The Importance Of Sound Doctrine Within Biblical Christianity

Sep 4th, 2021 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

When the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the early 20th century was brewing, one of Christianity’s greatest minds, J. Gresham Machen, published a book in 1921 entitled Christianity and Liberalism.  In my judgment, it remains one of the most important books of the 20th century.  It is relevant today for we who name the name of Christ believe that the Christian faith is not only a faith commitment to Jesus Christ, but is also a set of doctrinal beliefs.  In fact, one of the themes of the Apostle Paul’s Pastoral Epistles is that “sound doctrine” produces godly living.  This is why Machen was so deeply concerned about what was happening in the 1920s.  His central argument was that Christianity and Liberalism were in fact two different religions.  Liberalism, born in the seminaries and universities of 19th century Germany, posited a deep-seated antisupernaturalism, which denied all the major doctrines of biblical Christianity.  Machen wrote that “The chief modern rival of Christianity is ‘liberalism.’  Modern liberalism, then, has lost sight of the two great presuppositions of the Christian message—the living God and the fact of sin.  The liberal doctrine of God and the liberal doctrine of man are both diametrically opposed to the Christian view.  But the divergence concerns not only the presuppositions of the message, but also the message itself.”  He argued in fact that “naturalistic liberalism in not Christianity at all.”

In the 21st century, theological liberalism is mainstreamed in all the major Protestant denominations and is taught in mainline denominational colleges and seminaries.  Theological liberalism today has deepened the antisupernaturalism of its 20th century brand.  Here are a few examples:

  • Moses did not write the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah).  Instead, a cluster of anonymous authors wrote parts of the Torah, which were then redacted together.  It is very doubtful that Genesis 1-11 is a reliable account of anything these chapters cover; they are certainly not valid history.  Legend, myth, narratives to teach something are generally the phrases or terms used to describe these important chapters, but you cannot rely on these accounts as valid narratives of events that actually occurred (e.g., Creation, a historical Adam and Eve, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, etc.).
  • Daniel most certainly did not write the book bearing his name.  There are too many prophecies that are amazingly accurate.  Therefore, they could not be predictions of the future; they were written after the events occurred but then portrayed as prophecy.
  • The writers of the Gospel accounts did not write accurate, historical accounts of Jesus.  These are accounts of what the early church wanted to believe about Jesus.  Jesus’ death was not a substitutionary death to pay the price for sin.  At best, it was an act of moral courage.  He most certainly was not resurrected from the dead.  This is what the early church wanted to belief, but it was not an objective historical event.
  • Since we cannot be certain of the details of what Jesus actually taught, one of the current theories is that Paul significantly departed from what Jesus taught and over time his views actually triumphed over the simpler message of Jesus, which at its core was love.
  • Theological liberalism rejects the authority of Scripture and does not regard the Bible as a valid basis for ethics.  Because the Bible contains error and does not contain trustworthy accounts of Creation, the Flood, many of the events of Jesus’ life, etc., it cannot be trusted to construct a valid set of ethical standards.  Culture is the greatest source for establishing ethical standards—and culture is always changing.  Therefore, understandably so do ethical standards for sexuality, marriage and the value of human life in all stages of life.

In short, with the Bible now abandoned as a reliable source of doctrine and theology and as a reliable source for absolute ethical standards, postmodern theological liberalism is firmly anchored in mid-air!!

Broadly speaking, our evangelical culture in America is dumbing down doctrine and theology.  Rarely in the typical evangelical church in America will you hear sermons or teaching sessions on God as Trinity or the importance of the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ.  Yet, both of these doctrines are central to our faith and have major implications for culture and life.  Let me illustrate the importance of sound doctrine to our lives.

  • First of all, the importance of the doctrine of God as Trinity.  Genuine, biblical Christianity has at the core of it’s the doctrine that God is Trinity.  The Bible clearly reveals this truth from Genesis 1 on through the closing chapters of Revelation.  As the early church struggled with the precise terms to define what the Scriptures taught, the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 was perhaps the critical tipping point.  At that Council, church leaders stated, in effect, that God is one essence of three persons who differ both relationally (i.e., Father, Son and Spirit) and functionally (e.g., Ephesians 1:3-14, where we learn that, in terms of salvation, the Father chooses, the Son redeems and the Spirit seals).  The doctrine of God as Trinity is difficult but is central to our understanding of who God is.  A few examples:  You cannot read the Gospel of John without the clear conviction that Jesus is fully God: Consider especially the seven “I am” passages and the central passage of John 5:19-24, one of the greatest defenses of Christian monotheism in the entire Bible.  Further, 1 John 4:8 teaches that “God is love,” a predicate nominative that defines one of the central elements of God’s character and nature—love.  But love is a relational concept and, since God is Trinity, that concept makes much more sense.  God is love because through all eternity God the Father, the Son and the Spirit experienced love and communion with one another.  That is certainly one of the reasons God chose to create humans as His image bearers: His creatures will enjoy the same love and communion that God as Trinity has enjoyed for all eternity.  God desires to walk with us and fellowship with us (see Genesis 2 and Revelation 21-22) but our sin makes that impossible.  Therefore, the God who is love sent the second person of the Trinity, who adds to His deity humanity, to die for our sin and be resurrected in power, proving that the price for sin had been paid.  God as Trinity enables us to more fully understand His love and His redemptive plan for us.  Without this doctrine, His redemptive work makes little sense.
  • Second, consider the broader understanding of God as Trinity.  Paul makes the case for God’s diversity as the basis for the diversity in the body of Christ (i.e., the church) in 1 Corinthians 12.  The diversity of the body also extends to the ethnic makeup of the church as well—witness Acts 2, for example.  And as the book of Revelation makes clear, in heaven and in the new heaven and new earth, every tongue, people, tribe and nation will be represented.  The ethno-cultural differences of humanity reflect God’s love of diversity and variety, which are rooted in His nature as Trinity.  Contrast this fundamental belief with Islam.  The Qur’an teaches adamantly that Allah is absolutely one.  Indeed, in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Islam, after conquering Jerusalem and establishing the supremacy of Islam in the Holy Lands, built the Dome as a memorial to Allah so that it would dominate Jerusalem and stand higher in elevation than the church of the Holy Sepulchere on Temple Mount.  In the Dome of the Rock, there is this founding inscription inscribed around the inside of the Dome:  “O you People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion, and of God speak only the truth.  The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and his Word, which he conveyed unto Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from him.  Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not Three.  It will be better for you.  God is only one God.  Far be it from his glory that he should have a son.”  This inscription was an obvious invitation for Christians (and Jewish monotheism) to abandon belief in the Trinity and in the divinity of Jesus.  Therefore, Allah lacks diversity within himself and this belief impacts Islamic culture as well.  There is an authoritarian unity that is demanded in Islam, at least in religious matters, and it does not share the appreciation of diversity that one sees in biblical Christianity.  The Qur’an has been translated into other languages, but Arabic remains the language for worship and prayers (e.g., the ritualistic prayers prayed five times daily are always prayed in Arabic, even if you do not understand the language).  There is a hesitation to embrace cultural differences within Islam, with a strong impetus to create a monolithic society and culture.  This is certainly the agenda of radical and extreme Islam but is also the case among the conservative Islamic cultures of, for example, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  One’s belief in God as absolutely one, as in Islam, has a direct impact on how the culture and society develop.
  • Finally, consider developments within the broader evangelical movement in America.  For example, Joel and Victoria Osteen are prominent faces of 21st  century Christianity.  Recently, Victoria Osteen told their huge Houston congregation that their devotion to God is not really about God, but about themselves.  She said, “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize [that] when we obey God, we’re doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re [actually] doing it for ourselves. Because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .”  She went on:  “So, I want you to know this morning—Just do good for your own self.  Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really.  You’re [also] doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”  Theologian Albert Mohler correctly observes that “The Osteen message does not differentiate between believers and unbelievers—certainly not in terms of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,  In their sermons, writings, and their media appearances, the Osteens insist that God is well-disposed to all people and wills that all flourish, but there is virtually no mention of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No reference to sin as the fundamental issue.  No explanation of atonement and resurrection as God’s saving acts; no clarity of any sort on the need for faith in Christ and repentance of sin.”  The Osteens are a perfect fit for the shallow, superficial Christianity of America’s consumer culture.  But their message is not the message of the Bible.  Their message bears absolutely no resemblance at all to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Their message is not the message of theological liberalism, which rejects the supernatural as a given of faith; they just have no meaningful message at all, for their God is not the God of the Bible.   It is a God of their own contrivance.

In conclusion, today’s typical evangelical church must return to detailed and systematic teaching and preaching of what Paul calls “sound doctrine.”  The current cultivation of superficiality and shallowness within evangelicalism must come to an end.  Every dimension of our lives and our culture depend on well-taught and well-equipped Christians.  As Ephesians 4 makes clear, the key to equipping the saints for ministry is God’s Word, which is the source of “sound doctrine.”

See Christianity Today (June 2011), pp. 23-27 and 61; Albert Mohler’s essays at www.albertmohler.com (8 October 2012 and 3 September 2014); W. Scott Lamb and Paula R. Kincaid in World (12 July 2014).

One Comment to “The Importance Of Sound Doctrine Within Biblical Christianity”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    Excellent article! I suggest that preaching specific messages on the doctrines singled out, though helpful, will not solve the problem altogether, because then other doctrines will be neglected. A consistent verse-by-verse exposition will correct it, because when a person teaches all that is in the text all these doctrines are addressed. But it must be an exposition that does give attention to everything in the text, not just the speaker’s interests, as is often the case. All of God’s word is important, not just a selection of major doctrines defined by systematic theology. And it will foster the proper attitude toward God’s word in toto.

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