It has been said that we live what we believe. John Piper recently wrote an article on evangelicalism and doctrine. (Doctrine means belief or teaching. In our context, that means the teachings of the Bible.) He quotes from Ronald Sider’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience to support his view that doctrine, right doctrine, matters to how Christians live. Not, I think, what we acknowledge as true, but what we believe is important. What we think about, and how we think shapes how we act. Romans 12:2 tells us to, “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Right beliefs develop right actions. Let me acknowledge up front that I don’t see this as a cut and dry issue. Nor do I think that every person who claims to believe the teachings of Christ has been transformed by them. Many examples can be given of people who hold to all the right doctrines, but are unloving. Of course, there’s a simple response to this – that they don’t hold to all the right doctrines.
Foundational to Christianity is love. It has to be when the very essence of God is love. He is relationship, three-in-one.* The very thing that defines us, that we proclaim and profess, that cannot be denied despite all of our denominational differences is that God loved us to His death. The virgin birth, the life of demand and stress, the teaching and the touches of hope and grace and peace, the quiet submission to torture, the obedience to the Father and the giving of life on the cross… were an act of love for us.
Our religion, our movement, our faith, our hope was born out of the cross… out of love. We love because He first loved us. 1 John says that anybody who does not love his brother, isn’t living in Jesus, isn’t living by truth. I’m guessing that the majority of examples that we could all provide of people who “have all the right doctrines” also have problems forgiving others, being generous to those in need, serving the marginalized of this world, and generally just don’t have much love. I agree with Piper that “God gives good press to good doctrine” (probably more than I agree with him on most things). But I can’t get over that God has given the best press to the following teaching:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
*Can love even exist outside of relationship? Some theologians think that the three persons of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, were not three before Creation and that They will return to the same state after the Second coming. I don’t see how this is possible if God IS love. The description of the three-in-one is most congruent with the teaching that He is, was, and will always be and that He is love.