Joe Thorn has a helpful interview with Professor Tom Nettles (Southern Seminary) on “experiential theology.” Here is one exchange that pastors especially will find interesting and stimulating:

What advice would you give to pastors and church planters to develop themselves and their churches theologically?

The conviction that doctrine is a transformative power must be present from the beginning. It cannot be a subsequent development.

If piety and doctrine are developed separately, it becomes extremely difficult to put them back together from a pastoral standpoint. The effort will seem artificial, contrived, and as optional for the Christian life. The “practical” will always seem more manageable for the supposedly ordinary Christian, while doctrinal issues and discussion will be seen as the province of a few heady folks. The fostering of this perception is fatal to the health of the body and to the robust faith of each individual Christian. Pastoral counseling suffers in difficult situations from shallow doctrinal development.

A worshiping body, convinced to the person of the divine insistence on his own glory as a right, good, and glorious thing, and the consequent joyful approval of divine sovereignty in creation, providence, and redemption can be a strong and mighty outpost of kingdom labor and worship. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will receive the sound and hearty “Amen” in the souls of the saints. Whining and perplexity over the difficulties of life will be minimized, courageous consistency in the face of sorrow and tragedy will grow as a witness that confounds the expectations of the world, and oneness develops in the entire congregation in genuine sympathy for each other as they experience together the multi-faceted grace of God. They will not think it strange at any fiery trial that comes to them but will consent that “this is the will of God concerning you.” Pastoral counseling builds naturally off the instruction, admonitions, exhortations of a proclamation ministry. A clear and forceful integration of the biblical doctrines of the Trinitarian existence of God, the intrinsic glory of the Godhead, Christ’s infinite condescension, humanity’s fall and consequent just condemnation and punitive corruption, divine sovereignty in election, reconciliation and redemption, calling, resurrection, and eternal occupation—all of these and others constitute the pastoral task from the very beginning of establishing a worshiping congregation.

You can read the whole thing here.

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5 thoughts on “Tom Nettles on the Importance of Building Life-giving Doctrine into the Ethos of Your Congregation”

  1. Joe Thorn says:

    Thanks for the link, Justin. Yes, these were the words I found most striking. Hard words, but good words.

  2. Bob McDowell says:

    That’s why it’s so important that the lyrics we sing present only sound doctrine.

  3. Gary Horn says:

    Outstanding. Well said by Professor Nettles. This has been my community experience at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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