Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 2: Doctrine
Evangelicalism’s goal ought always to be right belief (orthodoxy), right emotion (orthopathos), and right action (orthopraxis). The church exists to glorify God by expanding His rule, reign, and authority everywhere.
[T]heology [is] “the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life…” I would define application as “teaching” in the New Testament sense (didache, didaskalia), a concept represented in some translations by doctrine. John Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 81.
Here, John Frame is rightly defining theology as application. Remember this, write it on your arm or whatever – theology is doctrine is application. There ought not ever be a dichotomy between theology and application.
The problem with evangelicalism is that for a long time there has been an unchallenged belief that theology and application were two separate things. Many have had the attitude that, ‘I am concerned with application’ and ‘those smart people and professional Christians (Pastors, Professors, and such) can be worried about all that fancy theology.’ The problem is that even the absence of a theology is a theology. Everyone has a theology, even if it be staunchly anti-intellectual.
Moving forward, evangelicalism (whether Reformed or populist) desperately needs doctrine, sound doctrine. Consider what the Apostle Paul says regarding doctrine in I Timothy alone [emphasis mine]:
1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine
1 Timothy 1:10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine
1 Timothy 4:6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.
1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 6:1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against.
1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness
I hope that we have established that doctrine is necessary, but whose doctrine? Paul exhorts Timothy AWAY from different doctrine and TOWARDS our, good, and sound doctrine that agrees with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ. But every aspect of the church claims that their teaching is the Lord’s teaching, so who is more accurate? The doctrine that is the most accurate will be the doctrine that is in harmony with all of the Scripture. The doctrine that is the most accurate will be the doctrine that ultimately produces right action and right emotion. It is important to do theology in community because when we do theology on an island it often strays to heresy. It is important to do theology historically considering what all Christians have believe for 2000 years, namely our common creeds/councils (Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed, and Athanasian Creed) and confessions/catechisms (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordt, Westminster Standards, and London Baptist Confession of 1689). Neither history nor tradition trump Scripture but there is great value in listening and learning from 2000 years of Christians (and this is not in violation of sola scriptura). To ignore church history is neither wise nor safe. Jesus did not die in a vacuum.
Evangelicalism is not the height of church history. Sorry, to all the manifest destiny Americans who think they are height of human history thus far. Evangelicalism needs doctrine badly. We need to rediscover afresh sola scriptura and the wonderful interpretive idea that the best interpreter of Scripture is all other Scripture. This is how we have sound doctrine. This is how we have sound action. This is how we have sound emotion.
Up next we will look at the crucial centrality of a Biblical worldview to evangelicalism moving forward.