I have always enjoyed reading the writings of Paul David Tripp (PDT). What I like most about the way he writes is that he focuses on the good news of Christ. He wants us to know how amazing God is and what He has done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. So when I saw that PDT has written a new book on key doctrines of the Bible, I was quite eager to read it, even though it is over 400 pages.
Do You Believe? is exactly what it says on the tin. PDT looks at twelve key bible doctrines over twenty-four chapters. He spends two chapters on each doctrine. The first chapter describes the broad thrust of the doctrine, underpinned by PDT’s paraphrase of the relevant section of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The second chapter focuses on specific applications to our lives.
There are important doctrines which are missed from the list. Most notably on the person and saving of Christ (Christology). However, PDT is clear from the beginning that his intention is “not to give us an exhaustive systematic theology with application insights, but rather to look at twelve cardinal doctrines and ask, What does it look like to live as an individual, citizen, parent, spouse, or child in light of these doctrines?” I guess the issue is what constitutes “cardinal doctrines”.
In terms of the doctrines that are covered, there are a number of areas that stood out for me. I liked the fact that PDT begins with the doctrine of the Word of God. He reminds us that the Bible is the inspired Word of God which has been faithfully preserved and translated to us. It is a gift of God to us. God speaks when the Bible speaks, and His Holy Spirit is present to help us understand His Word. The Bible is the only true wisdom. Everything else is foolish compared to it. A wonderful truth that we need to be reminded of at this particular time when many around us are spending worthless time seeking wisdom which has been made foolish by God.
I also enjoyed his discussion of the doctrine of the holiness of God. PDT reminded us that God being holy means that he is uniquely different and separate from everything else; and completely pure every time and in every way. Most importantly, the holiness of God is not so much his attribute, it is His essence. Everything God does is holy. The holiness of God sits at the heart of the good news of Christ. It explains why Christ came to save us. Simply put unless we rediscover the truth of God’s holiness we cannot appreciate the good news of Christ.
On the doctrine of the sovereignty of God PDT reminds us that God is sovereign over all things by His decree and by His rule. The most fruitful way for us to respond to his sovereignty is to know the difference between the circle of our responsibility, which we can do something about, and the circle of our concern, which is entirely beyond us and we must entrust our concern to the sovereignty of God . We tend to conflate these circles which leads us to endless worry and anxiety. Knowing God is sovereign should fill us with humility and joy. It should lead us to surrender to God. We should do that even though sometimes the world does not look like it is being held together. The sovereignty of God assures that the promises of God are true and that He answers our prayers.
On the doctrine of the image of God in man, PDT discusses the implications that we are made in God such as: we are made for relationship; we are moral beings; we are spiritual beings; and, we are made to represent God in the world. However, the effect of sin means the image of God in us is defaced though not erased. Christ has come to recreate the image of God in us. To restore the stamp of glory! Many of our relational difficulties and so much of the sadness that we experience in life is because we have lost sight of what it means to live with and relate to one another as persons made in the image of God. Understanding that we are made in the image impacts on our identity, makes us pursue the justice of God, affects how we relate to women, and live with respect towards others. Most importantly, understanding that we are made in the image of God should make us look to Christ as the perfect representation of God’s image and the only hope for its restoration in us.
On the doctrine of sin, PDT notes that this doctrine teaches us that all human beings are sinners. Sin is not simply something we do, it is our identity. Therefore we need God to deliver us from it. If we are to deal with sin, we must remember that sin is a matter of the heart; sin blinds us; and, sin is addictive. Sin is the complicating factor in all our relations. Indeed, because of sin our lives are now a war between good and evil. The presence of sin means we cannot solve the great problems facing humanity without a theology of sin. And a proper theology leads us to put our hope in the finished work of Christ. Not in ourselves. PDT rightly notes that “the doctrine of sin tells us that the hope of humanity will never be delivered by humanity, but will come only by means of God’s intervening grace”.
The other doctrine I found useful was the doctrine of justification. PDT observes that many Christians are stuck in a gospel-blind lifestyle and as a result have lost the joy of their salvation without knowing it. This is one of the reasons many of our churches, as communities of faith, are ineffective and unproductive as well. Rediscovering the gospel of justifying grace leads to humility, gratitude, freedom from the paralysing guilt of sin, and freedom from the burden of share and fear, and freedom from toxic identity chaos.
In general, I found the practical reflections of these and other doctrines quite helpful. However, there are a couple of chapters which were a little disappointing. For example, the doctrine of God turned out to be a doctrine of the glory of God. Similarly, on the doctrine of creation, though most of the stuff is helpful, it struggled to make a neat transition to the Cross. A Trinitarian approach that recognises that Christ is our creator (Colossians 1:15-16) would have been more helpful. While we are on the doctrine of Creation. I appreciated, that PDT showed us how our understanding of this doctrine affects our attitude to marriage, sex, money, suffering and the environment. It teaches us the purpose of what God has made (and allows) and reminds that we are to live within the limits God has set as our Creator. All good stuff, the only problem is that much of the material is rehashed material from his other books. This is sadly one of the problems with the book. The more familiar you are with previous writings of PDT, the more repetitive the book feels. There is nothing wrong with repetition, but when the book is 400 pages it feels burdensome.
There are also parts of the book that are not well explained or substantiated. For example when discussing the image of God in man, PDT says, “The Bible does not teach that the primary role for women is in the home….the Bible does not forbid a woman from being highly educated and having a successful career. The Bible does not prohibit women from leading men in political, education, and business situations”. This may or may not be true. But we have no way of knowing whether PDT is right because he merely asserts his view without any biblical explanation. He assumes that readers will simply have to take his word for it. Which is fine if you are writing a book about politics. It is not what we expect from a book that is about explaining what the Bible teaches on key doctrines.
So what is my conclusion? This book is certainly worth reading. A more difficult issue is figuring who the book is for. It is clear that the book is intended for all followers of Christ. The problem is that it is too big for your average Christian. Also it is a lot to take in twelve doctrines. Given the repetitive nature of the writing, it seems to me that PDT has in mind someone reading this as and when they want to dive into a particular doctrine, rather than cover to cover. That said, I think the ideal audience is those who teach. They who are already familiar with the doctrines but want to think more deeply about areas of application. It could also work as a one-2-one discipleship tool, where it can be read at a slower pace.
A theology of sin always requires a theology of the heart.
Behavior can only go where the heart has already gone.
One of the most devastatingly dangerous powers of sin is its power to deceive.
The entire old system, with all of its blood and gore, was a daily cry for the final Lamb of sacrifice, Jesus.
You can’t get up in the morning without bumping into God.
It is not our love for God that keeps us to the end, but God’s unshakable love for us.
True love does not quit.
The doctrine of justification devastates self-glory. It puts a hammer to human pride.
Proud people don’t suffer well.
Sin is self-centered. It causes us to be self-focused, self-absorbed, and self- obsessed.
Jesus shamed shame on the cross, so that we would no longer live in bondage to it.