Sometimes I wonder: Am I missing something, or is this all there is to know God? Is God really as shallow as my experiences have been? Is this what knowing an infinite, eternal God is like?
While there is no single factor to blame for an insipid and monotonous Christian life, there are a few notable ones. Maybe it is time to [re]discover prayer. Or bring hideous secret sin out of the closet and slay it.
Or maybe it is time to stop avoiding the word “doctrine” like the plague.
Shallow doctrine plots a shallow Christian life.
When we assume there is only one way to approach doctrine – as a bland academic study – we naturally shy away from it. It sounds dry and lifeless. That, however, is is hideous and costly misconception, and it can be cured by understanding that there is a right and a wrong way to pursue sound doctrine. Let’s look at both.
The Right Approach to Pursuing Sound Doctrine
If we study sound doctrine as a purely academic pursuit, our approach will be dry and hollow. Information is not equivalent to intimacy with God, and intimacy is where vitality comes from.
This wrong approach stands in contrast to the learner who seeks sound doctrine as one who is parched and tastes the sweet waters of a fountain. His thirst compels him to rest by the fountain and dip back in a second, third, and fourth time.
So it is with approaching God by learning sound doctrine. Doctrine deepens out belief and enlarges our vision of God in a soul-satisfying, life-changing way.
Therefore, the right approach to doctrine is to approach it as coming to know God as He really is.
As Joshua Harris writes in Dug Down Deep,
“For many people, words like theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy are almost completely meaningless. Maybe they’re unappealing, even repellent.
“Theology sounds stuffy. Doctrine is something unkind people fight over…
“I can relate to that perspective. I’ve been there. But I’ve also discovered that my prejudice, my ‘theology allergy,’ was unfounded.
“This book is the story of how I first glimpsed the beauty of Christian theology. These pages hold the journal entries of my own spiritual journey—a journey that led to the realization that sound doctrine is at the center of loving Jesus with passion and authenticity. I want to share how I learned that orthodoxy isn’t just for old men but is for anyone who longs to behold a God who is bigger and more real and glorious than the human mind can imagine.
“The irony of my story—and I suppose it often works this way—is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that such seemingly worn-out words as theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.
“They told the story of the Person I longed to know.”
Doctrine is Basic to Practical Christian Living
In the same vein as Harris, AW Tozer writes in Knowledge of the Holy [Warning: PDF],
“A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”
So learning sound doctrine is both practical and necessary for Christian living. Shying away from doctrine leads to a shallow understanding of God and cuts us off from the very depth of relationship that we long for.
That should spur us to dig deeper, and here are four ways to do that…
Four ways to tackle learning sound doctrine in manageable chunks:
1. Pray for understanding as Paul did for the church in Colossians 1:9-14.
2. Come up with a morning routine and read just three pages of classic theological work each day and finish in a year.
3. Include in your routine regular Bible reading and study, book by book, so that you build familiarity with the Old and New Testament.
4. Subscribe to Tabletalk after taking a look at 8 Reasons Why You Should Subscribe. I wholeheartedly endorse that monthly publication and strongly encourage you to check out the zero-obligation free trial. Its excellent authors plumb the depths of doctrine every month in a practical, understandable way.