Jesus: Relationship or Doctrine?
Recently, on a social media website, a friend posted a book by a famous Christian author. There was a lot of debate on whether we should read books by this author. I jumped into the fray as my wife had asked me what I thought about the author. I am not going to get into that issue here on the blog, but I would like to address a comment someone made that got lots of “likes.”
The comment was along these lines, “(The Author) writes from a relational perspective like Jesus, not a doctrinal one. “
Sounds good on the surface doesn’t it? Especially in our corner of Christianity where we Reformed people place much emphasis on doctrine. But I would like to assert that the two “perspectives” cannot be separated. That is, Jesus is both intensely relational and intensely doctrinal. Not only that, but one cannot write a “relational” book about Jesus without being “doctrinal.”
Let me ask you a question: Which comes first? Knowledge of Jesus or a relationship with him?
Tricky huh? But really the answer is easy… it is impossible to have a relationship with Jesus without knowing something about him. We cannot have a relationship with Jesus unless we know what that relationship is based on. Every Christian, regardless of denomination, says that Jesus is their saviour. What did he save us from? From our sin? But why do you need saving from your sin? So you can be successful in this life? To overcome addiction? To be a better person? Or was it because you had separated yourself from a holy and just God and in order to restore that relationship He became flesh and saved you from His own wrath by taking it all upon himself? Did he just save us from sin? Did he save us from ourselves? From Satan? From this world? Did he perhaps save us for himself? What does it mean to have a personal relationship with Jesus? What does it mean that Jesus is Lord? What does it mean to follow him? You can see that what you believe about Jesus will affect your relationship with Him. And what you believe about Jesus is, in fact, doctrine – look it up.
My point in all this is that when we speak of having a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus (and I do often speak of it) it is doctrinal. It is based on some text of scripture, or some image of Him created in our minds. The same is true of anyone who writes a book about Jesus. You can’t write an “un-doctrinal” book about Jesus.
Now, I understand what the person who made the comment was getting at. As I said to earlier, we Reformed Christians are often guilty of becoming heated in debates and cold in our doctrinal stances. We strive to be sound Biblically, so we study and learn and exegete and read and cling to our confessions…and there is nothing wrong with that. But we may end up putting Jesus into a little box and say “Look, this is Jesus. This is what he died for. This why he died. This is what we should believe.” And then we sit there and look at our Jesus in the box and don’t engage him in relationship as intensely or as fervently as He wants us to. Jesus is not just a doctrine. That type of thinking turns people off – it turns me off! Some people in response to this cold doctrine turn their back on “doctrine” and theology (or in this case Christology) and seek a relationship only.
In our human nature we tend to go from one extreme to the other. It is not unlike the pendulum between legalism and antinomianism.
Big words…sorry. Let me explain.
An example of this is when a person is raised in a legalistic home or church. We hate the Pharisaical laws and rules, and the “that’s the way it’s always been done” attitude – so we shed that sinful system and go to the opposite sinful extreme of Antinomianism – or anti law. We make the error that we can do whatever we want and our catchphrase becomes, “GRACE!”
I hope you get the point I am making: When we emphasize the relationship over doctrine we err, and vice versa. We should delight not just in the truth of Jesus but we should delight in those truths and in Him personally. Because of doctrine, because of what we understand through the historical truths of Christianity because of his love for us we become the very bride of Christ. We become his body…and those are both very intimate, and doctrinal, relationships.