Table Talk: Doctrine

March 03, 2011

Hear Rev. Dr. Carl R. Trueman, vice president for academic affairs, interviewed by Michael Reeves on "Table Talk" (the Theology Network podcast) on the meaning of "doctrine" and its implications in the Christian life.

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Michael Reeves: We're going to talking together around the table about doctrine, and the role of doctrine. Now, we get the Bible, biblical study, evangelicalism—we're into that. But, just the very word "doctrine" itself is very off-putting: I think that's quite revealing.

Carl Trueman: Yeah, it often has a kind of divisive sound to it, but the bottom line is that all it simply means is "teaching." Doctrine simply reflects the fact that the Bible teaches things about God, and doctrine is what we understand the Bible to teach, essentially.

MR: It's interesting the way you phrase that, because I think quite often it's thought of as "the things we believe." You're putting a bit more strongly, these are not simply things we believe, these are truths to be taught. I think that's one of the reasons we can feel uncomfortable about this, there's an absoluteness about these things.

CT: Oh, absolutely. The Bible makes clear claims about God, about who he is and what he's done in history. So doctrine is, by its very nature, exclusive. I think when you look at the nature of the New Testament, certainly Paul's understanding of doctrine was not that it was divisive, but it's actually doctrine that unites Christians. At the start of Romans 16, Paul tells the Roman Christians to beware of those who are divisive, and the way he describes their divisiveness is that they departed from the teaching they received. In other words, the divisive guys are the non-doctrinal ones, the ones who stand in conflict with the doctrine that Paul has taught.

MR: That's so counter-cultural today, isn't it?

CT: Absolutely. We live, I think, in an anti-authoritarian age, and doctrine implies authority. It implies an external authority to which we must give an account, and we don't like that.

MR: Because doctrine is talking about God's truth, isn't it?

CT: Yes, doctrine is in some ways an articulation of God's claim on us.

MR: So what is the role of doctrine in the Christian life?

CT: I think as Christians we are exhorted by Paul to study the Scriptures, to pay heed to the form of sound words that is being passed on. So, clearly Paul understands the Christian faith to have a strong doctrinal component. I think when doctrine is correctly taught and correctly understood, it should terminate in doxology. Hearing the great truths of God proclaimed Sunday by Sunday, reflecting upon them as we hear the Bible read, or as we read it for ourselves, should ultimately drive us to our knees. Doctrine tells us who God is and who we are in his presence, and that has a most practical result: worship. The early church doctrine is in some ways is the development of the the early church's reflection on the cry of praise: "Jesus is Lord;" a reflection upon the baptismal formula of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, doctrine is doxological.

Click here for the complete interview