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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Doctrine vs Theology


Sometimes the simplest idea can be the most profound.



ἔσται γὰρ καιρὸς ὅτε τῆς ὑγιαινούσης διδασκαλίας οὐκ ἀνέξονται, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τὰς ἰδίας ἑαυτοῖς ἐπισωρεύσουσιν διδασκάλους κνηθόμενοι τὴν ἀκοήν.
2 Timothy 4:3


I first mentioned Michael Rood on this blog back in January after watching his video series about the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew entitled Raiders of the Lost Book. I’ve been watching a lot of his videos on Youtube since then and have to say that I’m mightily impressed. Although I’m still a bit skeptical about Rood’s extreme Judaizing (most notably revealed in his misinterpretation of Colossians 2:8 in his two part video Let No Pagan Judge You), for the most part, I find his Hebraic perspective on the Scriptures enlightening.

In Episode 3 of his Prophecies in the Fall Feasts series, Rood said something about how the Hebrews understand doctrine that, despite the matter-of-fact way it was put, struck me as terribly significant (slide to the 06:50 mark):



So, basically the Hebrew way of thinking is to consider doctrines to be commandments on how to act, rather than as theological instructions on how to think, that doctrine teaches how to do what God wants, not why it should be done. In other words, when considering biblical instruction, doctrine, the first consideration is to ask how one puts it into practice.

The profundity of this distinction wasn’t apparent to me immediately, but the more I thought about it, the more amazed I became. It was the first time I’d ever really given a thought to the distinction between doctrine for works and doctrine for theology, and I began to see a wonderful utility in calling the former “doctrine” and the latter “theology”. I now believe it is essential for preachers and teachers to make this distinction (whether these terms are used or not), because until it is understood and made clear to believers, an essential element will be missing from the Lord’s instructions—practical application!

Currently, doctrinal exhortations and commandments from Protestant pulpits are heavy on the theology and light on the doctrine; or, if you will, heavy on the why and light on the how. After getting people all fired up on why they need to do something, they neglect to tell them how to do it; thereby leaving the people in a state of confused frustration.

As an example, take the sermon I heard last Sunday at Church. Taking Romans 12:1 as his cue, the Pastor spoke stirringly about the need for us to be an example to the world by heeding the Apostle Paul’s call to become a “living sacrifice”. He completely convinced us that this was indeed our “reasonable service”. The only problem was that he didn’t tell us how we were to do this. He gave us all the why’s, but none of the how’s.

This lack of practical instruction (henceforth to be known as “doctrine”) in sermons has been a criticism of mine for quite some time now; which probably explains why Rood’s simple distinction had such an impact on me. All the way through the sermon I kept thinking, “Tell them how. Tell them how! TELL THEM HOW!” All he had to do was cite a couple of the following Synoptic Gospel verses werein Jesus tells us how to be a sacrifice:
Matt 10:38—And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

Matt 16:24—Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mark 8:34—And when he had called the people [unto him] with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mark 10:21—Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

Luke 9:23—And he said to [them] all, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Luke 14:2—And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

So, clearly, to be a living sacrifice, we must first deny ourselves (act contrary to our flesh), then pick up our crosses (to which we are condemned by the world by bearing true witness), and follow Him (to His self-sacrifice for the Kingdom). See? Easy!

Now that's doctrine you can sink your teeth into.



Upon reflection, it occurred to me that so little practical doctrine is given in sermons these days because of a fear of overdoing it and becoming legalistic, or worse, works-based. In the Reformation, we were taken from the desiccated works of the Roman Catholics into the dry wilderness of Faith Alone-ism; all the while forgetting the warnings of the Apostle Yaakob (see James 2:20, 26). Now we are in a place were it is seen as dangerous to tell the flock too specifically what Jesus told them to do.

Okay, I'm going to leave that thought there for now and give this whole doctrine/theology distinction a long think. In particular, I'm going to ruminate on the possible relevance to this post of the two different Greek words in the NT that have been translated “doctrine”: διδασκαλία [didaskalia] and διδαχή [didache].

Oh, and I guess I'm also going to have to reconsider the wording of my Deconstructing Doctrines series.


Right.


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