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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Why "Doctrine" Is Really Necessary (But Not Primary)

I read this last night in the introductory chapter of John Piper's latest book, God Is the Gospel. I thought it was such an eloquent statement of the necessity of doctrines as well as pitfalls in being zealous of doctrine, I had to share. In most circles of the church in America, it seems doctrine is deemed irrelevant or "heady"... and in other circles, such as some I frequent, I think the danger is to dwell on doctrine so much that we forget the point of being doctrinally informed. Read on, then buy the book. The first paragraph excerpted below is Piper's working definition of "doctrine"; the latter two are the paragraphs I found so helpful. Bold emphases are mine.

Doctrine means teaching, explaining, clarifying. Doctrine is part of the gospel because news can't be just declared by the mouth of a herald—it has to be understood in the mind of a hearer. If the town crier says, “Amnesty is herewith published by the mercy of your Sovereign,” someone will ask, “What does ‘amnesty’ mean?” There will be many questions when the news is announced. “What is the price that has been paid?” “How have we dishonored the King?” When the gospel is proclaimed, it must be explained. ... Unintelligible good news is not even news, let alone good.

Gospel doctrine matters because the good news is so full and rich and wonderful that it must be opened like a treasure chest, and all its treasures brought out for the enjoyment of the world. Doctrine is the description of these treasures. Doctrine describes their true value and why they are so valuable. Doctrine guards the diamonds of the gospel from being discarded as mere crystals. Doctrine protects the treasures of the gospel from the pirates who don't like the diamonds but who make their living trading them for other stones. Doctrine polishes the old gems buried at the bottom of the chest. It puts the jewels of gospel truth in order on the scarlet tapestry of history so each is seen in its most beautiful place.

And all the while, doctrine does this with its head bowed in wonder that it should be allowed to touch the things of God. It whispers praise and thanks as it deals with the diamonds of the King. Its fingers tremble at the cost of what it handles. Prayers ascend for help, lest any stone be minimized or misplaced. And on its knees gospel doctrine knows it serves the herald. The gospel is not mainly about being explained. Explanation is necessary, but it is not primary. A love letter must be intelligible, but grammar and logic are not the point. Love is the point. The gospel is good news. Doctrine serves that. It serves the one whose feet are bruised (and beautiful!) from walking to the unreached places with news: “Come, listen to the news of God! Listen to what God has done! Listen! Understand! Bow! Believe!”