Doctrine and Evangelism
Several months ago I received the following email from a former student at Indiana University.
“You do not remember me but I was in one of your Biology classes at IU. I teach science and frequently integrate information from your class. Before I joined the Army, you loaned me a book from your church. As I was unpacking at our new house I found it. I cannot tell you how influential you were for me but years ago, as I was reading it, I was saved and baptized while serving [in the military]… Anyway, I would like to return the book to you if you wouldn't mind giving me the best address to do so. I am truly sorry I have kept it so long!”
This was a student I taught nearly 15 years ago, who was prompted to join the military in the wake of the 9/11 bombings. In nearly 20 years of college teaching, I’ve had numerous opportunities to minister to students in various ways. I’ve given out a lot of books. I could remember this student, but I could not remember what book I’d given out. What book would I give to a young person preparing to enter military service? When I asked, I was told, “It was a doctrine book.” That got my mind working, but still, I could not remember the book. When I asked for more specifics, I was sent the picture above. The book that had been so helpful and which had been used by God was the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.
On the one hand, I was dumbfounded. This must have been the only time I have given a book like that out to a seeker. What _was _I thinking? On the other hand, given that the Confession and Testimony are grounded so solidly on the Word of God, maybe it is not so surprising.
Reformed types like to talk about the importance and the practicality of doctrine. We point out that what we believe really makes a difference in how we live. But when it comes to evangelism, we are tempted to oversimplify. What a blessing to see a living, breathing example of spiritual life born out of pure, unadulterated doctrine drawn from God’s life-giving Word. This was not salvation by a minimalist, slightly man-centered version of the gospel. This was salvation by a full-orbed theological system that exalts the primacy of God in all things. God used robust theology to nurture faith in the midst of trying military service. Perhaps this fact tells us something profound about the power of God’s Word and true doctrine. Perhaps it tells us something about what soldiers (both physical and spiritual) need most.
“This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life” (Psalm 119:50, NKJ).