This is the second post in a series based on Mark Driscoll’s Doctrine book. We have a few different bloggers contributing, covering a chapter each on a rotating basis. Our aim is to offer personal thoughts and engage the reading community in discussion.

These points of doctrine are of central importance to the Christian faith, hence Driscoll and his co-author Gerry Breshears tackling them. It is important that, even as central as these are, that we maintain kindness and generosity towards each other, even as we potentially disagree with each other.

It’s surely no coincidence that Driscoll devotes the most pages given to one single topic in this book to the Doctrine of Revelation and the Word of God. This is a chapter that’s ultimately about reinforcing the well-known slogan of the reformation, Sola Scriptura, and it’s done over 40 pages, with the help of 187 footnotes!


The Speaking God

One of the first things we learn about God, in Genesis, is that God reveals himself in words. (p.39)

In the first chapter on “Trinity and Community”, we saw Driscoll lay the foundation by saying that the reason we’re all so hungry to know and be known, and to engage in community and relationship, is that we’re created in the likeness of our triune God, who is himself in constant relationship by means of the Trinity. In a similar fashion, in his introduction to this chapter on the “speaking God” and his Word, he attributes our constant need for communication through Twitter, texts, books and blogs to this same inbuilt hunger for connection and communication with our God through his Word. Right from the get-go, this is Driscoll’s main point for the chapter: When God reveals himself, he does so through words. Words to which we were created to listen and respond.

This belief, that despite sin, God chooses to initiate relationship and make himself known, is what theologians call “the Doctrine of Revelation”, and it is made clear in the early paragraphs that this is the opposite of what Driscoll simply calls “speculation”, where religions and ideologies seek to discover God apart from his own self-revelation. Driscoll is laying the foundation, and saying that “what Christians should believe” is whatever God specifically says about himself and nothing else.

Two Types of Revelation

He goes on to speak about the two forms of revelation, and this is perhaps a place in the chapter where he’s likely to lose a few people. Driscoll is clear to state that General Revelation is not redemptive and has no saving power, although it can display the glory of God, through creation, common grace and conscience. He states this in preface, before going on to emphasise that only Special Revelation, the divine word of God, can be seen as having any saving power.

Without the written Word, we cannot rightly know the incarnate Word. (p.45)

Later, as he lays out fairly basic beliefs and backup for the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, the canonisation process, the exclusion of the Gnostic writings and Apocrypha, and the many cases of the foreshadowing of Jesus in the Old Testament (through prophecy, appearances, types and titles), he goes on to say that the Old Testament (and the New Testament for that matter) has not been given for us to use simply as a tool for moralising, but that it must be connected to the person and work of Jesus to be understood. This so-called saving Special Revelation is in fact all about Jesus, and Driscoll says that “without the written Word, we cannot rightly know the incarnate Word”.

Much of this chapter is relatively basic for any reasonably well-read Christian, and there was nothing particularly surprising or new. Such sections as Can We Trust the Bible? and Can Scripture be Written Today? are, for more seasoned readers, simply there to reinforce things we’ve already heard and learned before, but here they’re all assembled nicely in one place with plenty of footnotes (which Driscoll seems particularly excited about whenever promoting the book!) for those keen to dig deeper.

It’s a good, solid piece of text and there’s really not much there to dispute, apart from perhaps, for some, the downplaying of tradition in the opening section only to be followed by tradition being used as the main argument for the canonisation of the books that were included in our Bible. I can see a guy like Rob Bell or Shane Hipps jumping in here and pointing out the apparent inconsistencies of this position, yet it’s a classic stance, and therefore, nothing unique to Driscoll or Breshears.

It should be mentioned here that Driscoll does distinguish between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura, emphasising that truth can indeed be found elsewhere, but that it should be sought out and embraced with caution. He maintains that all pastoral wisdom, advice, prophecy and tradition ought still be judged by Scripture. This may still leave many mainliners and emerging liberals wondering when he supposes that stance has it’s beginning, as they would argue that the compilation of Scripture in the first place was in fact judged by tradition. This is an old debate, and not one I have room for in the post, but maybe something to touch on in the comments?

Lastly, with practical application in mind, Driscoll concludes the chapter with a few words on translations, and four things to think about when reading the Bible:

  • What does it say?
  • What does it mean?
  • What timeless truths and principles can be found? and
  • How should I respond to what God has said?

These are helpful tips, particularly for those new to the Scriptures. It should be remembered that this book has been written in a context where many of those sitting under the author’s teaching are new believers, but where the Bible is used and emphasised more than in many churches in an effort to avoid going down the “seeker-friendly” route and risking Biblical illiteracy and ignorance.

Like with Driscoll’s part-practical/part-exegetical preaching style, this book and chapter are obviously put together with that kind of mix in mind. It’s not Doctrine for Dummies, nor is it a 1000-page systematic theology accessible only to the most well-versed theologians. It’s somewhere in between, and does exactly what the author set out to do, and this chapter is certainly one of the most important building blocks in the book.

Questions for Consideration

1. God has spoken through his Word and given us his Holy Spirit to enlighten our hearts and minds as we read. The simple question is: Are we reading and listening with an aim to be transformed, or do we read solely out of duty or in an attempt to engage with information and gain head knowledge? Perhaps Driscoll’s four tips are helpful here.

2. Do we lean towards Scripture over tradition, tradition over Scripture, or do we take a both/and stance? If so, why, and do we have cause to re-evaluate after engaging with this chapter and post?