2006-04-24

Life and Doctrine

Ali of Kiwiandemu is, in my opinion, wrong on a number of issues. He believes in a form of continuing prophecy that is somehow not "scripture equivalent" and appears to be unduly influenced by modern Pentecostal teaching.

Having said that, I'm sure that he'd say all sorts of similar stuff about me - except in the reverse.

I will say, however, that I'm warming to the guy a lot more, especially after his comments in my recent posting about qualifications for ministry. It's not that I was never cool to Ali in the first place, but I'm gradually realising what a valuable brother in the Lord he is.

Consider his comment here:

I also think that having sound doctrine is no guarantee of wisdom. I wish it were. I am very aware of a situation right now where someone with sound doctrine is applying it very unwisely! I think, though, that wisdom could be seen in the requirements of looking after their families well - wisdom, as I understand it, involves the application of what you know in people's lives.

When I was at Bible College, a former principal turned up to speak one day and spoke of a Water well as a metaphor for the Christian life. A well, he said, for it to do its job properly, needs to be "well" constructed and needs to be full of water. A Christian who has bad theology but who is full of love and good deeds is like a well that is full of water but has been so badly constructed that the water leaks out the side and is polluted by the soil around it. Conversely, a Christian who has sound doctrine but who is not full of love and good deeds is like a well that has been built superbly but which is dry.

At the time I found it a great metaphor. These days I would not - and I would also thus disagree with Ali's comments above.

Of course this admission may sound surprising - but just wait for me to explain it and you will see how quite unsurprising it actually is.

First, however, I'll admit to an error in my avoiding the mandate article (shock! horror!). In that article I made a distinction between those who are godly and those who have sound doctrine. Moreover, I included the following example:

I saw with my own eyes a young man who had both sound doctrine and the ability to teach, but who lacked Good Christian character (he was divisive, not sober-minded and arrogant) be sent to Moore College.

I was in error in making that example.

I need to point all this out because I wish to make an assertion that has been dawning on me for some years:

Life and Doctrine are inseparable.

I don't think that the Apostles - or even Christ for that matter - ever made a clear break between that which was theology or doctrine, and that which was love and living an effective Christian life. A modern attitude would be the so called difference between "theory" and "practice". It's far too easy to write one off and accept the other for the sake of pragmatism or for the desire for holiness. I don't think the Bible ever does that. Consider the following verses:

Titus 1.1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness...

Ephesians 4.11-14 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children...

Philippians 1.9-11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Colossians 1.9-10 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

To explain - I've first highlighted "knowledge", and then highlighted the "godliness" bit. Although liguistically it is obvious that there is a "break" between what is godly and what is knowledge, the link between them that we see Paul doing here eseentially makes them inseparable. In other words, for the Biblical writers, knowledge and godliness are not "one and the same", but are two characteristics of one thing.

Now if I was Ali I would be tempted to read a little into what I am saying as knowing doctrine as being the be-all and end-all - as though somehow all a Christian needs to do is know theology and that is the only real thing Christians should do. Of course, I'm not arguing that at all.

Consider the young man I saw who had "sound doctrine" but was not godly. If I've been arguing that life and doctrine are inseparable, then what would I be saying?

I realise I'm being convoluted here, so I'll just say it simply:

If a person is sound in theology but is ungodly, then he is not sound in theology.

If a person is loving and godly, but does not have sound theology, then he is not loving and godly.

You cannot have sound theology without godliness. The scriptures were written by the Holy Spirit and each time we are exposed to them He works in our hearts and our minds. Those people who read the scriptures and who "know" them well but who don't have their life changed or challenged are quenching the work of the Spirit and hardening their hearts against God's very word. Moreover, by resisting the power of the word in changing their lives, they do not experience nor understand true knowledge of God - which is essential for any true disciple. This is why I argue that those who have "sound theology" but who are ungodly do not truly have sound theology. A theology that does not lead to godliness is no theology at all.

And yet, at the same time, I would also argue that godliness and love without sound theology is not true godliness and not true love. If we are to be godly then we are to live lives that honour God, but we cannot honour God properly without God letting us know what it is that honours him. Like Israel and the golden calf at Mount Sinai, we may truly believe that we can serve the Lord in any way we may see fit. Our godliness is not determined by situational ethics, but upon what God reveals to us to be true. It is not we, but God, who determines what love and godliness are, and we cannot discern what God wants without the knowledge that he has given us.

The idea that somehow knowledge and godliness can be separated is ludicrous. For Jesus, a person who listens to his words and does not do what he says is like a builder who builds his house on sand. The point behind this parable is not to show that knowledge and godliness ("theory" and "practice") are separate, but that when they are separated, crazy and destructive things result.

I have a friend who is simultaneously attracted to and repelled by Reformed Theology. He is most definitely a Christian and he embraces much of what this theology teaches as being biblical. Yet he has had many bad experiences of unloving, arrogant, emotion-suppressing, and socially rigid reformed Christians - so much so that he occasionally calls himself a "post evangelical". To him I have said (and have to keep saying) that the culture that surrounds Reformed Christianity is not Reformed Christianity (btw, to me "Reformed Christianity" is actually "Christianity". I may explain this further in another post.) So while many Reformed Christians are arrogant and unloving and so on, it is not because they have embraced Reformed Christianity, but because they haven't embraced Reformed Christianity. How can the study of God and his grace lead us to arrogance, unloving behaviour and suppressing our emotions? The doctrines of grace must always lead to humility, joy and love. How is it that razor-sharp theology can lead to a razor-sharp tongue? Easy: The theology was never razor-sharp in the first place.

The normal experience of a person who is saturated with the knowledge of biblical theology is one of love and godliness. A lack of godliness is the same as a lack of theology.


From the Theosalient Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

FAQ about the author


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

4 comments:

Rev Sam said...

"You cannot have sound theology without godliness." That's right, but how do you evaluate the sense of godliness? Presumably it is along the lines of being conformed to Christ, of having Christ born in us? What I would like to know is how you relate this to Sola Scriptura, ie, is it that within Scripture, certain elements determine the interpretation of others, and therefore (eg) the gospels determine how to read the Epistles? Or is there some other hermeneutic in play?

The reason why I ask is that I have continued to ponder your post about 'avoiding the mandate', and my thoughts have coagulated around 'this is too marginal to be made central'. In other words, it's not that I >disagree< with any of it, I just think that there are other things more important - perhaps the central dialogues of John's gospel, for example, might tell us more about what a good shepherd should be, as opposed to the Pastoral Epistles.

Just thinking out loud.

One Salient Oversight said...

Sola Scriptura pretty much sees the entire Bible as being 100% God's word. In practice it means that the Gospels and the Pastorals have equal weight in terms of authority.

So whenever I examine an particular issue I look at what the Bible says, and then synthesize everything together about that subject. So when James says "you are not justified by faith alone" and when Paul says that you are, it is either a contradiction in the Bible (something that evangelicals can't abide) or there is a synthesis going on which needs to be examined further. (in this case, man is justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that "is alone" which is what James was concerned about).

The dialogues in John that you talk about are obviously just as important in terms of authority as the passages in the pastorals that I quote. I don't think, however, that the intention of the author was to describe what qualities an elder/overseer should have, while there is no doubt that Paul was doing that in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

It's not that Jesus isn't an example of a true leader (of course he is) it's just that sometimes people get too hung up on specifics rather than generalities when it comes to Jesus' leadership. The elder/overseer should be a servant leader like Jesus - yes that is true (a generalised observation). The elder/overseer should select people to be his close disciples so he can train them - no that is not true (too specific).

I suppose I'd better try to answer the first part of your comment:

Sola Scriptura is based quite heavily upon 2 Tim 3.16-17, which concludes that the Bible is sufficient to train and inform the man of God for every good work. Therefore, to evaluate a person's godliness, their life and doctrine must be held up to scriptural principles.

What I'm talking about here is quite obvious - the ten commandments, the sermon on the mount, the exhortations of Paul, Peter, John and the others about how to lead Godly lives. That's why Paul defines it as being "equipped for every good work".

I'm not sure if I've answered all your questions or if there were some questions behind your questions. Feel free to "come back at me" on this.

Rev Sam said...

Thanks. I think I want to go away and ponder this a bit more, in particular I want to ponder 'Sola Scriptura' more. It's not something I'm all that familiar with. As and when I do 'come back to you' on it, it might be in an entry on my own blog. There's a tension that I want to tease out - but it'll take more calm time than I have at present in order to do that.

Ali said...

G'day Neil. Sorry I haven't replied sooner - bits and pieces got in the way, and I also wanted to think about what you wrote. (Thanks for the compliments/criticism, by the way).

I'm not sure we can say that the Bible does not make a break between doctrine and life. As I read the Bible, there is not meant to be a break, but there are enough examples to show this does occur. Take for instance the famous 1 Cor 13 chapter. In verse 2 it says:

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

At least in that instance, Paul is positing that it is possible to have knowledge but not love...and I think it fair to say by extension, godliness.

This is illustrated in James 1:22-25:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

And James 2:19
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
[All above from the New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.]

I see knowledge and godliness like faith and works. The first is meant to produce the second, but there are sorry examples of what even the Bible calls "knowledge" that are unfortunately do not transform a person as the gospel is intended to do. The Bible warns us against that sort of knowledge - but it exists.

There are true Christians whose theoretical knowledge outstrips their godliness. These are the people I was thinking of in my last post. No, it should not happen, but it does. That is why you yourself do not just say "Sound doctrine" in your summary of a pastor's qualifications but also include "Good Christian character". It should all work together, but in our sinfulness, it often does not.

What I do agree with you on (though I don't see the above as any more than a disagreement about how to express the same truth) is that Jesus and the apostles did not allow as strong a break between theory and practice as the church does today - which is all the more reason to be aware of the possibility of knowledge without godliness.

I have thought out loud about a few of these things on my blog. Reading your response to Sam, I'm not sure you'll agree with what I write there. For example, I believe someone can have a huge amount of wrong doctrine and still be godly. (You may not feel so good towards me if you read it! Note, it is in the Wonderings category.)