Posted in: Theological Clarity
Preaching the Gospel in a Doctrine-Averse Culture
by Hunter Beaumont
Fellowship Denver Church
Doctrine in the New Testament literally means “teaching. It’s a morally neutral concept. Doctrine can be good or bad.
1 Tim. 6:3-4 – “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing”
Doctrine is often used to refer to objective truth claims about the gospel events, facts that are outside of us in time and space. The Apostles Creed is an example of the centrality of doctrine in the life of the early church.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Consider all its fact claims: God exists; he made heaven and earth; Jesus Christ is his only Son and our Lord; He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin named Mary; he was tried and convicted under a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate; he was crucified on a cross, died, and was buried; Three days later he arose from the dead; He ascended into heaven where he now sits at the Father’s right hand; one day, he will come to judge the living and the dead. The Apostles Creed is a catalogue of doctrine.
Doctrine–claims of objective truth and the ability to distinguish between truth and error – is essential to preaching the gospel. However, such claims sound increasingly strange to the culture at large. Furthermore, some within the Church will also argue that doctrine is not essential. To many younger evangelicals, these arguments sound plausible and attractive.
Preach the Gospel with Winsome Confidence
Effective gospel preaching requires that the preacher’s “voice” reflect the transforming work of the gospel in his own heart. The gospel of grace should humble us, since salvation and even “right doctrine,” is not our own doing but the gift of God. This should translate into a winsome, gracious demeanor when dealing with skeptics. Preachers committed to orthodoxy will need to be especially on-guard against self-righteousness by virtue of right doctrine. This is a strong temptation that leads to “talking down” at people. At the same time, the gospel makes us confident. The ability to confidently proclaim the gospel and point to the finished work of Jesus will earn you a hearing with people who are used to qualified, tentative, guarded, tip-toeing public discourse.
Explain things as you Preach
Gospel preaching will require lots of explanation. Patient, clear explanation wins the hearts and minds of many. Be familiar with the most common arguments against “doctrine.” Name them and describe them. It is important to understand not just what they are saying but to ask, “Why is this attractive?” Then offer well thought-out, even more attractive counter-arguments. The most attractive argument is to show how they downplay and ignore the goodness of the gospel, instead becoming religion.
Speak to people’s fear of rejection and scorn
Speak head-on to the reality that being a Christian sets you at-odds with the world. At the same time, remind them that the gospel itself is a great resource for living peacefully in a pluralistic world. Because salvation is by grace, the gospel does not allow (much less require!) us to look down at people who believe differently. Only the gospel gives you this resource to be confident in what you believe and humble toward others.