Many Christians separate doctrine from their daily lives. This idea is manifested in the idea of “doctrine is less important than relationship.” Some who each this argue that doctrine is good and fine, but a personal, vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ is more important. This is the common way that this is taught. We hear about how some Christians know too much doctrine, but don’t know the Man behind the doctrine.
There is definitely value in reminding people that the Christian walk is not merely a thing of the “head,” but it is also a thing of the “heart.” I think this is a part of what these sisters and brothers are preaching when they push this idea, but it has the side effect of making people think that a proper and good relationship to God can be obtained devoid of doctrinal understanding. Often little definition is given for this “relationship with Jesus” beyond a comparison to a friendship.
Is Doctrine Merely Nice to Know?
This idea makes doctrine something that is “nice to know.” It is not important or even valuable. It is an impediment. What this view misses however is the is a valid definition of doctrine. Doctrine is not esoteric, useless, or irrelevant facts. Doctrine is simply codifying our understanding of God. Certainly it will change as we learn more, but it is simply not possible to not have doctrine. We may have a doctrine we have not thought about much. We may have doctrinal understandings that center in irrelevancy, or we may have doctrinal understandings that focus totally on things that are relevant to daily lives. We simply cannot dispense of doctrine.
While it is true that having a growing connection to the Divine life is more important than merely knowing about the Most High, it is also true that one cannot fully separate our learning about God from our real relationship to God.
In short, if you are growing in your relationship with your wife, would you stop learning about your wife? Will you get to a point that you no longer study to find out what makes her happy? Do you stop learning about her using the tools you have access to? How is that any different from learning all you can about God?
The False Dichotomy
Ultimately it is a false dichotomy. You will not be growing in this “relationship with Jesus” if you have no desire to grow in your knowledge of Jesus Christ (Doctrine). In fact, how can you even know the difference between the false Jesus and the true Jesus unless you have some kind of learning to back it up. I know my wife immediately from her voice, from the way she looks, and from the things she does. How is it that I can be ready for the last day when God will have a people who “follow the lamb withersoever he goest.” (Revelation 14:4) If I marginalize or put down the very pursuit of knowledge of what Jesus is doing and will do in this world and in my own life.
In short, the separation of doctrine from life is not a viable position. The true position is to live out your doctrine. Live out your understanding of God. We don’t have to choose between putting an ephemeral and undefined “relationship with Jesus” above our understanding of Jesus. Neither do we have to choose to ignore doctrine altogether while glorifying this disconnected idea of “relationship.” We can go another road that is a doctrinally informed and lived life that is empowered by a growing relationship with the Most High.