By Colson Parker
The fact that the Church is no longer the one teaching doctrine leaves a haunting question: if we aren’t teaching it, then who is? And in today’s world where evangelicalism is walking a tightrope between a political identity and a faith descriptor, my suspicion is that the new teacher is politics.
The decline of doctrine
While most mainline evangelical churches are Bible-preaching and Bible-believing, their teaching of the specific historical doctrines of the church has long been waning. For quite some time, there has been criticism of the evangelical move away from creeds, confessions, and theological teaching. I recount a story my pastor once told me of a woman in her late 70s who took it upon herself to fix this issue. Her tools were John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. The woman came to the pastor one day in tears and remarked, “Why is it that no one has ever taught me these things?”
The evangelical departure from a creedal and confessional church is a criticism I believe evangelical churches need to take seriously. Too often I hear the quote, “we need to keep the main thing, the main thing,” referring to an emphasis on the Gospel and Jesus Christ. While this is true, we must take note of the Church’s historical use of doctrinal tools to help us build what the Bible teaches into a framework that is confessional and applicable. The use of these tools served a critically important role, and I fear we are seeing the consequences of what happens when churches lose this.
The influence of politics on doctrine
The fact that the Church is no longer the one teaching doctrine leaves a haunting question: if we aren’t teaching it, then who is? And in today’s world where evangelicalism is walking a tightrope between a political identity and a faith descriptor, my suspicion is that the new teacher is politics. In an age of overextended political identity that mixes with faith, my question is what happens when the fuel that lights our fire of doctrinal learning comes from political issues and pursuits? What is the danger when the only time we seek out the doctrines of our faith is to use it as a wand that advances whatever political agenda that we have? If I take little interest in doctrine until I require it to defend my stance on politics, then have I given politics too high a role in my life?
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, this question is extremely applicable, and we find an immediate example of this. One of the largest criticisms of the conservative Christian stance on abortion from the Left is that we only care about the baby while it is in the womb. This criticism is more valid than most conservative Christians are willing to admit. The masses seem concerned by the importance that the baby is born but have little interest in sticking around to ensure the baby has everything it needs for proper and healthy raising and development. Why is that? Well, if we build our doctrines of human worth and Imago Dei around trying to fight abortion, then we make the goal of those doctrines the completion of our political ends. Once the baby is born, there was no abortion, and therefore we have protected its worth and dignity as an image bearer of God. Success!
Politics is not the ultimate authority
Well yes, but we certainly aren’t done. There are other serious needs and concerns that we can help to address for both the new parent/parents and the new child. Those seeking abortion are often disadvantaged, under-resourced, impoverished, coming from single-parent homes, dealing with forms of abuse, undereducated, etc. I am thankful every day for those people who are on the front lines fighting for life, and the many organizations that pour thousands of hours and many resources into taking care of children both in the womb and out. But from my experience, the masses don’t have that drive, and ting our doctrine too closely to our politics risks our ideologies rising above people who need to be taken care of far past just having the baby. These politicized doctrines have made us lazy in the way that cares for those around us and puts our ultimate authority on the ugly worldly beast that politics can become.
As a Reformed Protestant, I hold to a doctrine that frames this concern well: presuppositionalism. In simple terms, it states that to prove that the Bible is infallible, inerrant, and capable of serving as my ultimate authority, we must presuppose that it is fully capable of proving itself. This protects against something especially important. If I use history or science to prove the Bible’s claims, then I have made history or science the ultimate authority over the Bible. Similarly, if we form our doctrine based on the politics we interact with, have we then made politics our ultimate authority?
In the spirit of the woman with whom my pastor spoke, I often question where the hunger she embodied has gone for much of the evangelical world. I desire to see a revival of our churches teaching these doctrines to its congregations, fostering the creeds and confessions from within the church, and ensuring that the foundation is God-honoring and biblical. We should be ensuring that our doctrine and systems of belief are nurtured by mature members of our faith communities so that we reflect true biblical doctrine in other areas of our lives. When political issues rise, I hope to see the evangelical world more intentionally forming our political opinions around our firm and rooted biblical beliefs, doctrines, and creeds– not the other way around. I want to ensure that as the Church we are truly following Christ, and not just claiming His name for our own agendas.
Colson is a Senior at Grove City College studying Social Work and Biblical and Religious Studies. Colson is involved in multiple roles on Grove City College’s campus. He serves as the Chaplain for the Student Government Association, on the executive team on the college’s orientation board, and as the Inner-City Outreach Student Liaison for the colleges short term missions program.
Colson enjoys researching and learning about global studies, community development, and poverty alleviation. He has a passion for missions and spent the last summer in Casablanca, Morocco in a language and cultural internship.