I was talking to a friend today about doctrine and pondering something that I’d heard Greg Koukl once say on the Trinity. Koukl says that he’s only heard one sermon on the Trinity and he was the one who preached it. I could say the same thing. Churches today do not give sermons on topics of doctrine. Instead, it is all application.
At my old church, I remember being in Sunday School and going through the book of Joshua and it seemed that the only reason the book of Joshua was written so that Israel would know to obey God. Now I realize that that was an application they should have drawn out of the book, but there is much more to Joshua such as knowing the covenant nature of God and his workings through history to keep that covenant.
If all we are told is to obey God, that frankly won’t be enough. Obedience to God entails a number of things we need to understand. What kind of God are we obeying? What is his nature? Why should we obey? What are the consequences for disobeying? What are the rewards for obeying? What is the nature of sin in disobedience?
What we have to understand is that in following through with an application, there is always a reason why we are doing what we do. Consider this especially in the area of sexual ethics. Our young people are simply told “True Love Waits.” Why are we to not have sex before marriage? Well, the Bible says not to and you could experience such guilt and shame and get pregnant or get an STD.
I have this strange inkling that if that is all that a guy and girl have in their heads along with a few verses from Paul, that when they’re alone at his apartment one night and are watching a romantic DVD, that it’s not going to be enough and their passion will take over and it will be quite easy for them to reason away what they should do.
Not only that, if they don’t have any of the consequences mentioned, they could start thinking that the church was wrong on that. If the church was wrong on that, well what else could they be wrong on? Could it be that the church is simply a controlling organization that is wanting to hold back its members from pleasure?
Now all that was said is well and good to a point, but the kids need more. They need to know the nature of sin and the nature of sex and why sex without marriage is sin. What does it mean to be in a covenant? What does it mean to love someone? Is sex simply a physical action or does it involve more than just the bodies?
All of the applications that we are to have are not out there floating in the void. They are based on doctrines and those doctrines are the ones not taught. What does the average church member know about the doctrine of the Trinity? What do they know about the atonement? What do they know about the view of Scripture? What do they know about the Problem of Evil?
That last one is especially one that the average Christian needs. One of the biggest reasons people apostasize from the faith for is the Problem of Evil. They are not equipped in their worldview to have a place where evil fits in. Then, lo and behold, here comes some great evil into their life and they throw the faith away and spend their lives railing against a God they don’t even think exists but never cared about them anyway.
Why do we have just application though? Could it be that we often see ourselves as just machines in a naturalistic universe? We are not human beings but human doings? We describe ourselves not by our ontology but by our function? All we are are creatures that are meant to perform a certain way. Let us dare not ask fundamental questions about reality. Let’s talk about being good, but let us dare not sit around and discuss what goodness itself is.
Now of course, in saying all of this, I am not saying I am against application. It’s definitely needed. My concern is that we have the cart before the horse. Application is built on the deeper doctrines. Because X is true in a Christian worldview, then you do or don’t do Y. Without that, we simply have a religion where the goal is to be a good person and if that’s the case, then why not say the good Muslim is saved or the good atheist?
I look forward to the day when we hear more of doctrine. Could it be that when we do that, we might even see more of people acting like Christ?