Eugene Peterson, in his new volume “Eat This Book” follows Karl Barth and the so-called neo-orthodox brand of liberal theology, by pitting the dramatic story of the Bible against a dogmatic, propositional reading of the Bible. But the Bible is drama and doctrine. The Christian doctrine emerges from the saga of Redemptive History.
The Bible contains doctrine though it cannot be reduced to doctrine as if it were a systematic theology text book. Luther in “the Bondage of the Will” argued persuasively that Christianity is a religion of assertions and assertions are essential to Christianity. If you take away assertions/propositions you take away Christianity. If you take away doctrinal statements, nothing is left of Christianity.
Dr. Michael Horton rightly recognizes that the Christian doctrine arise out of this dramatic plot. This dramatic plot is an unfolding revelation of our Triune God working to save us from our sins. God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the world in the space of six days and all very good. On the sixth day, God created man in his image and likeness, placed him in the Garden of Eden and set life and death before him. If Adam would eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. Adam was supposed to tend and keep the garden and eventually eat the fruit from the tree of life. Adam’s wife Eve gave into the serpent’s temptation and chose to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam chose death, following his wife, and ate the fruit of the very tree God had commanded him not to eat. Through this one man, sin, death and corruption entered into the world. Adam’s guilt before God, and his corrupt nature would be passed on to all his children. From there beginning in Genesis 3:15 God cursed the serpent and indirectly promised Adam and Eve that he would send a savior, to save them from ultimate death, eternal punishment in hell. Scripture then proceeds as an unfolding drama where God, who exists in three persons Father Son and Holy Spirit, would work out in history a way to bring man to a right relationship with God and attain eternal life, by faith.
Scripture is filled with, poetry, narrative, apocalyptic imagery and Scripture communicates a doctrine and life. Scripture is for our salvation. The Bible teaches us all those things necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation. The Bible teaches these things in a way that anyone who makes diligent use of ordinary means can attain to a saving knowledge of the Gospel.
It is true that Scripture is not merely doctrine, but scripture is not less than doctrine. Paul is clear when he tells Timothy to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the doctrine. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16) and to “follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me” (2 Tim 1:13). And Jude, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
This has significance for the way we read Scripture. We should read Scripture so that we might come to a saving knowledge of God, the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit and their Trinitarian work for us that we receive by faith alone. Basically put, we read Scripture so that we might know God, receive eternal life and grow in grace. We read so that we might live a life that is pleasing to God, glorifying him before the world. If we are to know God know God and live a life that honors him, we must have an understanding about God. To know God is to know something about God. To know something about God is doctrine. Without doctrine, knowledge about God, it is really silly to say that I know God. We are to have a child like faith, but not a childish faith. So reading for understanding involves engagement, reflection and practice. We are to engage ourselves in the unfolding drama, so that we might reflect on its meaning and significance for our lives and the life of the church in the world. Then we must seek to live in light of this new understanding. Through engaging Scripture, reflecting upon its meaning and significance with an eye toward practice we come to know God in a saving way. In this way, engagement, reflection, and practice we are not merely hearing the word and walking away forgetting what we heard having only a faint impression of it, but we become doers of the word with a mature understanding of who God is and how we might glorify him everyday.