Friday, August 25, 2006

Doctrinal Idolatry?

Phil Auxier stirs us up on his blog with some hard questions and interesting insights. I've listed his entire post below. Any thoughts about his implications?

Tim Keller, in a recent sermon entitled Being the Church in Our Culture, said, “If you get self esteem by saying, "My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how I hard I work in religion, how moral I am, and therefore I have to look down on those who I perceive are lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to 'the other'." What do I mean by that? If the reason you can look yourself in the mirror--if you don’t believe in the depths of your being in the radical grace of Jesus--then there’s something else your looking to as your main identity factor…you’re going to look at some other identity factor. You must feel superior to others because there is something in you. If your self esteem is based on how you have sound doctrine and nobody else does. You have to look down and feel superior to those who aren’t as doctrinally sound. Religion leads to all the conflicts."

Obviously Keller is using "religion" here in the end in a perjorative sense. I think I see this sometimes in the church. Instead of clinging to the grace of God expressed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we are pridefully holding onto our right understanding of essential and non-essential doctrinal issues as our means of a right standing before God. This is the reason we cannot heartily agree with Paul who could tell us that "some are preaching Christ from envy and strife and some from good will, the latter doing it out of love, the former out of selfish ambition." What is Paul's conclusion, "Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice." Our doctrinal arrogance is what keeps us from rejoicing when Christ is preached, even when we don't agree 100% doctrinally.

What are some implications of this:
1) I am not affirming that rejecting of truth doesn't matter. Truth is important. We just must not put doctrinal precision on the same level as a work that is justifying us in God's eyes.
2) We should seek to compel those who don't understand the truth as we see it with our loving actions. A humble love for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ would compel them much more than our doctrinally arrogant positions.
3) Ultimately, as James affirms (4:1ff) the quarrels and strife among us come from the lusts of our heart and the evil desires found therein. It is not someone's doctrinal wrongness or rightness that causes conflict in the body of Christ. It is desires that are allowed to set doctrinal rightness as an idol that must be served. In doing this, we are putting something before God Himself. It is through loving our neighbor as ourselves that we fulfill the Law. Therefore, we need to be careful of setting an idol up that would lead to undone conflict in the body of Christ.

5 comments:

Joe said...

Hey Freddy,

How's it going? Your cousin-in-law (is that a real thing?) Joe from Atlanta here.

I agree wholeheartedly with Keller's statements - if we as individuals see "right doctrine" as our standing before God, then we have a huge misunderstanding of the gospel.

However, in my opinion Phil has taken Keller's words and applied them in a way that I don't think Keller would, knowing how much importance he places on doctrine in his ministry.

For the record, I have no idea who Phil is and I'm just interacting with this specific blog entry. Also, I recognize that it is incredibly difficult for somebody to communicate the full meaning of their thought in a single blog entry, so it's possible that Phil and I would agree on this if we could discuss in person. But, that's the nature of blogs I guess :)

Anyways, Keller is not calling out people for holding firmly to doctrinal positions, or even for engaging in doctrinal polemics with others in a respectful and humble way. Keller is calling out people who use their own doctrinal precision as a way of seeing themselves as superior to other people who may not be as articulate or precise in their doctrinal understandings. This is obviously not very humble and very arrogant.

However, I do not agree with Phil's conclusions, expecially number 3. He says "It is not someone's doctrinal wrongness or rightness that causes conflict in the body of Christ. It is desires that are allowed to set doctrinal rightness as an idol that must be served. In doing this, we are putting something before God Himself. It is through loving our neighbor as ourselves that we fulfill the Law". I think Phil mistakenly sets doctrinal rightness against love, when it seems the two go hand in hand. Love for somebody means you want the best thing for them. The best thing for somebody is a true understanding of God in all of his glorious grace. And how does one come to a true understanding of God? Through doctrine, clearly taught, understood, and felt in the heart.

Is it not loving for somebody with a more thorough doctrinal understanding of God to teach others and keep them from error? Is letting someone wallow in wrong belief about God a loving act?

Right belief must go hand in hand with a loving, humble, and helpful attitude towards others - but I don't think that ignoring doctrinal precision and differences is a loving thing to do - it just glazes over the real issues and gives a false sense of unity.

I love this quote from Spurgeon: "The need of the hour for today's ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire."

True doctrine that hits home in the heart and mind of faith will result in a fuller worship of God, a humbling of oneself, and love for others. If it does not, then either the doctrine is not true or it has landed in an individual who is already proud and arrogant.

Just my 2 cents.

Phil said...

Joe,

Thanks for your clarification on this and the humble manner in which you addressed it.

The reason I used this quote from Keller is because, as you rightly observe, Keller is "calling out people who use their own doctrinal precision as a way of seeing themselves as superior to other people who may not be as articulate or precise in their doctrinal understandings."

I wholeheartedly agree with. I guess what I am getting at in conclusion #3 is that there are a lot of people who "in the spirit of the Bereans" cause conflict and ignore being loving to others. As you so eloquently put (so much better than I) "Through doctrine, clearly taught, understood, and felt in the heart." I affirm and agree with what you're saying.

And believe me it is a right understanding of doctrine that will lead to appropriate, humble love. Thanks for the clarifications. I just wanted to let you know we are a lot closer than you might think. In fact, I don't disagree with anything you said.

I do believer, however, that James 4 clearly teaches that conflicts come from desires waging war in our hearts. Some people believe that doctrine divides. However, a right understanding of doctrine will always lead to truer, humbler expressions of love to the glory of God.

Joe said...

Hey Phil,

Thanks for the reply and clarification - good to hear back from you on this, and thanks for not taking any undue offense at my reply!

As I thought might be the case, I'm sure we are in agreement on this whole thing - that doctrine is crucial, but it cannot be used as a prop to pump up our Christian "status", and should not be used just to argue and prove other people wrong for the sake of proving ourselves right. If love and the glory of God are not the motive, then pursuing doctrinal precision will lead to arrogance. But doctrinal precision is still crucial and worth fighting for.

Paul reminds us to remember that any gifts of faith we have, and I think this includes doctrinal understanding, our not of ourselves but from God: "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." (Romans 12:3, NASB)

Good interacting with you on this Phil, and Freddy, thanks for the post to start the discussion!

By the way, a brief article by Al Mohler was put on Christian Post yesterda that talks about some basics of doctrinal differences: A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity

Jonathan Zila said...

By the time I formulated my post, Joe beat me to it. Can I just say Amen, to the following conversation. This post generated great conversation at our Sunday Service this morning.

Freddy T. Wyatt said...

joe, so glad you have you posting. great conversation going on here, truly a model for the rest of the blogosphere on clarity and charity in blogging.