Mark Driscoll, the preaching and theology pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, was kind enough to answer a few questions from me on his latest book, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Crossway, 2010).
Why, at this stage in your life and given your calling, did you feel led to put together an introduction to theology?
Like all of my writing, this project was born out of my work as one of the elders at Mars Hill. We have enjoyed an ocean of God’s grace at our church. As we expand to more campuses, states, and possibly even nations, I wanted to do all I could to ensure doctrinal fidelity and clarity for our church. As the tree grows and the fruit increases, the roots need to sink deep as well. So, when our attendance was at about six thousand people a few years ago, we did something unprecedented. We canceled out the membership of everyone in our church and I preached the Doctrine series for thirteen weeks. Each sermon was well over an hour and included me answering text-messaged questions from our people.
Those who made it through the entire series were interviewed, and those who evidenced true faith in Christ and signed our membership covenant were installed as new members. We had always had a high bar for membership, but I wanted to raise that bar higher as we pursued our goal of becoming, by God’s grace, a church of fifty thousand. In so doing, we lost about a thousand people, dropped to five thousand total, and missed budget for the first time in our church’s history. We then rebounded over the next few years to ten thousand people a week and as many as thirteen thousand on our peak weekend. We had pruned, which hurt, but then we harvested, which was healing. It’s not all about the numbers, and we were willing to lose a lot of people, but God proved that there is power in the gospel and that a people united around core biblical doctrine can be used by God to bear much fruit by grace. We now use the book and its small group questions as our membership process for Mars Hill.
Whom did you have in mind when you wrote this book?
First, Mars Hill Church, where I pastor.
Second, my brothers and friends in the Acts 29 Network.
Third, the pastors and ministry leaders we are honored to serve through The Resurgence.
Fourth, literally anyone and everyone who could be served by an evangelical, biblical, and accessible introduction to and fairly deep study of the thirteen big doctrines of the Bible.
There are several good theology books out there. What is unique about Doctrine?
First, the length is medium. It’s longer than a theological primer, but much shorter than a systematic theology.
Second, it combines systematic and biblical theology as it follows doctrine through the storyline of the Bible.
Third, it is readable. Even someone with little or no theological knowledge can read the book because the theological terms are continually explained.
Fourth, it is clear on primary issues, but not dogmatic on secondary issues. We explain a variety of Christian views on some issues, so it has a firm closed hand and generous open hand.
Fifth, it is very practical, working out doctrinal issues to their practical implications for life and culture.
Seventh, it is written by an older seasoned theological professor who is also a teaching elder at his church, and a younger missional pastor, combining theory and practice.
Eighth, it is an attempt to define and reclaim a solid core of essential evangelical doctrine in a fresh way for a new day.
What was the effect on your own soul, life, and ministry in writing this book?
This book was by far the most work of any project I have done. I actually suffered an intestinal ulcer nearing the end. The book was originally 700 pages, and I whittled it down to the present 464. Dr. Breshears and I poured ourselves out on this one, and without Crystal Griffin, my copyeditor, there is no way we would have made it to the finish line, as the perhaps thousand footnotes alone would have done us in.
I wrote this book while fathering five kids, pastoring Mars Hill, pursuing my wife, leading Acts 29, growing The Resurgence, traveling, doing media, and so forth. So, it was written in large part late at night, at Little League games, and on airplanes. In many ways, I guess I did my writing much like the apostles did their epistles—on the run, doing ministry.
Nevertheless, it was an amazing help to force me to clarify exactly where I’m landing on doctrinal issues and how to articulate them. For me, the entire project is a worship act for which I praise God. It is an incredible honor to be able to serve others by writing this book and I am very, very, very pleased with it. Doctrine is easily my/our best work to date.
What is the most encouraging thing you see about the so-called “New Calvinism”? What are some areas of caution or concern as we enter this new decade?
I think “New Calvinism” is possibly a myth, and I fear it may fracture before too many years are up.
There are four issues:
I hold all four of these.
What is touted as “New Calvinism,” though, includes those who disagree with 3 and/or 4. My fear is that cessationist and fundamentalist Calvinists will use those two issues to turn distinctions into divisions.
Many are working hard behind the scenes among various tribal leaders to keep the peace, and I pray we can hold it together and truly have a “New Calvinism” and not the same old unnecessary infighting and separation as old Calvinism.