Social Justice v. Good Doctrine

Self-righteous jerks and historic Christianity

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Just love people, love Jesus, and do social justice.

This vague, nondescript statement may be the mantra of our generation of Christians in a post-Christian world. And it’s often pitted against those who stand for correct doctrine.

“Religion at its worst” writes Christian blogger Morgan Guyton, “amounts to people doing the right things because they want to be right about everything, which makes them self-righteous jerks who are always looking for heretics to crucify.”

Guyton goes on to write, “Doctrine is the idol that has taken the place of Jesus in American evangelical Christianity. Our worship of doctrine instead of Jesus has become today’s greatest heresy.”

In other words: Don’t be a self-righteous, doctrinal jerk.

Doctrinal idolatry is a problem; it’s not okay to have faith without works. But, I don’t really think that’s the main issue that we are facing today. (To be fair, Guyton comes around and says that doctrine is, in fact, important, but his thoughts portray an attitude which is becoming all too common in “Christian” thought. That is: doctrine is dead. What really matters is that we love people, love Jesus, and do social justice.)

This attitude is not new. This is almost precisely what Machen was facing when he wrote Christianity & Liberalism in 1923. The questions he grapples with in Chapter 2 of the book is essentially, Can we really have Christianity, in any meaningful sense of the word, without doctrine?

No, he says. And he gives his life to defend that answer.

Machen points out several key reasons why doctrine is necessary to Christianity.

First, Christianity is rooted in history. We can’t divorce “Christianity” as a concept from Christianity as it was originally practiced and conceived of by the original Jerusalem church. And Christianity, to the early Christians, was based on both historical facts and the interpretation of those facts (doctrine) (Machen 18).

Second, “Paul was no advocate of an undogmatic religion” (21). He was tolerant of those who would preach the true Gospel from wrong motives, but not those who preached a wrong Gospel (19). And Paul’s teaching cannot be separated from the life and beliefs of the early Christian community (23).

Third, Jesus himself cannot be separated from his doctrine. He didn’t just teach us to “be kind” for example. He “certainly did not content Himself with the enunciation of permanent moral principles” (27). He saw Himself as the Messiah in a very specific, literal way, and on that truth the hope of the Church was built (29).

Machen concludes that “the liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts” (39).

Cold orthodoxy without action and without the Spirit is indeed a real problem. But the denigration of doctrine as a whole may be the more relevant danger for our modern world.

Let us be doers of the word and not hearers only. But let us also follow the admonition of Paul to “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:3, ESV).

Sources:

Guyton, Morgan. “Why I hate doctrine but love Jesus (response to a similarly named video).” 12 Jan 2012, www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2012/01/12/why-i-hate- doctrine-but-love-jesus-response-to-a-similarly-named-video/

Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity and Liberalism. 1923. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009.

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Cheyenne Sensenig

Cheyenne grew up in Canada and China and somehow ended up in Lancaster.