For over a decade, I have been reviewing books that are of particular interest to Christians. While the vast majority of the titles I have reviewed are solid works founded on biblical principles, I am far better known for those occasional reviews of the very worst books in the Christian world. Sadly, these books that teach the worst are often the books that sell the best.
I do not relish writing such reviews. That’s partly because they meet plenty of backlash. But it’s mostly because I find writing them very sorrowful. It’s sorrowful to witness the church’s widespread theological ignorance exposed by these books’ popularity. Because Christians are not trained in sound doctrine, they wholeheartedly embrace error, often finding it more satisfying than God’s revealed truth.
There are many reasons that ignorance pervades today’s church. For decades, Christians have focused on felt needs rather than doctrinal truth. We have focused on immediately-applicable topical sermons rather than verse-by-verse exposition that unleashes the whole truth of God’s whole Word. We have ceased catechizing our children, building within them a solid, systematic foundation for their faith. We have emphasized Christianity as a relationship with God at the expense of Christianity as an established body of truth. In so many ways, we have focused on feelings rather than facts. We have attempted to make Christianity palatable by making it simplistic.
While the Christian faith is much more than facts, much more than doctrines, it can never be less. Christianity is dependent upon truths that are taught by God’s Word and received by God’s people. Every Christian is responsible to learn sound doctrine, to be trained in the truth in order to discern error. Here are three means God has provided for us to train ourselves in sound doctrine.
Train Yourself in Sound Doctrine
Every Christian is individually responsible to study sound doctrine and learn it for themselves. Paul told Timothy, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1 Timothy 4:6). Paul wanted Timothy to know that this training would be hard work: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
To know sound doctrine, we must know the Word of God, for “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Every Christian must read, study, and know the Bible and the truth it contains. King David models an appropriate love for God’s Word when he exclaims, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). By day and by night he read the Bible, he learned the Bible, and he applied it to his life.
Christian, you must know the truth of the Christian faith. And to know the truth of the Christian faith, you must know the Bible. You must sit under the teaching of God’s Word week by week in the local church. You must ensure a habit of regular, consistent Bible intake, reading the Word, pondering the Word, and ensuring you are living consistent to it. You have access to myriad resources to help you in this—books and commentaries and web sites that will help you further understand, embrace, and apply the truths of God’s Word. Commit your life to the pursuit of the sound doctrine by a deep commitment to God’s Word.
Train in Sound Doctrine With Your Family
Every Christian is responsible to personally know and embrace sound doctrine. Every Christian parent is also responsible to teach sound doctrine within the home. Moses commanded this from the very beginning when he said, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Parents have a sobering, God-given responsibility to instruct their children in the Word. This involves reading the Bible to their children, but also explaining it in age-appropriate ways and applying it to specific situations.
We see this beautifully modeled in young Timothy. Paul commended Timothy’s mother and grandmother for the way they had raised the lad to know, understand, and treasure the Word of God. Paul was able to say, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). Timothy had the inestimable privilege of spending his whole life being taught the Word and the sound doctrine it contains.
Parents, it is your solemn responsibility to instruct your children in the Word of God and in its doctrine. Familiarize them with the Word, with the story it contains and the characters it describes. But also ensure that you also familiarize them with its pattern of sound doctrine. Take advantage of the many devotionals, creeds, and catechisms Christians have created for just this purpose. Instruct your children so they, too, will know the truth.
Train in Sound Doctrine With Your Church
Just as parents bear the responsibility of teaching sound doctrine with the home, pastors bear the responsibility of teaching sound doctrine within the church. As Paul writes to his colleagues Titus and Timothy, he pleads with them to teach sound doctrine, to guard it faithfully, and to ensure its preservation by entrusting it to others (Titus 2:2, 2 Timothy 1:13, 2:2). Paul himself taught sound doctrine by instructing believers both “in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). In public ministry and private ministry, in big groups and small groups, Paul actively taught the people the Bible’s key truths. Paul’s most solemn charge of all was for Timothy to preach the Word and its every truth: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
But it is not just pastors who bear the weight of training in sound doctrine. Every church member must be rooted in truth. Paul commanded all believers in Ephesus, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” God has provided fellow believers in the local church to admonish us in sound doctrine and to guard us against falling away from it.
When Paul spoke the word to the Jews in Berea, they “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Likewise, all Christians are called together to test all things according to the Scriptures. This is a noble calling in God’s sight.
Train in Sound Doctrine for a Lifetime
Training ourselves in sound doctrine cannot happen without diligence. But even as we use all of the means God has given us, training in sound doctrine cannot happen overnight. It requires small, daily investments of mornings in private study, evenings of worship with the family, and weekly faithfulness in gathering with the church. Over time, these small seeds of training will yield the fruit of righteousness.
Christian, start training in sound doctrine today. Make daily investments of faithfulness in private, with your family, and with your church. Then you will be “equipped for every good work,” ready to hold God’s unchanging truth and reject any deadly doctrine.