A number of years ago, I was trying read a book on the doctrine of sin (in fact, that was the title). Every time I picked up the book, I couldn’t get more than a few pages before I put it down again. I don’t know what it was exactly. It wasn’t that the content itself was bad. Looking at it purely as information, the material was quite useful and helpful. From a technical standpoint, it was reasonably well written. But it was unbelievably dry.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read a book by an academic, especially a Christian one. Academic books are not known for being entertaining, of course. Quite the opposite. On my more cynical days, I wonder if academics may be allergic to writing things that are entertaining. (And then I look back at some of the things I’ve written in the past and feel the need to repent.) It might not be fair, but it’s expected that if you’re going to read an academic work, you need to be ready to slog through it.
This is a shame because boring writing gives doctrine a reputation for being, well, kind of… boring. But sound doctrine is anything but.
Doctrine and delight: friends forced to be foes
In the same way I don’t believe theology should be left to the (professional) theologians,1 I don’t believe doctrine and delight are at odds with one another. Instead, I believe they’re friends, at least when presented correctly.
When Paul, for example, wrote his epistles, he periodically seemed to break out into spontaneous praise while writing (or dictating). In fact, sometimes he could barely get started before he broke out into praise. Ephesians 1:3-14 shows us this rather dramatically, as he gets as far as his greeting and then launches into what is the second-longest single sentence in the Bible.2 He records an early church hymn/creedal statement in Philippians 2. And in Romans 11, after completing his lengthy teaching on the entire plan of redemption, Paul rejoices:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)
This is what we see all throughout the Bible—and it’s the response we should long to see in what we write and read as well. Sound doctrine should lead us to praise God, even when we’re learning something difficult because it is teaching us about God. It should lead us to give thanks because we know something more of his character, his plans and his power. As Tim Challies wrote in Visual Theology, “Your worship of God grows both warmer and deeper in direct proportion to your knowledge of him” (86).
This is what we should aspire to always present in our writing. This is what we should always desire to see in our reading. We should long for books and blog posts and magazine articles that encourage a deeper affection for God by helping us know him better. Because when we know him more, the more we want to worship him. Doctrine doesn’t rob us of delight—it fuels it.