I think everyone agrees that convictions are a good thing. All you have to do is scroll through a Twitter or Facebook feed to see many strong beliefs held by your friends in cyber-world. Some of these convictions are well-intended, but uninformed. I am afraid that many Christians fall into this category.
That’s why I am really appreciating the time I am spending in Fred Zaspel’s biography, Warfield on the Christian Life. A theme running throughout the book is that truth is important to living. Doctrine and life aren’t two separate categories. And so, “For Warfield theology is not merely some added, optional dimension to the Christian life: it is the very stuff of Christian living” (37).
Warfield argues that if you are indifferent to Christian doctrine, then you are indifferent to Christianity. What is a confession of hope without content? “Warfield argues that in this sense Christianity aims first at the mind. In terms of both evangelism and Christian growth Christianity offers first a message, a word from God—that is, doctrine” (39).
And yet, in scanning Facebook or in casual conversation I can see that many strongly held convictions are shaped out of fear, sentimentality, or some other emotional appeal. Sure, emotions are important, but I’m afraid we have wrongly given them the steering wheel. For example, it is easy to see the appeal of reading about themes such as gratitude or even suffering, and that sounds pretty good so far. But these themes can be romanticized to the point where we become lax on discernment and then pay no attention that mysticism is driving the car, I mean book.
The sentimentality in evangelicalism becomes very apparent when you look at the Christian bookstore’s best sellers list or talk to people about their favorite authors. In his book Homespun Gospel, Todd Brennenman reasons, “It is not theologians or seminary professors who are making the most impact on evangelicalism. It is these personable ministers who have cultivated publishing and product empires through their emotional appeals” (3). More and more, I am seeing well-meaning Christians, who attend good churches, unable to discern truth from error in what they are reading because the authors appeal so well to their sentimentality. My first suggestion is that if anything they have written is marketed on wind chimes, you can confidently weed them out to begin with.
This is a real problem. But it isn’t all that new (well, maybe the wind chimes). Warfield implored Christians to put their minds back in the driver’s seat and Zaspel expands upon it so well. “The character of our theology will shape the character of our religion, and any defective view of God’s character will be reflected and in the soul and peace of conscience we are meant to enjoy. If we have no doctrine, we have no Christianity. If we have scanty doctrine, we have scanty Christianity. If we have profoundly informed convictions, we will have a solid and substantial Christianity” (48).
Zaspel exhorts us to be guided by the truth found in God’s word. Let’s hold informed convictions. Proper theology, what God’s word reveals about his person and his work, comes first. Let that drive our talk and shape our emotions. If we let sentimentality drive the car, theology becomes a warped add-on and we find ourselves riding down the wrong path—one littered with wind chimes.
*Originally published on November 20, 2014.