Why We Need Doctrine


For different reasons a lot of Christians in my generation and older generations are leery of too much emphasis on doctrine. They have come to equate doctrine with church splits, hate mail, arrogance, and angry diatribes. They have seen how easy it is for life-giving truths to get reduced to empty formulas. No wonder that for them Christian doctrine can seem more hindrance than help when it comes to cultivating a vibrant relationship with Jesus.

I understand. If my heart is cold toward God, I can turn the most precious truth into an end in itself or a weapon to attack others. This is part of the reason I find the story of the wise builder so instructive. It reminds me that doctrine isn't about me or my little tribe. Jesus said that the person who digs down to the rock is the one who comes to him. This has to be the first and final motivation. Pursuing orthodoxy and sound doctrine has to begin with a heart drawing close to him--not to a theological system, denomination, or book.

It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that since theological beliefs shouldn't be our goal, we don't need them at all. But this isn't true in knowing Jesus any more than it's true in other relationships. For example, I have a nine-year-old daughter named Emma, whom I love very much. It is absolutely true that information and facts about my daughter can never take the place of actually loving her. But this doesn't mean I should avoid knowing about her. An important part of caring for and cultivating a relationship with my little girl involves a willingness on my part to learn her character and personality, her likes and dislikes. Details about her--the color of her hair, the music she enjoys, her gifts, fears, and dreams--are all important to me because she is important to me. While these truths about her could be empty data, because they describe a living person whom I love, they enrich and grow my love for her. Facts can never take her place, but I can't know her without them.

Doctrine can never take the place of Jesus himself, but we can't know him and relate to him in the right way without doctrine. This is because doctrine not only tells us what God has done but what his actions mean to us. A theologian named J. Gresham Machen, who lived in the 1920s, helped me better understand all this. His explanation of Christian doctrine helped me see how it connects to the living person of Jesus. In one of his books, Machen explains that while Christians in the early church wanted to know what Jesus taught, they were primarily concerned with what Jesus had done. "The world was to be redeemed," Machen wrote, "through the proclamation of an event."

Of course the event he's referring to is Jesus's death by crucifixion and his resurrection from the dead. The first Christians knew they had to tell people about this event. But simply telling them wasn't enough. They also had to tell them what the event meant. And this, Machen explains, is doctrine. Doctrine is the setting forth of what Jesus has done along with the meaning of the event for us.

"These two elements are always combined in the Christian message," Machen continues. "The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. 'Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried'--that is history. 'He loved me and gave Himself for me'--that is doctrine."

Doctrine is the meaning of the story God is writing in the world. It's the explanation of what he's done and why he's done it and why it matters to you and me.

- from Dug Down Deep, chapter 2


Yes! I've felt a little difficulty explaining to some people how loving God naturally leads into a curiosity about doctrine and this puts its so simply and beautifully. Thank you.

Just wanted you to know, Josh Harris, that you and the leaders at CLC, are in my prayers. Your families are as well. To one who lives from afar but is following some of the issues in the SGM churches, I am heartened by your humility, the fact that it doesn't appear that you are engaging in debate or divisiveness via the internet, and in the humility with which you are leading (this info via my cousin, a Godly woman, who joined CLC about a year ago). I am an active Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and I am sure you are aware that we are facing our own problems. Many times I have been encouraged by your teaching, which I download off of Itunes, as I seek the Lord in how to lead in the wake of recent changes in standards for ordination in the PCUSA. There is more coming down the road, but I thank God for the gift of teaching He has given to you as He directly teaches me through you. Be encouraged this day that God is at work in you and works through you in ways you do not even know.

I was saying Amen when I read it in the book and I'll say it again, amen! Doctrine is of the most importance because that's how we know what God is like, which in turn leads us to who God is.

Great book, which I must say again, I enjoyed reading and reviewing on my blog.

I LOVE doctrine, if anything I like the search so much I lose myself in the questions too much. However, I think that the new reformed movement is already showing terrible signs of arrogance and ignorance in this regard. It tends to write ignorant diatribes at anyone that criticises Calvinism (touts statements such as spurgeons 'calvinism is the gospel' - which is heretical - as much as saying arminianism is), shows little to no humility and portrays opponents as possibly or likely unsaved at every turn. I love teaching systematically, I love systematic theology but without encountering the spirit of God dynamically such normally feeds to broken ego. The irony of using the enormity of God to fuel our own ego's and arrogance astounds me

to be honest, I'm not sure what a doctine is, I just know my pastor talks about it as something bad. and then there was a time i heard a preacher on tv saying that we need good sound doctrine, but not ritual.

so i looked up what the word "doctrine" meant.

doctrine is a policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government.

so maybe doctrine's are like rules or regulations?

I don't know. but anyway, I appreciate the way you tried to explain it, how you can still have doctrine but know christ as well.

Hi Pastor Josh. I left some comments to encourage you on this post and maybe one or two others in the last month, but none of them have showed up. You don't have to publish this one, but I apologize if I somehow violated the website rules (I have no idea how this was possible unless my comments were seen as spam). Honestly it was slightly discouraging since I really did want to express my gratitude. I've bought at least three copies of Dug Down Deep which I mentioned last time, and also thanked you for posting all the sermon notes. Sorry again if I somehow didn't meet a website standard.

Pastor Harris,

(set to the music of Lil' Wayne's "A Milli")

This is a GOSPEL Track Production

Shout out to Jesus
Calvin is my homeboy

In darkness I used to go and WANDER
and rarely did I stop to sit and PONDER
if I was sinning against my GOD
and if I wasn't merely some SOD
underneath His holy FEET.
Can you feel this holy BEAT?
It is a song for the PARACLETE.

So holy, so holy, so holy, so holy
So holy, so holy, so holy, so holy

I am a sinner who needs the CROSS
I need to realize that God is the BOSS.
Regenerate my broken HEART
give me a new and fresh START.
Let me plant TULIPs in my GARDEN
that belongs to Jesus, my WARDEN.
He freed ME.
He saved ME.
He paid the ransom PRICE
and that is more than NICE.


A mill, a milli is what I OWE
to Jesus so love to Him I SHOW.
This beat is going HARD
So I dance like a RETARD
or like King David when he was SAVED
from enemies who would have PAVED
his head into the GROUND.
Bow and make this a holy MOUND.
Don't sell the Gospel by the POUND
because it is free. Hear that SOUND!


That was AWESOME, Lil' Gospel Spouter!

Holy Hip Hop - I like it!

I love how cross centered your flow was.

Keep it up in His Name,


Thanks, Nathan! Props my brother in the Lord!

I am in that Hallelujah mode again!

(again set to the music of "A Milli" by Lil' Wayne)

Eeny meeny miny MO.
Let the holy gospel FLOW.
Don't hide your sins, that's a LOSS
Let God bear them all on His CROSS.

A milli, a milli, a MILLION
is the number of all of my SINS
Or maybe it is more like a BILLION?
Legalism is worth as much as TINS
that hold a bunch of stale COOKIES.

Lil' Gospel Spouter,

This are some holy rhymes, G!

Keep up the great work!

Or, in the spirit of your style...imagine this rhyme set to David Guetta's remix of Snoop Dawg's tune "Sweat."

Where can I run but to Thee?
The Cross is the only tree
whose fruit is truly free.

Is the man greater than the Lord?
But this God man came to bring the sword.
The God man gave the sword to our sin.

And Jesus just makes satan sweat
sweat, sweat, sweat
and Jesus just makes satan sweat

Verse 2
Who is the one to free mankind?
the one on cross, lovingkind.

I love to study and discuss doctrine. I think if it wasn't important to know, Paul's comment to Timothy about the Bible being good for doctrine would not be in it. I liked the analogy about how facts about your daughter can be dry things, but that you couldn't know her without them.

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