What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us,” writer, preacher, and teacher A.W Tozer once wrote.
You are a theologian whether you know it or not. You believe certain things about God, the Bible, and Christ. You have ideas about what is true, what is false, and how these things work together. Your life is shaped by what you believe in.
The question is, are you a good theologian?
Sadly in our generation doctrine isn’t high on the priority list. If a young person began talking about doctrine, those around him might think he’s just showing off or trying to appear smarter and holier than they. The things he says will then either go unnoticed or become fuel for arguments.
Doctrine is oftentimes a missing brick in the foundation of many Christians’ lives. Often it seems as though our education in Christianity stopped when we were too old for Sunday school. It’s as if our teachers thought, “Well, they have the basics, so they should be good to go.” And then we stumble out into the wide world, get attacked by Freud, Marx, Voltaire, and Darwin with the only answer in our arsenal being, “Jesus died on the cross, ask Him into your heart, read your Bible, and pray."
What are we supposed to do? While many children of other faiths were memorizing enormous chunks of their scriptures and reasoning through their false doctrine zealously, we were busy with our bite-sized, kid-friendly, fun for the whole family, pre-digested tidbits, and coloring pages.
There’s nothing wrong with those things at all. My point is, we seldom really move on from the baby food.
We need meat.
The wrong thing to do is blame our teachers. They love their Lord and took time out of their busy lives to walk with us in our early days. But we are adults now. It’s time to take responsibility for what we believe and how we live.
Some might say doctrine is for “super Christians” or pastors and ministers. But the letters of Paul were written to commoners, peasants, and slaves – even young people. He had high expectations for the intelligence of otherwise uneducated readers. If his audience could understand the doctrines in his letters, surely we can as well.
Did you know that Paul wrote two letters to a young man named Timothy? He was a pastor and bishop of Ephesus. While we don’t know his exact age, we can be sure that he was a pastor sometime in his thirties.
Paul gave this advice to Timothy when charging him to deliver instruction to other believers: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
For a long time in my life, I thought it was just enough to read the Bible and listen to the preacher on Sunday morning. First of all, I was an unconverted teenager, so I had no real desire or thirst for the truths of God. But even after my conversion, it was difficult for me to break through the written words on the page and delve into the unsearchable riches. I had no idea how to begin dividing the word of truth.
It’s not easy to go from being spoon fed to serving yourself a plateful of doctrine, but doing so is not an option. It is required. So how do we cultivate a lifestyle of delving deeper into this walk with Christ and living upon substantial truth?
There are three primary means by which this is accomplished.
Bible reading. This is where doctrine is found: the Word of God. It can be disheartening at times when you read the Bible. You may feel as if you’ve come away with nothing new, but don’t be discouraged! The more time you spend in those pages, the more your life will reflect what you read. It will happen gradually, over time, as long as you continue to walk closely with Christ in obedience: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine … ” (2 Timothy 3:16, emphasis added).
Prayer. This is not a supplement to the Bible, but a means of grace in its own right. When you pray, you are leaning upon the sufficiency and sovereignty of God, putting your soul in a posture of reliance before His throne. If reading Scripture plants the seed of the gospel in your heart, prayer will water and nurture it.
Preaching. Simply relying on your own mind and understanding isn’t enough. As Christians, we need the instruction and authority of an older, more mature Christian. While this could simply be a mentor, the biblical model is a pastor. Sitting under gospel-filled, Christocentric preaching is an essential part of developing a well-informed doctrine.
There are several other helps as well. There are countless books on doctrinal matters (The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer; Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ commentaries on Romans and Ephesians), websites full of teaching (Sermon Audio), and an online video series that I’ve personally found helpful by Dr. John Piper.
Our goal here is not to become brainier, smarter, loftier Christians. Our goal is to become more like Christ, to set our minds on the words of life, and to let the truths of God change who we are.