Doctrine vs. Relationship?

Dear Pastor,

“Where does the Holy Spirit come into the picture? Where does a relationship with Jesus that is personal and growing and vibrant come in? I’m actually sort of heartbroken to see such harshness here, where someone says they absolutely know everything about God and how he should be worshiped and thought about and that if you don’t have a degree in theology you can’t possibly know God rightly. These sort of harsh, hard, almost cruel arguments really shut down discussion and participation by normal Christians who just live in this hard, hard world and struggle to even keep the faith in the face of so much pain because we can’t take the browbeating. God leads us, and he leads us to Christ. But, we live in a world that is knock-down, drag-out brutal. When I’m grieving over the loss of my child, doctrine does nothing for me except break my heart more when it’s used as some sort of argument-trumping hammer. My time at Marion College was some of the best in my life. But, I also love that God uses all sorts of people and maybe not all of them fit into a little mold like good tin soldiers. Some come scuffed and scarred and desperate to that cross where Christ has died, and they cling to it for dear life.


Thank you for your questions. They are quite good questions and get us to some very important considerations.

Doctrine is an inescapable category. Even the advancement of a position that denigrates “doctrine,” is itself a doctrinal argument. (i.e. — We should have the doctrine of “no doctrine,” or less doctrine or the doctrine of relationship over doctrine. And yet what can I know of growing and vibrant relationship apart from doctrine? How will I know if it is growing and vibrant if I don’t have a doctrinal standard by which to measure what “growth,” and “vibrancy” is? Is my subjective measuring rod of quality of relationship to be the doctrinal yard stick my which I know I am advancing in cruciform conformity to Christ? )

So, in light of this I would say that the Holy Spirit was given to proclaim Christ and His faithfulness and to that end for believers He is to constantly taking them back to the Scriptures where we find the doctrine of Christ being taught on every page. The Holy Spirit comes in to take us back to the place where we learn Christ and His doctrine. (For example, Christ taught the doctrine, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest, for my burden is easy and my yoke is light.”) You say “God leads us to Christ,” and yet without the beauty of doctrine I wouldn’t know that and without the sweetness of doctrine I would know nothing about this God and Christ I am being “led” back to.

It is interesting that you speak of “harshness,” and yet when I see someone champion the doctrine that doctrine isn’t that important all that I can see, despite knowing someone’s good intentions, is harshness, since I don’t know how to keep a faith that is uninformed and unshaped by doctrine. (After all what is “the faith,” I am keeping apart from “doctrine” to tell me what that faith is?)

It is precisely because this world is so brutal that I keep turning to doctrine. As a Pastor I am constantly exposed to all the ragged and torn edges of the world’s brutality as I minister to others. If I did not have the life giving sustenance of doctrine that is drawn from the Scriptures I would be of no aid to those who are dented and damaged from being themselves lacerated by the ragged and torn edges of this brutal brutal world. Without the words of eternal life (doctrine) drawn from Scripture all I could do for those I love, who look to me for answers and comfort in the midst of their being bruised and torn by life would be to join them in their despair. (And even being buoyed by doctrine drawn from the Well of Scripture I sometimes wonder if I will be able to maintain my sanity when I look upon the pain and hurt I often see while ministering to the broken.)

I see harshness and brokenness in the future for these beautiful young ladies who are not being given guidance as to the proper deportment and modesty that they are to display as Christian women. I see brokenness and harshness for the 10-13 year old girls who are watching them “perform,” and saying to themselves, “I want to move my body around like that when I grow up.” And believe me XXXXX I see lots and lots of girls who end up used and broken because they learned their lessons regarding deportment and behavior from MTV as opposed to being given a Christian doctrine of modesty.

No, there is no room for playing doctrine off against relationship. My relationship is only as good as my doctrine and my doctrine always announced in my relationship. If I want my relationship to grow more vibrant and healthy then I must steep myself in God’s Word and so learn doctrine.

Praying that the God who gives us the doctrine of “comfort” will be your sustenance in your loss.

Heartbroken with you over the browbeating we are all inflicted with,

Ask The Pastor — What Of Immanentizing The Eschaton?

Dear Pastor,

As for the question of immanentizing the eschaton, you vote that we usher in the Christian one; I vote that we wait for Christ to usher in the eschaton.


Thank you for your insightful offering.

In reference to ushering in Eschatons. You seemed to miss the point that I was trying to make earlier when I said,

by insisting that the common realm belongs to common grace and natural law what they (R2K adherents) end up doing is creating a vacuum in which the other adherents of other gods will try to immanentize their respective eschatons. So while at least some amillennialists want to avoid immanentizing the Christian eschaton what their retreat ends up doing is allowing the immanentizing of other non-Christian eschatons. We must remember that it is never a question whether or not if some eschaton will be immanentized but only a question of which eschaton will be immanentized. I vote for the Christian one.

There is no neutrality on the question concerning immanentizing eschatons. The question isn’t, “Will we or will we not usher in a eschaton,” the question rather is, “Which eschaton will we work to incarnate?”

Concerning this matter keep in mind that culture is the consequential manifestation of what we believe concerning ultimate theological reality. Now since all theology is teleological and always has the end (eschaton) in mind, it simply is impossible for humans to build cultures where no consideration (whether epistemologically conscious of that consideration or not) is given of immanentizing the eschaton. The culture that we live in right now is the result of some successful theology managing to bring its vision of the future end into the present.

Let me note, that I quite agree that there can be dangers in non-humble considerations of eschaton immanentizing. However, for all the dangers I see there I see far more dangers in a escapism or retreatism which allows the eschatons of pagan gods to have their way.

We need to keep in mind here the words of A. A. Hodge when he wrote,

If the national life in general is organized upon non-Christian principles, the churches which are embraced within the universal assimilating power of that nation will not long be able to preserve their integrity.

A. A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology, p. 283-84

Now, Hodge doesn’t explicitly reference eschaton immanentizing but he has in mind exactly that which I am trying to get at. If we will not live in such a way that puts the feet to our prayers of “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” thus immanentizing the Christian eschaton, we will, as God’s people be embraced in the assimilating powers of non-Christian principles which are working to immanentize their version of their religions eschaton.

Thanks for the conversation David.