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It’s been surprising how often the topic has come up in conversations over the past few weeks. I haven’t been able to get through a day without someone asking about “doctrine.”

I know . . . that’s a word that tends to make some people uncomfortable. To talk about doctrine raises images of dusty volumes of dry theology, lectures on uninteresting minutiae that have little or no value to life, endless debates about issues over which Christians seem to have had disagreements from the very beginning of the church. To bring up the subject is sometimes viewed as divisive or even bigoted. But that visceral reaction to the subject belies the reality.

Everyone has “doctrine.” Everyone has a theology. Everyone has ways they “put the pieces together” when it comes to life and God and sin and grace and Jesus and eternity. We all are theologians. We all attempt to live in some kind of coherent thinking about the things of God and how they intersect our lives. The only issue is whether we will be thoughtful, intentional, and biblical in our theology.

These conversations over the past few weeks have pointed me back to some of Paul’s writings. One passage, in particular, seems to be apropos.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Paul is writing to Timothy about what lies ahead for the churches young Timothy is serving. Even in his day, part of that future included an intolerance for “sound doctrine” and an increasing appetite for those who would teach what the hearers wanted to hear–to merely have one’s “ears tickled.”

It seems to me that the contrast is clear.

“Sound doctrine” refers to theologically rich instruction that provides for healthy spiritual growth. Think, “good, biblically faithful, theologically informed teaching.” This kind of teaching is truth focused; it is anchored in God’s revelation of himself and his plans and purposes in Scripture.

This kind of ministry of the Word may not always fit with teaching geared to address people’s “felt needs.” If those felt needs become the reason for the teaching or preaching, then the teacher risks teaching “in accordance with [the people’s] own desires.” And this kind of ministry of truth may not fit with teaching geared to a “sharing a good story” approach. If the “sharing the story” takes precedence over telling the truth, then the teacher risks merely passing on myths rather than God’s Word.

The word “myth” that Paul uses in his letter to Timothy means “story, fable, tale.” We get a sense for what the word means in how Peter uses it:

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales [the “myth” word] when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)

Peter contrasts “tales” with truth–the story with a moral instead of the proclamation of the truth about Jesus. And that is the contrast seen in Paul’s words to Timothy as well. Both Peter and Paul understand that the Christian life is not built on good ideas told attractively but on a proclamation of the truth we find in the person of Jesus.

So, even back in Paul’s day there was concern that a time was coming when people would be more interested in hearing interesting stories, messages that were pleasant to listen to, talks that spoke to their own self-interest. Truth would not be privileged. Doctrine would be dismissed. Reflecting on that concern presented in Paul’s letter to Timothy has stirred me to think about our day and age.

I wonder what time it is?

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One Comment

  1. It’s time for TRUTH!!! Thanks for maintaining and advancing the voice of TRUTH. My ears are exhausted from constant tickling. The sweet melody of TRUTH is powerful and soothing.


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