Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Examining the Practicality of Our Doctrine

I want to interact here with some of the commentary that appeared after my second post on the call to shepherd the flock of God. My goal in the second post was to demonstrate that a mark of the ministry is a true zeal to make the truths of Scripture known to the people of God in order to obey the command of Christ to make them disciples. Certainly, our hope is that through this teaching and proclamation that the Holy Spirit will draw others to the cross and birth them into the family.

Here are a couple of comments that I believe are worth discussing:

Jim wrote: (You can check out more of his stuff here.)

I would also suggest that you get some feedback on how practical the application really is..

Jim is right about the practical application of doctrine, but not the way most folks think of it. When the average pew-sitter thinks of practical application, what they mean is they want a quick fix for a marital, monetary, job problem. Doctrine does not always work that way. Instead of taking away our problems, right doctrine helps us to endure them in a Christ-like manner.

For example, let's say you are teaching from Hebrews 1, and you labor to make the point that Jesus Christ is fully God as per verse 8. At the end of the class, you are well satisfied that you have made the point, that you have warded off heresy, and that the average class member can now take any Jehovah's Witness to task if they show up spreading Christ-dishonoring lies. Just as you are ready to pray and dismiss, some guy in the back says, "Yeah, so Jesus is God. How is this going to help me deal with my jerk-face boss? What is the practical application of all of this theological talk anyway?"

Is the deity of Christ impractical? Can this doctrine help this man deal with his boss? How about laboring to teach that God is holy? Or that He is just? How do these things connect with "real" life?

My answer to the question is this, "Well, that is a good question, let me answer briefly before we dismiss. If Jesus is God, then your fate and destiny lie in His hands. He is the Master and Lord of everything you have, hope to have, and everything that you will lose. He gave you your job, and He put your boss in charge. Further, Christ, the God of the Universe and the King of Glory, will bring to account everything that you do in your office. The Lord has commanded you to respect your boss, and that when your boss gives you a job to do, it is as if the God of the Universe Himself has told you to do that job. When you complain and call him a "jerkface", you dishonor your Lord, you trample His mercy in giving you gainful employment, and you question His wisdom in giving you such a leader. Check out Ephesians 6:5-8 and see what the Lord would have you do at the office. If you cannot remain at you place of employment and honor your boss, then quit immediately."

That, I believe, is what Jim is talking about when he mentions "practical application". There is no doctrine found in Scripture that is not imminently practical and life-changing. The job of the teacher is to connect the dots.

I want to continue later with the idea that teaching Scripture to God's people may do nothing but stoke pride, or that any real preacher could do so for the sake of Scripture knowledge only.

6 comments:

Daniel said...

This was a very excellent post, in that it cut straight to the heart of the matter, gave a good example - then explained clearly what was missing in that person's understanding.

There is a type of person who studies Christianity without living it - and we want to be careful to understand that while such people do exist, and their "study" ought to be dragged into the light and exposed for what it is - yet we must not (as is the habit of some) looks down our sanctified noses at everyone who studies to show themselves approved just because in doing so they come to a different opinion than we do.

Anyone who doesn't understand the importance of studying scripture does not (rightly) understand the purpose for which scripture was given.

Again - excellent post Brad.

SteveJ said...

I find the traditional doctrine of Christ's inherent divinity to be impractical, for several reasons:

1. Christ was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. This encourages me if Jesus was a human being, but not if he also had a divine nature incapable of sin. No temptation would have been real to him in that case.

2. If Jesus is Yahweh as much as the Father is, I must somehow try to divide my devotion (prayer, worship, meditation) between them without depriving one of His due (even more complicated if we include the Spirit as a distinct Person in the Godhead).

3. If Jesus is inherently divine, he becomes a more attractive member of the Godhead than the Father (who lacks a human nature).

4. Old trinitarianism creates a virtual polytheism that keeps Jews and Muslims from ever considering our faith.

5. It turns a simply faith in a human Messiah -- one that the common people heard gladly -- into a philosophical labyrinth where the scholastic and the pedantic hold the keys to the kingdom.

Sojourner said...

SteveJ,

The position of Jesus of Nazareth being fully God is not just the "traditonal" doctrine. It is the orthodox and historical one as well. I checked out your blog, and I doubt that what I say here will change your mind from the unorthodox Christology that you have embraced. But for the sake of those reading, I will offer a quick rebuttal to the five points you have listed:

1. It simply untrue to state that because Jesus was incapable of sin that the temptation was not real. It is as if I said that a rope that cannot break feels no strain under a weight load.

2. This is not complicated. Any virtue that we love about Christ is because he reflects such virtue from the Father because they are One. To love the Son is to love the Father and Holy Spirit.

3. See number 2.

4. The lost will not love Christ precisely because He is God of very God, not because of the mystery of the Trinity. The charge of "virtual polytheism" is simply an ignorant charge. Admittedly, it makes "Jews and Muslims" easier to accept Jesus if we change the very nature of who he is, but then we aren't winning them to the true Jesus.

5. I have a simple faith in a human Messiah, and I also believe that this human Messiah is fully God. This belief has been held by the "simpletons" for over two thousand years. The only ones who have trouble with this are those who esteem their intelligence so highly that they have no room left for any mystery, therefore they blanche at the Biblical witness of the Triune God.

Sojourner said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jim said...

Brad, I am honoured by your inclusion of my comment. I would agree that type of practicality is basically what I was getting at.

As for this SteveJ, I think his comments are completely out in left field and he is simply looking for an argument.

Good post, I look forward to the next installment.

SteveJ said...

Sojourner,

I don't believe you guys are "simpletons." In fact, it's the opposite problem that has beset the traditional view. The prevailing view is characterized by highly nuanced, philosophical arguments that only a few can comprehend, along with the dissection of Greek words, phrases and syntax. Proving that Jesus is the Messiah is simple. Proving he's the "God-man" requires the utmost ingenuity, because it is utterly counter-intuitive to a straight reading of the New Testament.

By the way, I don't know why people can't accept the fact that some of us honestly disagree with the trinitarian argument. Our disagreement is almost always attributed to deliberate rebellion and "blanching" against the biblical witness.

So what qualifies you to peer into the souls of thinking people -- people who are as dedicated to understanding the Scriptures as you are -- to uncover such sinister motives? Can't your argument stand without having to paint dissenters with that brush?