Most evangelicals were raised with the substitutionary atonement theory of the Gospel, whether they know those words or not. Most evangelical teaching is based on what other people said, not necessarily on the Bible. But we confuse the two. We assume, because good evangelicals teach us, this must be what the Bible says.
When a person comes along and says, “What about this verse?” And that verse pokes a hole in our long-held doctrine, we don’t quite know what to do. People respond in the following ways:
- Attack! Call the questioner a heretic scum and let them know they are veering into dangerous territory. How dare you poke on the Church’s doctrine, you ingrate!
- Ignore. Immediately chalk that person up as a heretic and no longer listen. Keep yourself in your safe bubble and keep smiling, happy to be the one person on earth with 100% correct doctrine!
- Confused Apathy. Doctrine is hard, I don’t get it. All you bookish people can argue; I just love Jesus, even though I have no idea what it is He actually did (There is a point here at some level, but doctrinal ignorance is not spiritual bliss). Doctrine does not need to involve big words and official lingo. The more people use that stuff, the less confidence you should have in them. Doctrine is what the Bible says; not what theologians say.
- Examination. One would expect that, if we are learning more every day about the Bible, our doctrines would change. I’m really not sure why we are afraid to change doctrine. When someone disagrees, you don’t have to immediately give up and accept the new thing you heard, please don’t! Don’t change for change’s sake. But you should examine it, know what your stance is, how you would explain it. Do some work. Think it through. Ask some questions.
The tendency to make doctrine solely for smart, academic seminarians is a really bad idea. Everyone has doctrine. Doctrine is simply what you’ve been taught.
None of us has had perfect teachers. None of us. No one.
Therefore, one would assume we’ve been taught incorrect things. This is not disparaging your teachers; this is human reality. What your fallible teachers have taught fallible you should be examined by you at some point.
I would venture to say that’s a lot of what spiritual maturity is all about. Paul says when he became a man, he put away childish things.
Kids are taught lots of things, some good and some bad. As kids grow up, they learn to question their teachers and not just swallow everything they are told. Mature people put what they’ve learned into action. Lots of those things don’t work. When you realize that, you begin to examine what you were taught.
This is education.
Don’t be afraid to think about the Bible. Please don’t be afraid to think about stuff that pretty much every evangelical says! Many who have taught you have never read the Bible.
Doctrine is not scary, nor is it confusing. Most doctrinal confusion stems from “How come the Bible doesn’t say what I was taught?” This really isn’t a confusing issue: It’s because you were taught wrong stuff!
Read the Word. Pray for the Spirit’s help. Don’t let complex, big-worded doctrine confuse you and make you think the Bible is too hard. The fact that you can’t understand theologians is not a bad thing! The Bible never asked you to understand them!
For example, when it comes to Substitutionary Atonement, it doesn’t matter if you understand those words, or if you like them, or if you can even pronounce them. What matters is if you know that Jesus Christ did everything necessary for your salvation and your trust is in Him and the power of His Gospel to transform your life.
Here’s what CS Lewis says about Substitutionary Atonement. I like it, cuz it’s what I’m trying to say, only he says it better, except he does leave out the resurrection, which was also pretty huge:
We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself.
A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works.
Doctrine does not require large theology books. It requires the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Get those things and then use them. Doctrine will take care of itself.