Tom Nettles on the Necessity of Building Life-Giving Doctrine into the DNA of the Local Church

What advice would you give to pastors and church planters to develop themselves and their churches theologically?

The conviction that doctrine is a transformative power must be present from the beginning. It cannot be a subsequent development. If piety and doctrine are developed separately, it becomes extremely difficult to put them back together from a pastoral standpoint. The effort will seem artificial, contrived, and as optional for the Christian life. The “practical” will always seem more manageable for the supposedly ordinary Christian, while doctrinal issues and discussion will be seen as the province of a few heady folks. The fostering of this perception is fatal to the health of the body and to the robust faith of each individual Christian. Pastoral counseling suffers in difficult situations from shallow doctrinal development. A worshipping body, convinced to the person of the divine insistence on his own glory as a right, good, and glorious thing, and the consequent joyful approval of divine sovereignty in creation, providence, and redemption can be a strong and mighty outpost of kingdom labor and worship. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will receive the sound and hearty “Amen” in the souls of the saints. Whining and perplexity over the difficulties of life will be minimized, courageous consistency in the face of sorrow and tragedy will grow as a witness that confounds the expectations of the world, and oneness develops in the entire congregation in genuine sympathy for each other as they experience together the multi-faceted grace of God. They will not think it strange at any fiery trial that comes to them but will consent that “this is the will of God concerning you.” Pastoral counseling builds naturally off the instruction, admonitions, exhortations of a proclamation ministry. A clear and forceful integration of the biblical doctrines of the Trinitarian existence of God, the intrinsic glory of the Godhead, Christ’s infinite condescension, humanity’s fall and consequent just condemnation and punitive corruption, divine sovereignty in election, reconciliation and redemption, calling, resurrection, and eternal occupation—all of these and others constitute the pastoral task from the very beginning of establishing a worshipping congregation.

What danger would you caution them against in theology?

The errors that may attend to any single doctrine of the Bible are too numerous and nuanced to list. A substantial and continuously growing knowledge of historical theology can enhance one’s exegetical wisdom and aid in avoiding the more common and glaring errors. Close attention to long texts of Scripture set within the framework of the biblical writer’s argument can help avoid the tyranny of isolation—a hyper-textual approach to biblical understanding. Arminianism has developed a peculiarly partitioned approach to understanding certain texts in isolation from concentric circles of context. Constantly working at refining what one believes to be the driving plot of the biblical story continually reframes all the individual texts, chastens exegesis to fit into the particular facet of narrative that carries the big story along, and gives the meta-narrative drive that is necessary if Christian are to embrace a God-centered, heaven-centered, perspectivally revolutionary grasp of their life in relation to the eternal counsels of God. In my view, this continued interaction does not create the insecurity of relativity, but offers the opportunity for progressive clarity in our understanding. This does not mean that confessionally articulated doctrine must constantly yield to new formulations, but that our grasp of the place of these sets of coherent truth in relation to each other, creates an intra-doctrinal teleology of increasingly profound and pleasing and God-honoring proportions. The biblical responsibility of the pastor consistently to place the believers in the context of this picture is at once both experimental and theological, practical and doctrinal. What we do and how we feel and how we respond to life’s details flows out of who we believe we are in God’s relentless push toward subduing all things to Christ, that in all things he might have the preeminence.

HT: Joe Thorn

Also Justin Taylor’s blog (see under blog links above).

P.S. I could not agree more with Dr. Nettles!  A hearty “Amen!”  Oh yeah – italics mine.

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