"But we are called to follow Christ, not a set of doctrines."
This is a sentiment that you often see expressed. It sounds all well and good until you think about it. Simply asking some basics questions help you realize that doctrine is indispensable before you can even begin to apply such a statement.
- What Christ are we talking about here? There have been many would-be Christs.
- Who is this Christ? Is he man? Is he God? Is he both?
- How do we follow? What does that look like? If there are two contradictory ways of following Christ (assuming we even mean the same thing by Christ) which one is right? What if neither is right? How do I know if I'm really following Him?
- Called? What kind of authority does this call come with? How do I know that I am called to follow Christ? What if I don't want to? If I am called to a particular path can I still get there if I strike out on my own?
Christ is of course more than a set of doctrines, but following Christ is not less than doctrine. J. Gresham Machen reminded us in his Christianity and Liberalism that Christianity is not a way of life. Christianity is first and foremost a doctrine. Christianity begins with good news, a message that is proclaimed and thus it is not less than doctrine although it is certainly more than a mere doctrine.
Anti-doctrine in favor of 'following Jesus' is no less of a doctrine. It may be a jellyfish doctrine but it still has form; it still appeals to a certain kind of following which entails doctrine. We still follow a person which means we have to say something about who the person is and why we should follow Him--which is doctrine. Following Jesus is predicated on some level of doctrine. In fact, the less doctrine you have the less path you actually have to strike out and follow Jesus.
I realize that it is possible to overcook the doctrine side of things. It becomes like a mushy stew and that is neither nourish or appealing. But you can't leave the doctrine out. That's like a dinner with no main course. We'd be like the Lost Boys in the movie Hook, eating nothing but our imagination. Only this time, no amount of imagination will bring food to existence.
Don't be fooled by anti-doctrinal sentiment. We need doctrine. Jesus himself gives us doctrine. The Sermon on the Mount entails doctrine. The proclamation of the kingdom entails doctrine. His Saviorhood and Deity, which according to Jesus must be believed, entails doctrine. And those things that are of 'first importance' to the Christian life are indeed doctrine.