This article first appeared on the Premier website here –
The voice of the NIV audio Bible has admitted moving away from “organised religion” through making a new documentary on the three Abrahamic religions. David Robertson responds
David Suchet is a big part of my life.
Every day I hear his voice – not because I am an Agatha Christie fanatic endlessly watching repeats of Poirot, but rather because I listen each day to him reading the Bible.
His voice is astonishing. I have found listening to the Word in this way such a spiritual blessing. So it was with great interest that I listened to his views about doctrine.
In a recent interview promoting his new documentary series Questions of Faith he admitted having doubts about his commitment to the Church of England. “I’m not a great fan of organised religion,” he said.
“I’ve come away from making this programme really questioning the validity of organised religion.”
He also said the process of making the series had changed his faith and he’s moved “away from doctrine and dogma”, which he finds “polemical”.
Although I have a great deal of sympathy with some of his statements, overall they were somewhat disappointing and confused.
I’m worried Suchet has fallen into the oldest trap known to man – the devil’s favourite trick question, “did God really say?’ There is nothing that the Father of Lies likes more than to get us to question the word of God. He knows that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief cornerstone. He knows that if he wants to destroy the church then he must remove the foundation and the words of Christ.
In a post-truth, postmodern, alternative fact society, its all too easy for us to fall for the lie that doctrine doesn’t really matter, that it is divisive and that we should just focus on the love of God.
“Its all about Jesus, not doctrine” sounds so good. Lots of ‘likes’ are acquired whenever anyone plays that card. The only problem is that setting up doctrine and Jesus as opposites is a false dichotomy and ultimately ends up with the paradox of those who are against doctrine also being against Christ.
Jesus brings division
Suchet doesn’t like doctrine because it is “divisive”. But isn’t that the case for everything valuable? In one sense no one is more divisive than Jesus. At least according to his own words: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51)
What divides the great Abrahamic faiths is the person of Christ.
Perhaps it would help Mr Suchet if we changed the word ‘doctrine’ (dogma) – which has a negative, polemical feel to it – for ‘truth’.
Jesus is the truth and Jesus speaks the truth: “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).
The first disciples came to recognise that Jesus spoke the truth and they gave themselves to that truth: “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.'” (John 6:68-69).
Suchet wonders what went wrong with the Abrahamic faiths – why is there so much trouble? It would be better to ask what went wrong with humanity – division exists in every society and community – whether religious or not.
But it is true that something has gone wrong with the Abrahamic faiths – it is when they see themselves as Abrahamic and leave out Christ. Abraham is not the one we are to have faith in; he is instead the example of faith in Christ (Romans 4). What’s gone wrong with Islam, Judaism and much of Christianity? They have become Christless religions which ultimately lead away from, rather than to, God.
Suchet also correctly states that doctrine is dangerous. “Religion with power is a very, very dangerous thing” he says. Indeed it is. The word of God is powerful, the Spirit of God is powerful and the Gospel of God is powerful. But the danger that Suchet is afraid of is the misuse of the powerful force of religion, especially when it is used by politics. And with that I wholly agree. My problem is not with his analysis but his solution – getting rid of doctrine.
It is actually impossible to get rid of doctrine (truth). The statement that “all doctrine is dangerous” is itself a doctrine.
To remove doctrine is to remove the teaching of Christ – do we really want to get rid of the doctrine that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)?
No the problem is not with doctrine per se; it is with false doctrine which leads us away from Christ. The solution is not no doctrine, but rather Christ’s doctrine.
There are difficulties in the teaching of Jesus. They are often offensive to human feelings, religions and ideologies. But they are full of the Spirit and life: “Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (John 6:61-63)
David Suchet has done the Church a wonderful service in putting the words of Scripture into an audio format. I am sorry that he appears to have been sidetracked from the Christ to whom those words testify and I pray that he will once again experience that these doctrines are “full of the Spirit and life”.