Doctrine should never be alienated from practical living. Probably the biggest accusation from the camp that are pushing for an experience first approach, is that doctrine is something that the academics like to play around with and has no practical implications for life. This is so far from the truth when looking at how the Scriptures actually handle doctrine.
In a previous article, I showed that doctrine is supposed to be integrated into the Christian’s life. Doctrine always supersedes life decisions, etc. A wonderful section in the Bible illustrates the point. In Isaiah 40 the prophet is asking some real questions concerning God and his relationship to creation. This builds up to a climax in verses 27-31 that illustrates how the doctrine about God is an integral part of our daily life.
Verse 27 reveals the question of God’s people as to His presence and His guidance, protection and vindication:
Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God?
These are some honest questions that need real, solid answers. Their experience is not so alien from what we experience – especially in difficult and stressed-out times.
The prophet does not give them some fairy tale answer to experience God in some mystical sort of way. He does not direct them to a new experience of life as so many so-called leaders in the Church are so keen on doing. He does not even venture onto a path where man is made more than Scripture makes of him. No positive confession garbage, no motivational lies, no self-boosting programs to experience more of God in their lives are proposed.
Instead, Isaiah takes the root of solid doctrine about God. God’s people are asking (maybe even accusing) questions, and under the guidance of God’s Spirit he proclaims doctrine as the answer. He takes the people of God back to where they are supposed to be rooted, namely in what they know about God. Look at the questions that he asks back:
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard … (v27)
He is pointing them back to real knowledge, the content of which is knowable and learned. He points them back to what is proclaimed in Deuteronomy 6:4:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.
On the basis of this doctrine about God, he actually accuses the people of God for not going back to this doctrine to find answers in the very nature of God. Probably they wanted tangible experiences to feel that God is there to help them and be with them. Isaiah says experience is not the answer – doctrine is.
Doctrine forms the base of all of our life’s experiences and questions – at least that is what is supposed to be our reality. In this instance it is remarkable to see in what sense the doctrine about God was to be the answer to their questions. He starts with the powerful declarations:
that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. (v28)
- He shows them a couple of God’s attributes in this very short statement:
- God is everlasting
- He is the Covenant God (LORD)
- He is the Creator
- He is not limited to the tiring effect of day tot day living, in other words He is unlimited in His sustaining potential
- His wisdom and knowledge is not comparable to any other – known or unknown.
The marvel is how the prophet relates this to man’s experience of life:
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. (v29)
Because of His infinite sustaining ability, He grants power and strength to His people in times that they might feel as though God is not able to or willing to sustain them.
Isaiah goes on to teach them:
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Because God is eternal, the One who made everything that exists, the One who is bound in a covenant relationship to them, unlimited in sustaining power, and the One who knows everything that we cannot and way more, therefore He is the One who is able to sustain and lift up His children to soar on eagle’s wings and run without growing weary.
This is not fairy tale mumbo jumbo. This is doctrine becoming practical in the lives of God’s children. Doctrine is our to fall back on. Doctrine is never assigned to the academic world. That is called research in my opinion and has its rightful place in God’s church and should serve the doctrines that the Bible teaches. Experience is built in solid knowledge of God’s truth in His Word and as set forth in sound doctrine. It can never replace doctrine, nor can it ever act as the base for doctrine. That is what Isaiah teaches God’s people here:
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard …
In other words: get back to what you know about God and His character and how He works. If not, you will follow man-made arguments that fails the test of time.