Question: When Doctrine Is No Longer Relevant


Two anonymous questions:

– I am blessed by your blog and willingness to be real about your thoughts and feelings. Any insight on why the teen years of our Messiah aren’t discussed in the New Testament? Most common answer I hear is, “Apparently the Holy Spirit didn’t ordain it necessary to the big picture of his ministry and mission.” Thanks.

– Hello, one of these questions came up at a retreat in our small group, and none of us knew the answer. So wondering if you could help out a bit? Did Jesus have a sinful nature or was he tempted less severely then us? (Matthew 4:1-11). For instance, when Satan offered him the world, was it an easy or hard choice? Did he find it as appealing as we would or did he know that the Kingdom of God was much better so it really wasn’t that hard of a decision? Thanks!

 

I have to say first: I very much appreciate the tone of these questions and their genuine curiosity.  There are WAY too many people who play dumb about doctrine but are actually baiting me into a troll-debate with no interest in actual discussion. 

This, dear friends, is how you ask questions about theology.

I’m totally going to answer your questions, but I just want to counter-ask as graciously as possible:

Where are these questions leading us? 

If God Himself answered them, what would it do for you? 

Would a greater intellect make us greater Christians? 

Can we disagree on these matters and still serve together in peace?

Please hear me that I’m not accusing you of any wrong motives at all.  But I know how much head-knowledge can hurt us (knowledge puffs up, says Paul) — and it almost always leads to losing sight of the mission, namely loving people.  I was one of those intellectual seminary goons that ended up caring too much about textbooks instead of THE book (Jesus Juke!) and I became intolerable.

That’s how Christians end up emphasizing politics, doctrinal camps, church programs, denominations, and celebrity pastors more than Jesus.  It’s how Satan gets to dividing hearts and the body.

 

I am NOT saying we should neglect intellect: but I’m actually pushing it to the furthest extreme.  I’m saying we should be such fearless thinkers and so ridiculously nuanced that our doctrine sets us on fire.  Jesus tells us to be as cunning as snakes and as innocent as doves: and often we are too much of one or not enough of either.

I meet college students and young adults who are diligently exploring their faith that end up spiraling down this academic route on facts, and it completely destroys them.  Yes, of course we should know sound doctrine: but not at the expense of God’s love and the people He has made. 

These young fiery Christians end up becoming black belts in exegesis and get very demanding about “expositionally sound sermons” — which just so you know, is mocked by the Reformed poster boys Driscoll and Chandler.  They think it’s sad, too.

So let’s keep perspective about where our doctrine leads us.  If our theology does not compel us to love God or love people, it’s not a theology worth having. 

 

To answer Question #1 — The gospel writer Luke actually covers an incident of Jesus at about twelve years old, but Luke felt this was enough to cover Jesus’ childhood.  I love how it ends too: that Mary treasured all these things in her heart. 

That’s where this story is supposed to lead us: to a profound awe over Jesus’ short spectacular life.  You’ll see some bestsellers titled like “The Lost Years of Jesus,” but you know, they’re out to capitalize on people like us who will spend money on them — and Jesus did have a special anger for those who turned his Father’s house into a den of thieves. 

A lot of things are left to our imagination in the Bible, probably because God knew we would get hung up on tiny little details and interpret them in farfetched ways.  Like when Paul talks about his thorn in 2 Corinthians 12 — he doesn’t say exactly what the thorn is, which is awesome because we can fill in the details about our own thorn.

Now imagine if Paul had told us straight up what his thorn was.  “It’s kidney stones, okay guys.  Just kidney stones.”  Suddenly all the dudes with kidney stones think they’re more holy than the dudes with gall stones.

While it’s fascinating for some of us to study, I trust that God left out all those details for a reason.  I also believe God put in some weird details on purpose, like the Temple and the Book of Numbers and geneaologies: and even when there are things we don’t understand, there are certainly things we’re told straight up, like taking care of the poor and prisoners and enslaved.  There is nothing vague about Matthew 25, Isaiah 58, and James 1:27.

 

For Question #2 — I once got into a heated debated with other pastors about whether Jesus could sin or not.  This doctrine is called the impeccability of Jesus, and the question is whether Jesus was able to sin but chose not to, or if he simply was incapable of sinning.

What’s funny is that after a couple hours of shooting passionate words, no one changed their minds.  I remained inflexible that Jesus could not sin; some said he could; others said they didn’t know. 

In the end, I discovered good Christians who believe either one, and there are Bible verses to support either view.

I also discovered: it doesn’t really matter.  The point is that Jesus was tempted and he did NOT sin, and he succeeded where Adam failed. Jesus became sin when he knew no sin; and in some crazy mindblowing way, he felt the weight of sin more than we could ever understand — while at the same time, he conquered sin more infinitely than we will ever know until glory.

If Jesus was incapable of sinning, would that make him less human?  If Jesus could sin but chose not to, would that make him less God?  Or was Jesus so one-of-a-kind and beyond human categories that an actual answer would cause our heads to fall off?

Since I actually enjoy having a head on my shoulders, I’m going to put that one to the side and keep serving.  I’m not about to put my God in a box: and while we can have a good time discussing these things over coffee, I pray we’d keep the main thing the main thing.


— J.S.

8 thoughts on “Question: When Doctrine Is No Longer Relevant

  1. Yes, if we could only talk about doctrine as an exercise of how to love each other instead of turning the doctrine, and the right doctrine at that, into an eternally vital thing! More vital than you, more vital than servanthood, more vital than LOVE.
    Personally, I can get a recharge from a good discussion of a doctrine, but when someone turns it into open warfare, I puke.
    Peace

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    1. Agreed. Doctrine in the abstract is always easy, requiring mental assent and nothing else. Doctrine in the hands and heart though: that’s where it counts.

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  2. Too many times people use doctrine as a divisive thing, a game of “gotcha”. But, when used correctly, it gives us our footing and perspective. I never mind someone asking, who is truly asking . . . who is truly seeking answers. I appreciate you answering their questions. May God use it to bring them to his glory. Many thanks!

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    1. I definitely agree that doctrine has its place, and is in fact the necessary foundation or we’d just be floating bodies with no skeleton. But it’s used so brutally in so much one-upmanship. I hope like Paul we can love with our doctrine (1 Corinthians 8).

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  3. What a fantastic approach to the fuzzy areas of Scripture! I shall treasure that one and put it to use when the need arises (and it often does).

    As a former “black belt in exegesis” I’ve left my fair share of maimed bodies in my wake.

    I got a wake-up call when a black belt wrestled me to the mat and mashed my face into the ground of sound exegetical teaching. It only took once for me to realize that I needed to find a better approach!

    The main thing is Jesus. When I lose sight of Him, everyone loses.

    Great article.

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    1. Thank you! Sounds like you humbly received some rebuke or correction: so thank God you took it graciously. I meet too many people who know they are wrong but can never say so.

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