Doctrine and Practice


In response to my first post, Sonia wrote

I think Sonia makes a good point here. I would actually go a step further and say that doctrinal theory, if it has no practical influence on our lives (i.e., in making us more faithful followers of Christ), is so insignificant as to be utterly worthless, and a waste of time. I have found this to be true in my own life, as well as in the lives of others. Theological speculation and theorizing can make for stimulating discussion, but in our day-to-day lives in the “real world,” such speculation and theorizing doesn’t amount to much of anything if it doesn’t carry over into action - it usually just ends up making us look like (or at least feel like) hypocrites who can “talk the talk” but not with any consistency “walk the walk.” On the other hand, insofar as what we believe leads to our becoming more obedient and faithful disciples of Christ, I would say it is of the highest significance. Which leads me to a thought I’ve been chewing on for a while now: what is the link between doctrine and practice? What is the bridge, so to speak, by which our understanding of what Scripture teaches carries over into our daily practice of seeking to follow Christ? I think we all desire, at some level, to be more “Christ-like” in how we live and interact with others - which is as practical as you can get. And it would seem from reading the NT that the doctrinal convictions of the early Christians had a profound influence on how they lived.

I propose that part of the “missing link” between doctrine and practice is that, for the early Christians, the doctrines which they confessed and defended were far more than merely theoretical. They were expressions of their deepest convictions about, and understanding of, reality - how things really are. And that impacted how they lived. But what’s more important, their doctrines changed how they lived for the better. But how? How can exercising faith (trust or confidence) in the fact that Jesus is Lord, and that he is ultimately going to banish sin and death from the universe, make us better, more loving, people? I submit that the answer is found in hope - specifically, greater the hope which we possess, the more loving we’ll be. Biblically speaking, hope is an expectation of future blessing or a favorable outcome for oneself and those for whom one cares, and is, I believe, the common denominator in all practical, moral transformation (for some NT examples which appear to indicate that hope is the motivating principle essential to godly living, see 1 Peter 1:3-4, 22-25; 3:15; 1 John 3:2-3; Col 1:4-6; Rom 8:20-24). Faith, or trust, is the channel by which hope is received - it is the door through which hope enters our hearts. And hope - the expectation of a favorable outcome for oneself and for one’s loved ones - effectively frees us to live as God created us to live - which is in love. Perhaps the most practical book in the NT is the book of James. There, we read that faith apart from works is “dead” and “useless,” and James gives us two examples of people being “justified” (accepted by God as righteous) by their works. Though not explicitly stated, it is evident that in both cases hope played a powerful role in the “works of faith” performed by both Abraham (see Gen 12:1-3; 15:5-6; cf. Rom 4:18-21) and Rahab (see Joshua 2:8-13).

In light of this understanding of the role that hope plays in our lives, I think we can better appreciate Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Faith, we are told, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Our faith is the means by which the hope of future blessing is conveyed to us when we believe the gospel, and it is by this hope that our hearts are cleansed, and thereby made receptive for God’s love to be poured into them (Rom 5:5). Having God’s love perfected in us is the goal (John 2:5; 4:12) - it is, I believe, the salvation that God calls his elect to experience by faith. Because faith and hope are simply means to this end, love is seen as the “greatest” of the three (for it is love for our neighbor that is the fulfillment of the law - Rom 13:8-10). And if it is hope (i.e., an expectation of future blessing/favorable outcome for oneself and those for whom one cares) that motivates people to righteous living, then any doctrine which, when sincerely believed, produces hope within us, is a doctrine of great significance - and the greater the hope produced by the doctrine, the closer to the truth the doctrine must be. The reason I say this is because God has promised that the gospel of Christ has the power to free us from all sin. Thus, assuming I am correct about the importance of hope, the gospel must be comprised of facts (doctrines, if you will) which, when believed, inspire the greatest hope possible - and consequently leads to the greatest freedom from sin (which I understand to be the opposite of love) attainable in this life.


I forget who said it now, (it was some famous Christian musician) that theological discussions are a great place to hide from an experience with the Living God.

I have a friend who has studied a lot of Bonhoeffer, and he has come to the conclusion that unless our belief manifests in action, we don’t really believe. (Which basically amounts to the faith without works thing) So, belief and practice must go hand in hand.


Good comment!

Not only agreed, but I would go even further than that: doctrinal theory becomes worse than merely useless.

Earlier today I posted up a lengthy excerpt on the Cadre Journal (which can be found here) from historian and former atheist Craig Keener’s new book (on The Historical Jesus of the Gospels), where he’s pretty blunt about why for so long he refused to have anything to do with studying Jesus as a historical person (preferring instead to study other aspects of ancient Greco-Roman culture and history). The main reason was because (aside from a few exceptions) he was pretty sure most of us Christians didn’t really believe in Christ either, based on how we lived and acted (both today and throughout history). So why should he bother with it?!

Can’t really say I can blame him much for that. :wink: :slight_smile: