Inquirer classes for new members focus on helping people ease back into the Christian faith after a time away from the church. Pastors seem afraid to teach doctrine, lest we scare those new members away again.
Yet here’s a story from a recent conversation. A woman endured a very trying time. Her husband’s business went bad, there were lawsuits brought against her and her husband by longtime friends. It was a horrible period in their lives. As she shared the story, the tears flowed – it was still very painful for her, though many years had passed. She related a conversation she had with her pastor while all this was going on. “I hate that all these other people control my life,” she had said. The pastor responded, “God is the only one who controls your life.” The woman remarked to the present-day group, “That was very freeing for me.”
Doctrine, it seems, is not out after all, as the pastor connected the sovereignty of God with the woman’s struggle. Doctrine is still very important in the life of the church. “Drawn to Freedom” makes the case well. Eberhard Busch, a preeminent Reformed theologian, offers a very accessible conversation between Christian faith in the 21st century and the Heidelberg Catechism of the 16th century. The Catechism teaches basic Christian doctrine through exploration of the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. I can see the rolling eyes of the confirmation class. “Boring!” their expression says. Yet Busch brings doctrine to life for today’s Christian Church, addressing issues such as stewardship of creation, empty consumerism and the narcissism which plagues today’s Western culture.
In the book’s preface, Busch quotes theologian D. F. Strauss, who asked, “Are we still Christians?” This is a question being asked again today. Doctrine IS important for today’s Christian Church, as we explore anew the basic understanding of what it means to confess Jesus Christ as lord and savior.
Each generation of Christians must live into our baptismal identity a bit differently – because the world around us changes, and the conversation between that culture and Christian faith changes with it. The gospel truth remains steadfast, and of course the God behind that truth remains steadfast. How that truth engages the current context is the refreshing depth of “Drawn to Freedom.” This is a theological book; accessible yet still theological. It does not offer easy answers or programs for the local congregation. Yet it is an essential book for the pastor’s shelf. I have already used it in sermon preparation and I envision going back to it again and again as a teaching and preaching resource. Doctrine is not out of style. It’s as important today as it was in the 16th century and every century. It is hard work to translate that doctrine into 21st century life. Eberhard Busch’s work helps tremendously.
Deborah A. McKinley is pastor of Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, McLean, Va.