“When you stop thinking like a beginner, and start thinking like an expert you cease to learn.” –Alan Hirsch-
Talking is something we are really good at as American Christians. In our insecurity we gain endless amounts of knowledge about who Jesus is. We study, read books, go to school, and do all sorts of things to validate ourselves as God’s children. The problem is at the root we have neglected to find our validation in who Jesus is to us as an active part of His Body, His Bride, The Church. We replace the commands of Jesus to DO His will, and resort to merely becoming experts at knowing His Word. We even take it a step further by creating our own doctrines and theologies in order to lambaste those who might threaten our comfortable Christian lifestyle. We know our five points, “ecclesiology”, eschatology, theology, and doctrine along with a defense to anyone who might challenge us in this comfortable certainty we have created for ourselves. How certain can we really be if what we claim to know never leaves the Starbucks table where we sip coffee while enlightening our young up-and-coming “disciple” who we have fooled into thinking we are brilliant? We now have a new convert whose salvation is sealed by the passing along of our fancy words and deceptive knowledge. (1 Cor. 1:20 – 1 Cor. 2:5) This new “convert” who we think is “grounded” in knowledge of the Word & doctrine through our passing along of information may not be as grounded in either as we thought. There is definitely a root issue here seeded in how we truly make disciples of Jesus, but an even deeper root of how we allow ourselves to be discipled first. We can only make disciples to the extent that we allow ourselves to BE discipled.
When our pursuit of Jesus becomes hijacked by our pursuit of defending the particular doctrine that was handed down to us we cease to be disciples and start to be defenders. Whether we have become greater defenders of John Calvin’s five points, Bill Johnson’s healing or eschatology theology, or Mark Driscoll’s view of what it means to “be a man” we have ceased to pursue Jesus and His kingdom. While the above men are all great men of God they are mere men; one of them is dead. Jesus came back, and that is why we worship Him, and pursue His kingdom over any other man who ever walked the earth, right?
Many believers spend more time arguing doctrine with other believers than they do living out the doctrine they claim to believe. We fall into the trap of becoming very comfortable and sure of what we believe. Anything that challenges that, or is in any way different MUST be wrong because we have an explanation for everything in our doctrine for what we do or do not believe. But wait, aren’t we supposed to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”? (1 Peter 3:15) If that verse popped in your head I challenge you to go read the entire book of 1 Peter in context, and see if Paul is using this verse to urge “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1) to defend themselves against other believers who might have different doctrine. Being sure of what we believe is not always a good thing…
Can you think of anything in your life that you used to believe, or think as truth that you have come to grow away from due to God pouring out more grace on you? I hope we can all say yes. For example, were any of you raised like I was thinking the idolatrous lie that alcohol is “the devil”? There are thousands of examples we could reference. Surely we do not claim to have this whole God thing figured out…? How arrogant. Surely there are things we once clung tightly to that are no longer worthy of our tight grip. Why then, do we continue to allow ourselves to fall into the same trap over and over again? It is the trap that causes us to release our grip on one thing as we grow in our understanding of the kingdom, but quickly cling to another-perhaps with more strength than before. We become experts on what we “know that we know that we know”. We cease to be students of our great teacher. After all, we have Him figured out already, right? It’s in our doctrine.
I am not against doctrine. I do not dare come against the need for being grounded in the Word, and having “sound doctrine”. My pursuit with this article is to challenge what we think “sound doctrine”, and being grounded in the Word means, along with how we “attain it”. Most of us think we are “grounded in the word” by having a well read/versed man with a degree teach the scriptures to us on a weekly basis. Or, we listen to “lots of sermons and podcasts online”. Even better, we spend all day in commentaries & Systematic Theology books so we can use big words to win an argument against someone with “different theology” than us. Or my favorite, the ability to robotically repeat what Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll believe about things. We think having sound doctrine means being able to explain everything about God, and the Bible in any context.
Sure, there are some non-negotiables, but the doctrine of many becomes a huge list of non-negotiables, certainties, and attempts to explain away or wrap our heads around the things of God that our human minds cannot comprehend. Perhaps the only non-negotiable we should have is the fact that Jesus is Lord through His death, burial, and resurrection for the salvation of man to pursue ushering in the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven; all of this is through the leading of the Holy Spirit given to us by Jesus, the Son, through God the Father for intimacy with Him.
I would submit that we come to learn the Word, form the doctrine we believe, and grow in intimacy with Jesus through getting out into the world to radically pursue Him. This is a lifelong process. Our “doctrine” and learning to be grounded in the Word is constantly shaped as we set out to be on mission with our King. The “problem” with this is that following Jesus gets crazy…
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)
Christ said we would see “greater things than these”. Then, He gave us His Holy Spirit, and a commandment to make disciples. Arguing about doctrine with other believers not only causes division and disunity among the body, it also does not cause unbelievers to trust Jesus as Lord.
There is so much talking, and so little being, and doing. There comes a point in many of our lives when we can no longer sit around simply knowing God’s word, and what we believe about this and that issue. That point is when we embark on an adventure with Jesus that causes us to wonder what we had been doing all that time, and praise Christ for the measure of Grace He has poured out on us. It is throughout this journey that we are forced to be grounded in scripture to avoid the schemes of the enemy. It is this adventure that shapes and molds the doctrine we come to believe as the Holy Spirit speaks to us and brings revelation through scripture.
This pursuit of Jesus is not meant to be a comfortable, or easy one. When we start really following Jesus, and taking the things we say we believe seriously by doing them things might get a little dangerous. After the danger comes and we continue to press into the Kingdom we will begin to learn what it truly means to call Jesus Lord.
Stay tuned for “part two” where we will dive into some real-life examples of how Jesus continually shapes our “doctrine” in a healthy way as we pursue life on mission in the context of community.