Preaching Hard Doctrines

David Norczyk
6 min readMar 2, 2021


During my over five decades of life, I have sat through a good number of sermons. I have heard it reasoned, if men would only preach expository sermons, they must come face to face with the hard doctrines. I am not convinced. Hard doctrine does not mean “difficult to understand,” it means, “unpopular with the audience.”

Further, I have sat through a good number of expository sermon series. Often, I have said to myself, “Ah, I wonder how he will explain this __________________.” The blank could be filled in with God’s eternal decree, predestination, election, reprobation, eternal hell, providence, or any number of other hard doctrines obstructing the preacher’s way to the next verse. Just as often, in retrospect, I have said to myself, “Ah, I wonder how he slipped through his obligation to explain ________________.“ The blank could be filled with exactly the same aforementioned doctrines.

It has been said, “Ideas have consequences.” Christian ideas also have consequences, and for those who preach and teach biblical ideas, there can be very grave consequences (ie. sworn enemies in the congregation, church discipline, loss of employment, etc.). To take up a doctrinal position, and claim you hold to it, immediately disqualifies you from at least half of the pulpits you might be invited to preach in otherwise. Doctrinal preaching is a costly endeavor for the faithful man of God; hard doctrinal preaching is a wild adventure into the wilderness of unpopularity.

There are old debates (ie. icons; baptism; church government; etc.) and there are new debates (ie. role of women; role of homosexuals; worship style; etc.). It may be noble for a preacher to be abstemious in his physical diet, but to deprive God’s people of a proper diet of spiritual food is pure neglect. How do we remedy willful withholding? Why do men of God hold back, water down, avoid, or elude their responsibility for preaching hard doctrines?

First, remedies have been offered. Confessions of faith and systematic theologies have been written in an attempt to unite ideas on the theological landscape. Is there room for a pastor to hold this doctrinal position but not that one. Some churches say, “yes” and others say, “no.” Rarely are pastors given the opportunity to preach their own convictions. Most congregations have their statements of faith or adhere to a denominational standard. Dull preaching is born from lack of conviction by the preacher. The standard is there, the pastor’s belief and conviction may or may not be there, but what else could be wrong in the case of hard doctrines not being preached?

Second, ignorance of a doctrine can be a reason for a doctrine withheld. The need for ongoing theological education is crucial for the church. Every generation must raise up pastor/theologians, who can rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). The soil for the seed of false preachers is lack of true knowledge. Distortions abound, and the devil tempts men to believe the lie. Pastors are not immune from believing and practicing bad theology. Where the confession of faith and the ignorant pastor never connect, a transfer of knowledge and wisdom has not occurred. Hard doctrine is not received, so it is not taught.

Third, theology shifts with Christian maturity. This is a bit of a dirty little secret in church leadership circles. Often, pastors do not begin as seasoned theological veterans. If they have any time to learn and work through their theological understanding, beliefs can change, and things can get messy.

For instance, it is much easier for a Baptist to become a Presbyterian than for a Presbyterian to become a Baptist. The former moves to a more inclusive theology, regarding the doctrine of baptism, while the latter moves to a more exclusive position. If a Lutheran pastor says to his synod, “I can no longer in good conscience christen babies,” he is done. If a Baptist pastor says, “I can see and am now comfortable baptizing infants,” a whole world of opportunity opens up to him. Theology matters, and theology matters even more when it shifts for a pastor.

Doctrines do not sit in isolation. Baptists are Congregationalists. Presbyterians and Lutherans are not. If one’s position on the doctrine of baptism changes, his ecclesiology will have to undergo a simultaneous review. The more prominent the pulpit, the less likely a pastor will risk his paycheck and popular influence for the sake of something of secondary importance, like a shift in doctrine. Moral and ethical obligations are immediately given a red flag. Pastors are held to a higher standard, and they are judged more severely, given their heightened privilege and responsibility.

Personally, I am convinced there is a very popular dispensationalist pastor/author who became Reformed years ago, but because of his publishing prowess, he has held his theological position…and maybe his pastoral position, too. It would simply be too costly to have to correct what was previously written.

Biographers of the Christian writer, A.W. Pink, explain why readers will want to choose subsequent editions of Pink’s books because of the development of theological views. Professor Michael Horton was able to make a major shift in his theological position early enough to publicly make the shift. For these reasons, seminarians are warned not to publish until they are absolutely sure of their doctrinal positions. Even then, things can change.

Fourth, fear of men is a sad reason for much lukewarm preaching of diluted doctrines. We live in an age when a healthy church means a numerically increasing congregation. Everyone knows hard doctrines serve as a great way to shrink numbers. Jesus led this anti-church growth dynamic, by example, in John 6. Jesus preached some hard doctrine and everyone except His chosen disciples left His ministry. No doubt, Judas Iscariot was disgusted with Jesus’ poor planning, deficient market appeal, and deplorable ministry execution via hard doctrinal preaching.

There must be a great resolve, with a congregation led and ruled church body, to expect, even insist on the hard doctrines. Blessed is the pastor who has liberty in these matters. Most churches who have already experienced “the blessing” of numerical growth gave up on hard doctrines long ago. They are unwanted and deemed dangerous according to statistical analysis. Simply put, hard doctrinal preaching is not good for business.

Fifth, the poorest, really, the most depraved position in this matter is a pastor or congregation’s minimal interest in doctrine. Popular church entertainment centers avoid doctrine in favor of a feel-good show. Using professional comedians, musicians, singers, and orators, the message will always lift you and bring you back next week for more. By the way, do not forget to give generously, for the show must go on.

Conscious, physical and emotional torment in waterless, dark, loveless, fiery, eternal hell will be entirely quenched for fear of offending church visitors. It would actually take faith on the part of a pastor to preach this hard doctrine and trust that Jesus can still build His church.

Finally, if there was a slick aid to these hard doctrine avoidance tactics, it would be the fast and furious expository sermon series. The principle of this argument is: sermon celerity is simple vulgarity, if not brutality. C.H. Spurgeon was not much of an expository preacher, but he earned and has maintained the title, “prince of preachers.” What Spurgeon did was take one verse from the Bible and expound on it. Some could argue this fits their definition of exposition, and some could argue it does not.

Spurgeon’s technique does demonstrate the depth available to the preacher in each verse. Most honest expositors will preach a paragraph, easily delineated by some modern translations (ie. NASB, ESV). Covering more than a paragraph in one sermon is reckless. Yes, on occasion, large swaths of text can be engaged, for it can be valuable to look at the big picture at the beginning or end of an expositional series through a book of the Bible.

The point is: too much volume, caused by too much velocity, facilitating a soft treatment of hard doctrines, is not good. Moving too fast through too much material prevents hearers of the Word from seeing and savoring Jesus Christ in the most profitable way. Simply put, dynamic data dump does not deign disciples’ development.

So, we have chipped away at the stony issue of hard doctrines not being preached. We have learned of the insufficient remedy of confessions of faith. We have also seen the problem of ignorance; shifting theology, fear of men, disinterest, and evasion by acceleration.

In conclusion, the only remedy is the antitheses to these problems. Pray for these matters. May God grant pastors good theological education, in which they are genuinely interested. May God grant pastors a patient, fearlessness to explicate hard doctrines in accordance with historical orthodoxy.

The next time your pastor “camps out” on a hard doctrine, and really teaches it, make sure you thank him. Assure him of your patience and encourage him for his faithfulness in rightly dividing the Word of truth. When false teachers rise up, they will know you are blessed because you are equipped to refute them with hard doctrinal truth, given to you again and again and again through the years, by a truly faithful man of God.

David Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

March 1, 2021



David Norczyk

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher