Preaching 'Sound Doctrine' in an Age that Avoids It

Doctrine isn't a popular word among Christians today. Some church leaders avoid the topic when preaching from the pulpit because it tends to divide. So when Seattle church pastor Mark Driscoll began a sermon series specifically on doctrine, he received several phone calls from pastors who lead large flocks asking if anyone is still coming out to listen to the series.

"The rule is, if you have a big church you're supposed to not talk about certain things that are controversial [or] divisive," said Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, which draws mainly twenty-somethings.

But the 37-year-old pastor has his theological convictions and wants both non-Christians and Christians alike to know the core truth claims of Christianity.

Mars Hill is now eight weeks into the 13-week series titled "Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe." Driscoll is taking a break from the pulpit this coming Sunday after having preached on one of the most important and challenged dogmas of the Christian faith – the crucifixion of Jesus and atonement for sins.

"Some are erroneously teaching that the cross should not be taught because it's 'divine child abuse,'" Driscoll told church attendants as he rejected claims that the cross contradicts God's love. "Others would say 'you can't teach the cross because God is love and how will people see the love of God at the cross of Jesus?'"

"My answer is 'the cross IS the love of God,'" he stressed. "Apart from the cross all we have is a sentimental understanding of love. God doesn't just send a greeting card. He goes to a cross and dies. He does something."

Driscoll, who recently opened a sixth Mars Hill Church campus, says he is not a fundamentalist, noting that he's okay with a believer smoking or getting a tattoo. His six churches are also largely adapted to the culture in Seattle in terms of worship style, casual dress and service times. But when a person, especially an influential Christian leader, questions or undermines the essential doctrines of Christianity, Driscoll "freaks out."

"I get a nervous eye twitch," he said this week while attending the Purpose Driven Network Summit at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

He's also not pleased when preachers leave out doctrine and Jesus from sermons.

"So much preaching today is about seven steps to this, four steps to that, 13 steps to this. I'm totally fine if you want to have a great marriage [or] improve your business," Driscoll said. "But at the end of the day, are people learning about who Jesus is and what he's done?"

"Are we trying to give people principles without power, meaning follow [Jesus'] example but don't live in relationship with him?" he posed.

At Mars Hill Church, attendants are required to take "Gospel Class," which teaches Christian truths, in order to become members of the church. Driscoll admitted that half the people that have taken the class have gone on to become members while the other half left over disagreements with various doctrines. The current sermon series on doctrine will replace "Gospel Class" to facilitate church membership for thousands of people.

The entire "Doctrine" sermon series at Mars Hill will be published as part of a book series and small group curriculum will also be developed to accompany the book to help Christians and churches grow in "sound doctrine," Driscoll announced. The Seattle pastor continues his sermon series on June 1 with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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