Friday, March 25, 2011

Doctrine and drama

Thanks to Zondervan for making available the Introduction and Chapter 29 (The Last Battle and Life Everlasting) of Michael Horton's new systematic theology for pilgrims (pdf). This volume will be on my shelf eventually, but for now it's good to have a free appetizer.

Dr. Horton writes in the introduction that theology (the study of God) and doctrine (teaching) are central concerns of every believer. "The baptized are privileged and obligated to learn the language of Zion." (p. 24) Riffing on Dorothy Sayers ("the dogma is the drama") he presents the study of theology as essential to locating ourselves in the still unfolding greatest story ever told. Why is this important? It's in this theo-drama that Christians find their very identity amidst all the competing stories that the world offers.

Created in God's image yet fallen into sin, we have our identity shaped by the movement of this dramatic story from promise to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This drama also has its powerful props, such as preaching, baptism, and the Supper—the means by which we are no longer spectators but are actually included in the cast. Having exchanged our rags for the riches of Christ's righteousness, we now find our identity "in Christ." Instead of God being a supporting actor in our life story, we become part of the cast that the Spirit is recruiting for God's drama. (p. 19)

The drama of theology should lead us in a natural progression to doxology and discipleship. Horton sets out to erase the false dichotomy prevalent in contemporary evangelical Christianity between doctrine vs. life/theology vs. discipleship/knowing vs. doing. (p. 14) "Deeds not creeds" is a catchy slogan, but it leads to empty moralism. On the flip side, mere knowledge -- doctrine that doesn't lead to doxology and discipleship -- doesn't honor God or equip us to love our neighbor. Being a faithful disciple is more than being a student (Latin: discipulus) but it's never less.

Merely imitating Christ's example is different from being united to Christ through faith, bearing the fruit of his resurrection life. It is the creed that gives rise to praise and therefore to informed and heartfelt love, service, and witness to our neighbors in the world. Doctrine severed from practice is dead; practice severed from doctrine is just another form of self-salvation and self-improvement. A disciple of Christ is a student of theology. (p. 24)

If we're in a personal relationship with someone we'll want to know more about their character, what they've done in the past, and their plans for the future. This is true of a spouse or friend, and it should be true of our relationship with God. This is exactly what theology is for. The Christian Faith looks to be a challenging book, but one that's accessible to the average reader. This is a systematic theology for the whole church.

BTW if you're interested the Westminster Bookstore has it at a whopping 41% off retail.

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