Over the next several articles, I will explore why I think Baptists should be intellectually engaged in the life of faith. By that, I mean we should know what we believe, why we believe it, and why it is important.
There is no denying that some Baptists have suffered from a bit of anti-intellectualism over the last 100 years. In other words, there has been severe skepticism about the importance and need of proper Christian doctrine and Christian knowledge. It really started in the 20th century with the rise of liberal theology. For the most part, liberal theology was birthed in the world of academia. So, it is understandable that many conservative Christians became highly skeptical of the intellectual side of the faith and skeptical of words like “doctrine,” “theology,” or “theological understanding.” But conservative biblical Christians should embrace the study of doctrine, not fear it. In fact, Baptists have always instinctively cared about doctrine. When one witnesses to the lost, he presents the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s doctrine. The Gospel is doctrine. Most careful Baptists seek to describe the Gospel accurately—knowing that details are important.
So, what is doctrine? Wayne Grudem defines “doctrine” as “what the whole Bible teaches us today about a particular topic.” Essentially doctrine is what the Bible says regarding a specific issue or stance. In other words, doctrine is merely what the Bible says on a particular topic, theme, or idea. Thus, doctrine comes from the Bible.
When discussing doctrine and theology, theologian Thomas McCall writes, “It should be grounded in Holy Scripture, informed by the Christian tradition and attentive to the potential and pressing challenges faced by God’s people in God’s world” (Analytic Theology, 161). In Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen writes, “My Christian life, then, depends altogether upon the truth of the New Testament record. Christian experience is rightly used when it confirms the documentary evidence. But it can never possibly provide a substitute for the documentary evidence…Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life.”
All Christian doctrines have their ultimate source in the Bible. That doesn’t mean that all Christian doctrines are clearly elaborated on or elucidated in Scripture. When it comes to minor doctrines (e.g., the end times), there is usually significant debate among Baptists. I’m more focused on essential or major doctrines (e.g., the Trinity, resurrection of Jesus, justification, etc.).
But why is studying doctrine so important? Ultimately, studying Christian doctrine is studying God. The person who knows God is a person that flourishes. The person who knows God is a person that knows the greatest reality in existence.
Grudem again writes, “The more we know about God, about His word, about His relationships to the world and mankind, the better we will trust Him, the more fully we will praise Him, and the more readily we will obey Him.” In other words, knowing God enhances life. Thomas Aquinas writes, “The chief aim of sacred doctrine is to teach the knowledge of God, not only as he is in himself, but also as he is the beginning of things and their last end” (Summa, I.2).
This is not to say, however, that simply learning about God enhances the spiritual life. One must not simply know about God; one must apply such knowledge to his or her daily life. Theology must have feet. But one can have no spiritual life without doctrine. Yes, you read that right. Doctrine is necessary for one to know God and have a proper spiritual life.
My encouragement to all Jesus loving and Bible loving Baptists: learn proper doctrine. It is not only essential for proper understanding of who God is, but it is essential to your spiritual life.