Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Knowing Doctrine or Just Following Jesus

I (Lisa) deliver pizza a couple of nights a week, and I've been listening to the White Horse Inn as I drive. Tonight, the show was about Doctrine and what pastors should preach. Shane Rosenthal, the producer of the show, goes to pastor's conferences and polls people on a question. The question I heard tonight was "Which is more important, knowing doctrine or following Jesus."

Alan did a poll about that question a few months ago and followed it up with a post. Some people hear a different question than the one asked and think the question sets up a false dichotomy, that if you choose one, the other is excluded. That is understandable, because you really can't have one without the other. But, the thing that both the White Horse Inn hosts and Alan were trying to get across is which is more important?

Of the people Shane Rosenthal polled, 61% responded that following Jesus was most important and 39% said that they were intertwined and dependent on each other. None said that doctrine was more important than following Jesus. I agree that they are not separable, but not for the reason that the people in the interviews gave. Several said that if you're following Jesus, the doctrine will just naturally work itself out.

Umm... how?

It is through doctrine that we learn who Jesus is. If you don't know doctrine, how do you know whom you are following? Are you following a good rabbi? How is he going to save you from the wrath of God? Are you following a good moral teacher? What will those morals be worth standing before God on judgment day? Are you following the spirit brother of Lucifer? Millions of Mormons are following him to hell.

However, if you know doctrine, it is following Jesus that will naturally work itself out.

By knowing doctrine, you will understand that we are guilty of Adam's sin and that we are dead in sin.

By knowing doctrine, we understand that God requires perfection—perfection that we are not able to attain. We also know the Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise of redemption, and that through Jesus' death, God's people will be saved.

By knowing doctrine, we understand effectual calling, that every single person God calls (the elect) will, in fact, be saved.

By knowing doctrine, we understand that the Holy Spirit regenerates the elect, allowing them to repent unto life and faith in Jesus Christ.

By knowing doctrine, we understand that through Jesus Christ, we are justified before God.

By knowing doctrine, we understand that we have been adopted as true sons, meaning we inherit eternal life.

By knowing doctrine, we understand that after we die, we will be glorified in a resurrection like Christ's.

Once you know these things, you can do nothing but follow Jesus.


GuyMuse said...


Knowing God's Word and what it teaches is certainly important. But what is more important than knowing doctrine, is obeying the teaching we know.

In our missionary work, most of the believers we relate to do not know very much doctrine. Most have very little education. They do not read, and to be exposed to a lot of "learning" usually goes over their heads. However, the little that they know and understand they LIVE TO THE FULLEST.

If we are going to make how much doctrine one knows as the basis for maturity in Christ, then these beloved brethren will always fall far short of the standard.

However, I believe that it is not how much we know, but how much we OBEY of what we know that counts.

You and I might know a lot more Bible and doctrine, but maybe practice only 20% of what we know. My brothers know a lot less, but practice and live 75% of what it is they have been taught. Which of us is the more mature in Christ?

Anonymous said...

The difference between doctrine and following Jesus is tantamount to the difference between Reformation and revival. Naturally, Reformation corresponds to doctrine and revival corresponds to following Jesus.

I'm thinking of the Second Great Awakening. If I'm not mistaken, it is considered by church historians to be just as genuine of a revival as the first Great Awakening, where people began "following Jesus" in unprecedented numbers, but, even though many had come to genuine faith in Christ, and began "following Jesus," being obedient to (in many cases) what little light they had, the result was a widespread distribution of theological error. You bring a lot of people to life and then teach them flawed or little doctrine, that's what happens. So life begins with following Jesus, and must ensue with knowledge of doctrine or tragic consequences result.

It's sad to say that these things get pitted against each other, and I guess they always will be. This seems to be a trend throughout church history in many ways. The established church grows knowledgable but cold, and a pietistic movement of some sort arises to counteract that problem; the pietism grows abberant, and orthodox teaching fills the void (in the best cases). Such is what I see going on in America where Calvinism is gaining ground in so many circles. Many have become disillusioned with just "following Jesus" and have desired to fill the void with "knowing doctrine." The pendulum will swing back and forth until Jesus returns.

Yes, it's true that one must follow the light he has, even if he has little, or his knowledge does him no spiritual good, but on the other hand, those who are "following Jesus" best not pride themselves in their vibrant followership at the expense of growth in not only the grace, but also the knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

This is a topic that hits close to home with me, and that is why my blog is called "The Misadventures of Captain Headknowledge." I was in a fundamentalist environment that so advocated "following Jesus" that it literally discouraged the honest pursuit of theological knowledge, attempting to make those interested not only in following Jesus (or, better yet, the pastor!) but in knowing doctrine (to an extent greater than the series of proof texts provided by the pastor) feel like they were being unfaithful to God.
The theologically inclined were warned against "missing heaven by 18 inches", the distance between the head and the heart. Technically, I find quite a bit of overlap between the head and the heart biblically, which may explain why it's a false dichotomy. Knowing doctrine is a vital part of following Jesus. The doctrine knowers are right to urge the followers on to greater knowledge and the followers are right to urge the knowers on to obedience to the truth they know. Since we're all human, and don't always do both well, we need each other to keep an even keel between Reformation and revival.

Lisa G. said...

Hi Guy,

Thanks so much for commenting. I have a lot of respect for what you are doing in Ecuador, something that many in America are not willing to do.

The show I was listening to was about doctrine and what pastors should preach, and I should have made it a little more clear the reason for the question they asked. They were asking pastors what was more important, not followers. They were saying that pastors need to spend the majority of their time in the pulpit (if not all of their time in the pulpit) teaching doctrine, rather than teaching people how to follow Jesus. Once people know doctrine, they will naturally follow Jesus--though, of course, we still have our sinful nature, which we will never overcome in this life.

When pastors preach topically on "How to Have a Better Marriage", "How to Be a Better Parent", "How to Be a Faithful Steward of God's Money", and so on, rather than preaching the doctrines of imputation, grace, effectual calling, regeneration, repentance, justification, sanctification, etc., they are disobedient.

Paul says in Romans 1:16-17:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,4 as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." 

And in 1 Corinthians 2:2, he tells what the only thing he will preach about is:

2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified is the Gospel. "Go out and feed the hungry" is not the gospel. "Give money to the poor" is not the gospel. These things are good things, they are part of what following Jesus means, and are the spiritual fruit of life in Christ. But they must always be talked about in the context of the person and work of Christ--his life, death, and resurrection.

Lisa G.

All scripture from The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.