline of today. As I've been involved with campus ministry I see it come out in Bible study when the application of the text for some is always something to the effect of: "I feel like the church today is so judgmental and divisive. Why do we debate stupid meaningless stuff like predestination? We just keep majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors. We just need to get along and get back to what Jesus was really all about." I'll simply add Lloyd-Jones' rebuke:
"Whether you like it or not, to speak like that is, in and of itself, to speak in a doctrinal manner. To make statements along that line is, in actual practice, to commit yourself to a particular doctrine… the doctrine of works and, in a sense, of justification by works. ‘Ah,’ but they reply, ‘we are not interested in such a term as ‘justification by works.’ But whether they are interested in such terminology of not, that is exactly what they are saying… In other words, whether we like it or not, we cannot avoid doctrine. … There is no such thing as an irreligious person; everyone has his or her religion, if you mean by religion that ultimate philosophy or view of life by which people live."
There is no avoiding doctrine. To say that it doesn't matter is a doctrinal statement, and the doctrine it teaches is that all God is concerned about is whether we are rightly motivated to seek Him or something like that, which is works righteousness. As Christians we should oppose such a sentiment. However, Keller makes sure to point out Lloyd-Jones' teaching on how we can handle doctrine wrongly in the other extreme:
"[Lloyd-Jones] speaks of some Christians and says, 'There is nothing they delight in more than arguing about theology' and they do this in 'a party spirit.' One of the signs of this group is that they are either dry and theoretical in their preaching, or they can be caustic and angry. They have 'lost their tempers, forgetting that by so doing they were denying the very doctrine which they claimed to believe.' In short, ministers who go to this extreme destroy the effectiveness of their preaching. What is the cause of this? Lloyd-Jones answers that they have made accurate doctrine an end in itself, instead of a means to honor God and grow in Christ-likeness. 'Doctrine must never be considered in and of itself. Scripture must never be divorced from life.'"
Man, that cuts right to my heart. I must confess that "I am the man" (2 Sam. 12:7) whom Lloyd-Jones is rebuking here. Often arguing theology and proving someone else wrong is where I can get my jollies. I often find myself angry and judgmental of those who don't accept things like the inerrancy of scripture, substitutionary atonement, and calvinism. In doing so I am making doctrine an end rather than God's glory. To add to Lloyd-Jones, I think I also do this so I can feel better about myself as I put others down. It is my own works righteousness: I feel right before God because my doctrine is right, and I get assurance of this salvation every time I put someone else down. To do so is to nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained by right doctrine, Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21).
I need to hear this as I start a series on dispensationalism, a system of doctrine I disagree with. I also know I'm not alone. Would you join me in repentance so that we don't disregard doctrine, but hold it in its proper place, as means to God's glory and Christ's likeness in our own lives?