Monday, October 31, 2011

Pulpit Review: Christian Doctrine

Driscoll, Mark and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. 463 Pages. Cloth. $22.99. (P).

Mueller, Steven P. Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess: An Introduction to Doctrinal Theology (Called by the Gospel). Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2005. 574 Pages. Paper. $55.00. (P)

Whether the seminary's department is called "Systematic," "Dogmatic," or "Doctrinal" Theology, Christians should embrace as study of what the Bible says, especially when everything God's Word says about a specific topic or issue is organized in one place.

I am not talking about "winds of doctrine" or mere "human doctrine." The best dogmatics texts treat the sedes doctrinae, "seat of the doctrine," as the source of what Christians teach. This has been caricatured into "proof texting," at best, and, at worst, misused by those who wish to push another agenda and/or deceive those who respect and trust the Bible as God's Word: "Let's come up with some crazy idea and find some Bible verse to take out of context and 'prop up' our new teaching."

We find a positive use of the word "doctrine" in two books for consideration in this review.

Doctrine is the word Christians use to define the truth-claims revealed in Holy Scripture. Of course there is a multitude of churches, church networks, and denominations, each with their own doctrinal statement with many points of disagreement. But while Christians disagree on a number of doctrines, there are key elements that cannot be denied by anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus.
In Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, Driscoll and Breshears teach thirteen of these key elements. This meaty yet readable overview of basic doctrine will help Christians clarify and articulate their beliefs in accordance with the Bible.

Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and is the author of several books, including Vintage Jesus.
Gerry Breshears is professor of theology and chairman of the division of biblical and theological studies at Western Seminary. (publisher's website)

Doctrine by Mark Driscoll from Crossway on Vimeo.
I get nervous when I hear the word "nondenominational." It means "no name." In my experience, most places that are "nondenom" have a name. They are part of some kind of denominational structure. For one reason or another, they are embarrassed by the label. It is also my experience that many "nondenom" folks have a theology that is largely Arminian Baptist, like much of American Evangelicalism. My point is rather simple: everyone should have a name because everyone teaches something about God, Jesus, the Bible, conversion, salvation, Baptism, Communion, and the delivery of the forgiveness of sins. Why not be upfront about it from the start?

My concerns about the Driscoll/Breshears collaboration:
  • Problems with "common grace" and possible salvation through general revelation (38ff)
  • An unfortunate denigration of a valid translation of Genesis 1:2 (including Martin Luther) that inaccurately assumes a sellout to Ancient Greek cosmology (83)
  • A discussion/denial of 24-hour days in creation due to a lack of clarity on the issue (93ff)
  • An unnecessary dependence on an A&E network/History channel TV show on the crucifixion (245ff)
  • Unhelpful talk of "open-handed" doctrines that are actually false theology, not open questions or mere preferences (310)
  • Inadequate and inaccurate teaching on Baptism and Communion (325ff). No one is pleased when you don't pick a side but merely describe some of them half-heartedly. (He comes down on the "memorial" view, 294.) See also a similar approach to teaching about charismatic gifts (e.g. 386).
  • An incomplete theology of worship that assumes but does not elaborate the primary work of God in speaking to us and saving us with our worship as a mere secondary response (337ff)
What do I appreciate about the volume?
  • Crossway cared enough about this title to put it in hardcover
  • The embracing of "angelomorphic Christology," OT appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ (21)
  • A largely-consistent expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • An encouragement of mission (242)
  • Use of the Gospel word, "gift" (262)
  • "The complementarian view of church leadership whereby only qualified men can occupy the office of elder-pastor..." (320)
  • Quoting Luther's insights on idolatry (346)
  • A better treatment of a theology of worship (352ff)
Art is medieval, yet modern. Writing is largely crisp and conversational. The authors appear uncomfortable with some controversial doctrines and bold on others. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe is a solid effort, but one that would be inappropriate and inadequate for use as a text at my school or in my congregation. It should serve well its intended audience of American Evangelicals looking for something deeper.

Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess offers an overview of the major doctrines of Christianity in a comprehensive, but accessible way. Written from a Lutheran perspective, this book is a helpful resource to those within that tradition and to others who seek a deeper theological understanding. Firmly rooted in Scripture, this book emphasizes the interrelatedness of all Christian teaching, with its central teaching being the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

This book is ideal as a text for university students and other educated Christian adults who seek to expand their knowledge of God's revelation and its application in human lives. It introduces and uses classical theological vocabulary and terminology, while offering clear definitions and application. Key terms, study questions, glossary, and sidebars help make this a valuable resource. Suggested readings from Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and other secondary sources guide the reader into deeper study. (publisher's website)
Mueller's doctrinal text is a better modern text than John Theodore Mueller's Christian Dogmatics, itself a summary/translation of Francis Pieper's Christian Dogmatics. This is Biblically grounded, Catechism-friendly Lutheran teaching from the Scriptures, the same dogma sung by Lutheran Service Book. It is available in the bookstores and classrooms of the Concordia University system of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and is resold (following doctrinal review) by our denominational publisher, Concordia Publishing House. 

Highlights include:
  • Authors Korey D. Maas, Timothy H. Maschke, Brian M. Mosemann, Steven P. Mueller, and Gregory P. Seltz (now Lutheran Hour speaker)
  • Justification (Chapter 11) held up as the central doctrine of the faith and the importance of a christocentric organization of all doctrine, following the basic order of the creeds (22)
  • A recognition of the difference between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory in worship (34)
  • An entire chapter on Law and Gospel as an introduction to the importance of the distinction in understanding the Bible (55ff)
  • An emphasis on the Means of Grace (312ff)
  • A helpful appendix on the Lutheran Confessions (485ff)
This book could be strengthened by being published with a hardcover. 

Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess is part of a larger series of LCMS-written and Wipf and Stock-published introductory volumes on the Old Testament, the New Testament, and History. I look forward to reading the rest.

Doctrine remains important to Christians because of the claims made by God's Word. We hold to the faith once delivered to the saints. Amen.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.