Doctrine. Theology. If you’ve been hanging around church for very long you’ve probably heard these words thrown out there from time to time. When I see those words I imagine a staunch-looking, grey haired man sitting in an armchair smoking a pipe next to a fireplace in a room filled with books. The image isn’t that far off from our western point of view. Some of my favorite theological and doctrinal thinkers spent much of their time in just such a setting.
Simply put, theology is the study of God and the Bible while doctrine is the teaching or instruction of the study of God and the Bible.
As a pastor, something I highly value is the idea of teaching “how” to think instead of “what” to think. I believe it is crucial that Christians learn how to unpack the meaning and direction of scripture for themselves and in community. In valuing the how over the what, CTK leans toward prioritizing theology over doctrine. While the two are by no means mutually exclusive, a “how to think” church puts most of its time into understanding who God is in the context of the Bible (theology) so that our teaching (doctrine) grows out of that good theology.
There is at least one reason I think this is important. Doctrine will always become subjective and self-serving without sound theology–and subjective doctrine is dangerous. A doctrine-first approach might look at a verse like Eph 6:5-7 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear…” and form a doctrine that justifies slavery (like our American slave owners in recent history). Good theology sees this doctrine for what it is: foolishly antithetical to who we know God to be and what Paul was trying to communicate in his letter to the church in Ephesus.
We may not be hung up on the ethics of slave ownership today, but we do have to teach our children what it means to “honor their parents” in all they do according to the Bible. I cringe at all the ways I have seen that particular passage of scripture used to justify and affirm any manner of abuse and bad parenting.
One of the best ways to spot bad doctrine based on poor theology is that it oversimplifies profound ideas. We should always be suspicious of shallow answers to deep questions. In our world today, we have an obligation to be wise and discerning in our theology so that our doctrine continues to be good news.