The Importance of Doctrine
“Daddy, did God make telephone poles?” It seemed like one of those endless unimportant questions that, near the end of a long day, can make a parent a bit insane. We had been teaching our children that God created the world and everything in it, and our son had been mulling that deep thought in his little brain. In fact, as we drove to Burger King, he was thinking about it quietly in the back seat as he looked out the window at the string of telephone poles that lined the street.
It was a deeply theological question asked by the little philosopher strapped into the child’s seat in the back of the car. He couldn’t help thinking, because he couldn’t help being human. He was doing what God designed humans made in his image to do. Sometimes his questions made us laugh, sometimes they made us wonder what was rattling around in his cranium, and other times his constant questions just made us wish he would stop asking us questions. But he wouldn’t ever stop because he was doing what every human being does.
Making Sense of Our Lives
Little children never seem to quit asking why, teenagers obsess about what’s fair and unfair, husbands and wives argue because they have interpreted a particular situation differently, and the elderly person looks back over the years trying to make sense of it all. We all do it all the time, and most of the time we don’t realize that we’re doing it and we fail to understand the profound significance of what we’re doing. It’s a deeply and uniquely human thing that we’re doing. It gets to the heart of how God wired us to operate, yet its life-shaping importance doesn’t tend to get the play that it should.
Every day at some time and in some way, we all work to make sense out of our lives. We dig through the mound of the artifacts of the old civilization that was our past and try to understand our journey and what it means. We endlessly toss around the current events and relationships of our little worlds, trying to decide how we should respond to the situations and relationships around us. We peer into the future, hoping we can somehow divine what is to come and prepare ourselves for it. We just never leave our lives alone, and we never stop thinking, even when we are asleep.
Thought Determines Action
It’s important that we all become more conscious of the vibrant mental activity that so influences the choices we make, the words we say, and the things we do. You may be a plumber, a homemaker, a musician, a dad, a teacher, a student, an accountant, a gardener, or an athlete, but you are also a thinker. If you are human, you think (although some of us show it more than others). You may think improperly or inconsistently, but you think. None of us have ever had a thoughtless day. All of us have constructed a superstructure of life assumptions that functions as the instrument we use to make sense out of life.
So, all of us are theologians, all of us are philosophers, all of us are counselors, and all of us are archeologists who dig through the past to understand what was. And here’s what is vital to understand: your thoughts always precede and determine your activity. Stop and reread the previous sentence because it is very, very important. You don’t do what you do because of what you are experiencing at the moment. No, you do what you do because of the way you have thought about and interpreted what you are experiencing.
We know that you can put three people in the very same situation, experiencing the very same thing, and all three will have remarkably different reactions. Why? Because they interpret that situation differently. A variance in interpretation will always lead to a difference in response.
Image-Bearers are Meaning-Makers
Now what does this have to do with the purpose of the doctrines that are revealed in the word of God? Well, everything! The God who hardwired you to be a thinker is also the God who inspired the writers of the Old and New Testaments to pen his truths so that we would have them at our disposal. The Bible is the result of a loving Creator unpacking what is true for his creatures so that they will know how properly to make sense out of life. Without his loving revelation, we wouldn’t know how to know, we wouldn’t know for sure what we know, and we would have no way to know if what we think we know is true or not.
In the Bible, God, the meaning-giver, explains foundational truths to the meaning-makers he created. Every person who has ever lived has desperately needed the unfolded mysteries found in Scripture. The Bible is not so much a religious book, left to be relegated to the hallowed and separate corridors of institutional religion. No, the Bible is a life book given for life purposes, so that the creatures to whom God gave it would look for life in the only place where life can be found. The doctrines of the Bible are not so much ideology as they are living and divine tools of salvation, transformation, identity, and guidance.
Meet the Author:
Paul David Tripp is a pastor, award-winning author, and international conference speaker. He has written numerous books, including the best seller New Morning Mercies. His nonprofit ministry exists to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. Tripp lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Luella, and they have four grown children.