Of course pastors need to be concerned about knowing doctrine—they need to know what is biblical and what is not. But this picture is not simply stating that, is it? The point of this meme is to convey the opinion that more pastors need to be concerned about teaching the truth; and that the way to do that is for them to become “theologians” and “biblical scholars.” The message I come away with, is that if pastors would just commit to being “guardians of biblical doctrine,” many of the problems in our congregations would fade away, because the main problem is a lack of biblical truth.
If that is the message, then I respectfully disagree.
I disagree because I know many pastors who are faithfully preaching the gospel, but whose congregations are languishing or worse. The truth is that “truth” is not enough. Even the truth about grace is not enough. Why? Because if you are focused on preaching the gospel, but don’t spend much time or effort on incarnating the gospel, you are not going to be growing people in their relationship with Jesus or helping them to make disciples. What we need—in my opinion—are pastors who are fully committed to being disciples of Jesus. People who incarnate Jesus’ grace and truth in their homes, in their church, and to everyone around them. Pastors who are committed to conducting themselves in truth, while responding to others in grace. You can own, read, memorize, and effectively teach every book and sermon that John MacArthur ever wrote, and not be any closer to making a positive difference in the kingdom of God. Shortly after the Great Awakening, in Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival (1743), Jonathan Edwards, one of the most respected protectors and defenders of biblical doctrine in American history wrote,
Though as I said before, clearness of distinction and illustration, and strength of reason, and a good method, in the doctrinal handling of the truths of religion, is many ways needful and profitable, and not to be neglected, yet an increase in speculative knowledge in divinity is not what is so much needed by our people, as something else. Men may abound in this sort of light and have no heat: how much has there been of this sort of knowledge, in the Christian world, in this age? Was there ever an age wherein strength and penetration of reason, extent of learning, exactness of distinction, correctness of style, and clearness of expression, did so abound? And yet was there ever an age wherein there has been so little sense of the evil of sin, so little love to God, heavenly-mindedness, and holiness of life, among the professors of the true religion? Our people don’t so much need to have their heads stored, as to have their hearts touched; and they stand in the greatest need of that sort of preaching that has the greatest tendency to do this (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Yale ed., vol. 4, pages 387-388).
I submit that Edwards’ critique of his own historical context is no less applicable to our own, that “an increase in speculative knowledge in divinity (i.e., biblical doctrine) is not what is so much needed by our people, as something else.” The fact is, there has never been a time when it was easier to acquire good doctrinal knowledge. It was not that long ago that you needed a good library nearby or a sizable wallet to have access to the Yale edition of The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Now, nearly his entire corpus is available and searchable for free, via the Jonathan Edwards Center website. A plethora of Bibles, commentaries, sermons, and Christian books are available with a click of a mouse or a swipe of a finger on one’s smart phone. More and more seminaries are offering courses to either view or audit online for free. There are even apps that offer the equivalent of a masters degree in biblical and theological studies. Yet in spite of the access that people have to excellent theological doctrine through print, radio, television, and online sources, there is an undeniable disconnect between the knowledge of biblical theology and practice. It seems that while the church today excels at teaching doctrine, the church struggles with teaching practice. That is what pastors need to be doing, practicing what they know. They need to be loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and loving their neighbor as themselves (the Great Commandment), and they need to be intentionally helping other people learn do the same (i.e. making disciples, the Great Commission). As the Apostle Paul said, If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2, NIV).