In the life of a Christian and of a church, the absence of doctrine is often the presence of pragmatism. We can struggle to see the relevance of doctrine for everyday life because we measure our everyday lives in terms of efficiency, ease, and minimizing stress. But the Bible calls us to a much richer perspective: it calls us to know the truth. What we believe matters because we were created by a real, triune God who revealed the truth about himself and about us. To not know the truth that our Creator reveals is to be less than fully human.
Over the past few years, millions of people have tuned in to a Netflix show about cleaning up. Tidying Up has become a massive hit, and its Japanese star Marie Kondo has ascended to the heights of influencer culture. In addition to a feverishly popular Netflix program, Kondo now boasts a bestselling book, a highly sought-after online course, and a huge social media following of millions. What’s all the rage?
The secret to Kondo’s fame is her “KonMari” method, which is all about organizing one’s possessions and getting rid of lots of stuff. Kondo’s exhortation to those who feel overwhelmed by clutter is simple: Get rid of anything that does not “spark joy.” For Kondo, this is not a flippant or casual standard. Over the course of her show, she urges her clients to be ruthless in only keeping what actively provides happiness. Beloved but unworn clothes must be tossed. Books should only be kept to a strict minimum. Sentimental items? Only keep whatever provokes the strongest continual emotional reaction. Everything else needs to go, everything that does not “spark joy.”
It’s not hard to imagine why such a message might be appealing to many who feel messy or disorganized. Thousands of people have found Kondo’s message liberating. Who among us does not need the occasional reminder that material possessions should serve a greater good than mere existence? Down with clutter!
In this addition to the Church Questions series, Samuel James addresses how doctrine influences every area of life, shaping how believers feel, think, and act.
What’s fascinating (and saddening) is that there seem to be many Christians, particularly in the affluent West, who think of theology, or doctrine, the way Marie Kondo thinks of clutter. It’s not uncommon to hear people in the church talk about the discipline of theology like a pair of shoes or stack of paperbacks taking up too much room. “It’s just not helpful,” they say, “to talk about election, or justification, or the inerrancy of Scripture. Sure, these things might be good for preachers or scholars to think about, but they just cause arguments among everyone else.” This attitude is reflected many places, like sermons that spend two minutes talking about a passage of Scripture and twenty minutes about finances, marriage, or self-esteem or like small group Bible studies where hard questions about Scripture are quickly brushed aside in favor of asking everyone present, “What does this verse mean to you?”
To be sure, it’s pretty rare for someone in a church to actually come out and say that talking about or studying theology is bad (though this does happen!). What seems to be the case is not that many American Christians actively think of doctrine as bad or harmful but that many believe it is unnecessary. In other words, for many evangelicals, biblical doctrine—the teaching of all Scripture in its fullness, beyond the bare essentials for salvation—is not like poison but like clutter. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it does not “spark joy.”
And what do we do with things that don’t spark joy?
Which Beliefs Matter
The truth is that we know that what we believe matters. Our instincts may downplay the importance of doctrine, but how often do we turn around and fill up our Facebook and Twitter profiles with all kinds of beliefs about politics, news, etc.?