T4G Session 1 – Ligon Duncan
Ligon Duncan kicked off the 2008 Together for the Gospel conference in such a way that one was left with no doubt this would be a hard-hitting conference. No punches were pulled by “Lig” in his message, Sound Doctrine – Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry. I was at once wowed and deeply encouraged by this message.
In recent days I have struggled in getting the importance of doctrine across to certain friends and fellow ministers. In fact, one went so far as to leave a comment here that Jesus cared about people first, not information. I was so shocked at this statement, especially given the content of the Gospels, that I was left unable to draft a response that was worthy to publish. Ligon Duncan gave the exact response that is needed to such false views of Jesus and doctrine in his message.
The reason Lig gave this presentation is because there seems to be a deep suspicion of theology today. The quote I gave above from one commenter of this blog is a great example. But especially in the emerging and Emergent movements, as well as some moderate and most liberal movements, disdain for doctrine has led to much false teaching. Therefore we need to recover the study and teaching of doctrine in our ministries and in our churches.
Lig used as his foundational text John 17:13-17:
But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Why this passage? Because, Lig explained, joy comes from the word of God. If we keep God’s word, Christ’s joy is in us and we will grow in sanctification. Indeed, we grow by learning everything that Jesus taught, as commanded by Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus didn’t say in this passage, “teach them some of what I taught you,” nor did he say, “teach them only what you think they need out of what I taught you.” No, Jesus said, “teach them to observe everything I have commanded you!” This means that doctrine, especially sound doctrine, is the most important thing we can study or teach. Indeed, the study of doctrine is not optional, but mandatory.
Without sound doctrine, false doctrine will creep into our teaching and our churches. False doctrine will seriously hurt not only ourselves, but our churches; therefore we cannot teach it (1 Timothy 1:3-7). We must strive to teach only correct doctrine; this means we must study.
Perhaps the greatest point of this message was this: If we teach right doctrine, and the Holy Spirit is in us, love pours out! The only true way to put people first is to put Jesus first, and unless we study him and his Word, we will never have a right understanding of him nor a right understanding of how to relate to people. The book of 1 John gives the clearest example and exhortation of this point.
As such, if your doctrine is bad, your actions will be bad, too (1 Tim. 6:3-5). False doctrine, according to this passage, leads to ungodliness. Egotistical attitudes, airheadedness, love of controversy and useless quarrels, envy, dissension, slander, gossip, grudges, and constant strife are marks of those who have evil minds and do not have the truth. Further, this passage teaches that such people see godliness as a means of profit. We see this all the time in televangelists such as Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and others — their false godliness and false doctrine is a smokescreen to swindle money from gullible believers who either won’t study doctrine or have been taught not to. Lig used Hitler as an ultimate human example of what bad theology can do.
By contrast, knowledge of God’s word leads to godliness (Titus 1:1). For this reason theology must be celebrated and preached in our churches!
Next, Lig sought to answer the question, “Why is theology important?” After briefly explaining the difference betweeen systematic theology and biblical theology, he used these to show that we can’t avoid doctrine. After all, the Bible is full of doctrine! Jesus did systematic theology after his resurrection on the road to Emmaus with two of the disciples. He frequently corrected his opponents’ theology. Even when exhorting people to follow him, he made theologically loaded statements. Paul and early believers taught it from the Old Testament. If Jesus and the disciples did theology, why do we say it is unimportant? This is why such platitudes as “people are more important than information” ring resoundingly hollow and are false.
Finally, Lig sought to answer the question, “What is theology good for?” In a word, everything! Theology affects how we live, how we think, how we act. It affects how we worship, how we counsel people, how we preach, how we teach. Theology affects every aspect of life! And, when rightly understood and taught, theology brings joy!
What an answer to the unfounded, unbiblical assertion that Jesus put people above information! Doctrine does not make people less important. Rather, as we develop a deeper and more correct understanding of God, we are better able to serve and love people. And as we serve and love our people through sound doctrine, we have the joy of Christ; and they grow to love the Lord and have the joy of Christ in them also.
I have a story that took place directly before and after the conference that illustrates this clearly. Due to time and space, I will share it when I get home from work in the morning. It deserves its own post since the incident is a direct testimony to the power of the Gospel in people’s lives. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!