Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe is a Big Black Book by Mark Driscoll and Gerry (pronounced, I am informed, with a hard 'G' as in 'gold') Breshears. It covers about 450 pages and incorporates 13 chapters. It was published by Crossway this year.
I am probably the only Christian in the Western world who has not visited the Mars Hill website and I know of Mark Driscoll only by name and something of his reputation for being 'cutting edge', to say the least. That both makes me incredibly ignorant, but perhaps I can call it 'complete objectivity' which qualifies me to read the book with an open mind.
It is a rattling good read, a kind of doctrinal equivalent of a book to read on a plane or on the beach - and that is honestly intended to be a compliment. The authors cover the ground of systematic theology from 'The Trinity: God Is' to 'The Kingdom: God Reigns' in large but easily digestible chunks. Along the way we have 'Revelation: God Speaks', 'Creation: God Makes', 'Image: God Loves', 'Fall: God Judges', 'Covenant: God Pursues,' 'Incarnation: God Comes', 'Cross: God Dies', 'Resurrection: God Saves', 'Church: God Sends', 'Worship: God Transforms' and 'Stewardship: God Gives'.
For any preacher there is ample stimulation and instruction on how to preach doctrine - yes, not just doctrinally, but doctrine. The chapters are full of homiletic gold: the way the subjects are approached, such as 'the Trinity' introduced by a catalogue of human longings reflecting the reality of creation by a Triune God; and 'Worship' introduced by a scintillating discussion of contemporary idolatries; the practical applications are challenging; the illustrations and examples are illuminating as also are helpful quotes from worthies of church history.
One of the things that impressed me early on was that the vast majority of footnotes are Bible references. This is not doctrine culled from a Systematic Theology. It is fresh and vital.
What of the content? Is it 'sound'? I have heard that Mars Hill lost a lot of members through this teaching, or at least this teaching being insisted on as the condition of membership, which may mean any number of things but at least suggests that Mark Driscoll is serious about the importance of doctrinal integrity and truth.
On the whole the doctrinal content is excellent and one rejoices that so much orthodox, Biblical truth is being preached by a man who has a large following. There are some points on which I would disagree; for example, his charismatic position on gifts (in the chapter on 'Stewardship').
On 'creation' they take the view of an old earth (Genesis 1:1) but a young humanity and 6/24 hour days.
Almost inevitably (today), and sadly, they take the line that the Sabbath was a ceremonial law and not now binding on Christians (though the other nine commandments are as they are repeated by Jesus). There is nonetheless a very helpful section on how to spend the 'Sabbath' under 'Stewardship.
A reservation doctrinally was a slight fog over 'justification'. They evidently believe in the distinction between imputed and imparted righteousness, as this is explicitly stated in discussing the gospel in the chapter on 'The Church'. In the chapter on 'The Cross', when dealing with justification, they clearly state that Christ gives us 'his perfect righteousness', citing 1 Corinthians 1:30. They talk of the 'great exchange' (2 Corinthians 5:21) yet the waters are slightly muddied when they go on to say 'The gifted righteousness of Jesus is imparted to us at the time of faith, simultaneous with our justification. Not only does God give us family status, but he also gives us new power and a new heart through the indwelling Holy Spirit'.
Now - as they have previously used the concept 'gifted righteousness' to refer to imputed righteousness in justification, why now say that this is 'imparted' in a context where they are clearly referring to regeneration? It is a bit unclear and risks confusion of imputed and imparted righteousness, though they evidently believe in the distinction.
A further reservation was in the matter of proportion: whereas justification and propitiation are dealt with in about three pages each, 'stewardship' is given a whole chapter and there are about ten pages on 'giving' and eight pages on church discipline and why Christians should join a church. One wonders if the bigger concern is truth or management; liberating people from the dominion and guilt of sin or controlling church members. These matters are not unimportant of course, but in a book called 'Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe' one would have expected more on some of the fundamentals of the gospel and less on church administration.
This is no replacement for a more careful and detailed systematic theology - but then I should think its authors would never claim it was. Despite reservations it is, however, a great inspiration for preachers on making doctrine come alive.