Guest Post by Justin Lyttle.
It may be helpful, initially, to define what is meant when the words theology and doctrine are used. The World English Dictionary defines theology this way: the systematic study of the existence and nature of the divine and its relationship to and influence upon other beings; and doctrine is defined as: a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject. These definitions are helpful because they give us a place to begin. This topic may seem unimportant, but it appears to be one which continually comes up when trying to encourage people to spend time studying their Bibles. “What is the point?” “What does this have to do with my living out my faith?” “I know enough about the Bible to be getting on with, why bother with theology or doctrine?” These questions would be correct in their underlying assessments if theology or doctrine were simply the arbitrary, fickle, overly emotional opinions of men. If this is true, then pursuing God in this way would be of no benefit. However, if God has spoken, and He has, then we should listen, and give ourselves to the personal pursuit of knowing Him deeply. Therefore, if theology and doctrine are precepts developed from the obvious interpretation of Scripture, which is God’s revelation of Himself to us, then we could pursue nothing greater.
It will help us at this point to consider what Scripture says about itself. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. This verse makes it clear that all of the Bible, not just small parts, not just the parts easy to understand, not just the parts we hear from our pastors on Sunday, but all of it is profitable for us. The testimony of Scripture is the only way which we can gain a clear picture of God and progress in holiness through submitting to all of the Word. Our actions, hearts, and minds are sanctified in this way (John 17:17). Without a biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty, how could one face trials or know the purpose for which they were brought into our lives (Hebrews 12:1-11, James 1:2-4)? Without a proper understanding of God’s wrath, how could we know the true glory of the cross of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:11-17)? Without reading in the OT law, how could we understand the weakness of the flesh to obtain favor from God, and therefore be all the more thankful for what Jesus accomplished on our behalf (Romans 8:1-4)? J.I. Packer in his book Knowing God states it clearly, “The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”
In the end, whether we choose to use the words theology, doctrine, Calvinist, Arminian, A-millennial, or Pre-millennial, it is an attempt to state truths found in the Bible. It is up to each Christian to take these terms, and peel off the names attached to the arguments to find out if the precepts contained are actually taught in the Bible(2 Timothy 2:15). Each theological position must stand against the authority of Bible, and if 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is correct, and it is, and these doctrines are found in Scripture, we must submit to them. If they are not, then we must dispose of them. Therefore, it is imperative for us to be a people who seek to understand the Bible in its entirety because we will, in the end, give an account to what the Lord has revealed to us about Himself (Hebrew 4:12-13).
These thoughts were greatly helped and spurred on by the following:
J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973, 1993), 17-19.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the Ten Commandments (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 11-24.