So, should we cease to *study* the Scriptures and engage with theology, for fear of our faith landing in the cemetery? Should we so fear a knowledge that “puffs up” that we downplay theology altogether? Shall we assume the popular stance that says, “Don’t give me doctrine, just give me Jesus,” forgetting that “give me Jesus” is itself loaded with doctrine?
Rather than relegate the pursuit of sound doctrine to the cemetery, I believe that we must instead redeem and restore the term to its original intent: “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2).
Wherever Scripture talks about sound doctrine, the Greek word that is translated “sound” was a common medical term meaning “healthy.” The skeleton is by no means an enemy to health, but is a friend to and supporter of it.
When I was a first-year student at Covenant Theological Seminary, Dr. Dan Doriani taught us that the academic pursuit of God does *not* have to lead us to the proverbial “cemetery.” Rather, to the degree that we come to love the Lord our God *with our minds,* we will be rightly equipped to healthily and rightly love Him with our hearts, souls and strength also. To love God fully, we must first hear from him clearly—not from culture or the latest religious trends or our feelings, but from him—precisely how it is that he wishes to be loved. Can a husband really love his wife if he fails to study her—what she loves, what makes her *feel* loved, what makes her tick? Similarly, we limit our knowledge of God, when we limit our pursuit of theology and sound doctrine, we likewise limit our ability to love him rightly.
What we are talking about, then, is not the ceasing of all things doctrinal, but of all things doctrinaire. The New Testament Pharisees are our our portrait of this. To be doctrinaire is to be puffed up, prideful, spiritually bloated, and relationally intimidating and non-accessible. To be doctrinaire is to read our Bibles every day and be in three weekly Bible studies, while serving and actively loving no one. It is to think to highly of ourselves and too lowly of our neighbor, perhaps even thanking God “that we are not like other men” as the Pharisee in Luke 18.
For pastors, a richly developed, studied, sound, scripturally grounded, robust and *healthy* doctrine is therefore essential. As the pastor’s health (or lack thereof) goes, so goes the community that this same pastor serves. A puffed up pastor will attract and affirm a puffed up congregation. Similarly, a theologically shallow pastor will attract and affirm an un-rooted congregation. We cannot be sure exactly which is worse. While the first will be experienced as distant and cold, the second will be experienced as squishy, and is at any given susceptible to being “tossed about by every wind and wave of doctrine.” In either case there will be zeal, but the zeal will be misguided and not healthy because it is not according to knowledge.
So, a chief reason why a commitment to sound doctrine should be preserved is that without it, we risk becoming disciples of (doctrinaire or doctrine-less) culture instead of Jesus. Staying rooted in Scripture-based, sound doctrine keeps us wise. That is, it keeps us rooted in God’s ways, which are higher than our ways, and in God’s thoughts, which are higher than our thoughts. Culture will shift, and human opinion will shift. But truth will not.
This is what makes the Bible, and healthy theology that proceeds from it, so relevant: THE BIBLE SHOWS NO INTEREST IN BEING RELEVANT. Instead, it scrutinizes our human systems and philosophies and theological constructs—affirming that which is good and true and rebuking that which is not.