Doctrine is for Living the Christian Life

Review of The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction by Sinclair Ferguson

Sinclair Ferguson’s The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, along with John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied, are my top two picks when recommending an introduction to systematic theology for folks without prior exposure to theology. I’ve read The Christian Life at least five times in the context of using it as a discipleship tool. The underlying argument is that theology is critical to living the Christian life because all theology has practical implications.

The table of contents will give you a sense of the lay of the land:

  1. Knowing is for living
  2. God’s broken image
  3. The plan of grace
  4. Called by God
  5. Conviction of sin
  6. Born again
  7. Faith in Christ
  8. True repentance
  9. Justification
  10. Sons of God
  11. Union with Christ
  12. Election
  13. Sin’s dominion ended
  14. The Christian’s conflicts
  15. Crucifying sin
  16. Perseverance
  17. Asleep in Christ
  18. Glorification

Coming in shy of 200 pages and pocketbook size, The Christian Life is extremely accessible and not a very big lift. Even readers with a good background in theology, accustomed to talk of ordo salutis, regeneration, penal substitution, indicatives vs. imperatives, definitive sanctification vs. progressive sanctification, and other categories, will still find Ferguson’s application of the material to be edifying and insightful.

The Christian Life is a great book to use for reading with younger Christians because it parses out important nuances in easy terms. What is conviction of sin that leads to life as opposed to conviction of sin that leads to sorrow? What is the relationship between faith and repentance? Does regeneration precede justification or come after it? How should we understand the Christian’s relationship with sin if the Christian is dead to sin, but yet still sins? The reader is treated to a fest of Puritan-like meditation and precision (would we expect any less from Ferguson?) on these questions and more.

When you finally close the book, it’s hard to remain unconvinced of the necessity of theology. Ferguson’s book is a good antidote to the anti-theological strain in American evangelicalism that treasures experience over doctrine. B.B. Warfield has a great, appropriate response to such sentiments:

Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must from your books in order to turn to God?

Sinclair Ferguson’s work drives home the same response: theology is for living.

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