Saturday, March 14, 2009

Young People and Doctrine

Tim Challies shared this magnificent quote from J.C. Ryle that focuses on a very serious problem among evangelicals, especially younger ones:
[Dislike of dogma] is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and specially among young people…. It produces what I must venture to call…a “jelly-fish” Christianity in the land: that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. A jelly-fish…is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jelly-fish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation. Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, “No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.” We have hundreds of “jelly-fish” clergymen, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have not definite opinions; they belong to no school or party; they are so afraid of “extreme views” that they have no views at all. We have thousands of “jelly-fish” sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge, or a point, or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint. We have Legions of “jelly-fish” young men annually turned out from our Universities, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth. They live apparently in a state of suspense, like Mohamet’s fabled coffin, hanging between heaven and earth…and last, and worst of all, we have myriads of “jelly-fish” worshippers-respectable Church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than color-blind people can distinguish colors. They think everybody is right and nobody wrong, everything is true and nothing is false, all sermons are good and none are bad, every clergyman is sound and no clergyman is unsound. They are “tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine”; often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement; ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old; and utterly unable to “render a reason of the hope that is in them.” …Never was it so important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to “enunciate dogma” very clearly and distinctly in their teaching.
I see much of myself in this, for in my youth I was very disinterested in doctrine. I saw little practical value in putting much effort into the nuances of theological positions and failed to see how, in my pride, I was under the delusion that I had figured out all of the important things. I thank God for friends and mentors who helped me see how essential the study of doctrine and the things of Go are, and who helped me gain a much grander and majestic view of the Almighty. I am thankful for parents who instilled in me the primacy of Scripture, and churches who understand how important training and educating the people of God is.

1 comment:

Theophilus said...

Very good quote. Do you know if it was in a book; if so, which one?

Here is a supplemental quote. Michael Horton writes in "Christless Christianity":
"My argument in this book is not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous. ... We come to church, it seems, less to be transformed by the Good News than to celebrate our own transformation and to receive fresh marching orders for transforming ourselves and our world. ... Just as you don't really need Jesus Christ in order to have T-shirts and coffee mugs, it is unclear to me why he is necessary for most of the things I hear a lot of pastors and Christians talking about in church these days."