I was thirteen years old the first time I got on a roller coaster that looped upside down. I was terrified. There were many prior failed attempts. You know what I mean. I waited in line. I made it all the way to the moment of decision and at the last minute stepped into the car and right on through. It took some serious peer pressure from some very cute thirteen year old girls to help me overcome my fear!
Why was I afraid? What was the cure? Interestingly enough, correct information did nothing to help me overcome my fear. I understood enough about physics to know it was perfectly safe to ride the Shockwave. In a science classroom, if asked to explain this, I could have said some very reasonable things about centrifugal force that would have adequately explained why there was no reason to fear. And the thing is, I really sincerely affirmed this to be fact. I was nevertheless still afraid.
There is a distinction between affirming right data and belief. Belief is much more than intellectual agreement. Belief embraces more than information. It is possible to sincerely affirm correct information and yet actually believe something completely incongruent with that data.
This can be a dangerous trap for Christians. Failing to understand the distinction between what they intellectually affirm and that which they actually believe, many mistake doctrine for belief. It is possible to sincerely embrace right doctrine and have little to no faith in operation. The doctrine of Justification by Faith can be learned, rehearsed, and vigorously defended from scripture by someone who has never heard the Judge of all Creation declare them innocent of all charges. The God who is fully present in every place can always seem distant and removed from someone who fully embraces the doctrine of God’s omnipresence and has verses from Psalm 139 ready to back it up.
What do you believe about God? I’m not asking about your doctrine or your theology. What do you really believe? Is he good? Is he near? Is he powerful? Beliefs are shaped by experience not Sunday School. The lenses through which we see reality are shaped by what we encounter. Have your experiences taught you to believe that God is good? Near? Powerful? Or do you just have right doctrine.
If you discover an incongruence between the good doctrine you’ve learned in church and from the Bible and the actual assumptions your heart makes about God based on your life experiences, then what you need is a new experience. You need to encounter God, hear his voice, experience his presence. Only this kind of revelation will produce lasting growth and change. Only this kind of experience will result in faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word (spoken word) of Christ (Rom 10:17).
Am I minimizing the importance of sound doctrine? No! Bad doctrine is of no benefit whatsoever. The point is that right doctrine is simply an accurate description of reality. It explains something real. In itself doctrine is insufficient for it is simply the explanation of a thing, not the thing itself. To the degree that right doctrine leads you to pursue the reality it points to, it is helpful. But to the degree right doctrine simply becomes a collection of correct information, it is simply the Knowledge of Good, which really isn’t any better than the Knowledge of Evil. Eating fruit from either branch of that tree will kill you!
Roller coasters were not made to be studied. Get in, buckle up, and ride.