Tag Archives: Mark Dever

A Startling Word from Mark Dever on False Conversions

Justin Taylor is live-blogging Together for the Gospel, which is quite a feat given the extensive content yielded by this outstanding conference.  Yesterday, he summarized Mark Dever’s message on “False Conversion,” which included the following.  It’s well worth pondering as a pastor and a Christian.

“In reading through the NT, there are five summary truths that were being distorted in NT times and are still being distorted again—on these we must be especially clear on:

  1. God’s judgment is coming (2 Peter 3). You can easily fill a church with people who will follow their own evil desires. Avoiding the doctrine of hell is one step away from denying it altogether.
  2. We should be judged by God. It’s not just out there for someone. We need to feel our own helplessness. God is good and we are not. We need to understand and teach clearly our natural state and indisposition—we love darkness rather than light. This will preserve us from the idea that if we just fiddle with stuff enough, things will be successful. Meditate on Ezekiel 3. Don’t deny or downplay natural human lostness. We cannot deserve—but Someone Else has deserved for us. He who thinks lightly of sin will think lightly of the Savior.
  3. Our only hope is in Christ. We must trust in Christ—who he is and what he is done. We cannot be converted through our own works. The bodily resurrection is an essential part of our message. Without Christ’s person and work, you can make “converts” but you will not have a Christian church. When we get this right, we begin offending and attracting all the right people. Only true converts respond to the truth about Jesus Christ.
  4. We don’t see the fullness of our salvation in this life. Christ’s death and resurrection secure forgiveness—but it’s not true that salvation is mainly for this life only. There is a blessed hope—the glorious appearing. If only for this life we have hope, we are to be pitied for all men (1 Cor. 15:19). Wanting health and happiness is not the same as repentance. We need to see Christ as worth more than all worldly treasure.
  5. We can deceive ourselves and others about our relationship with God. It’s counter-intuitive in our culture, but clear in the Bible. Please teach this! How would your congregation understand 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”


Filed under church membership, salvation

Shaka Smart & How Athletic Coaching Is Like Pastoring

Shaka Smart is the basketball coach of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond.  For two years in a row, his teams have made it to the national tournament and overachieved.  He’s coveted now by many larger schools who can pay him a great deal more money than VCU.

But he just surprised the college basketball world by declining a $2.5 million/year offer from Illinois to stay at VCU for half that.  Here’s the rationale:

“My family is really, really happy in the city of Richmond,” Smart said, repeating something he has said often. “We have a great group of guys. We have some of the best fans in the country. It’s just a great situation.

“A coach told me a long time ago, don’t run away from happiness, and that’s what we have at VCU.”

Mark Few, head basketball coach of Gonzaga University, has had similar opportunities to jump for a bigger school and has likewise stayed at Gonzaga.  An ESPN story said this about his decision:

“The biggest mistake is that everybody tries to project their own feelings and own thoughts and own values into what you think a guy should do,” said Few. “It comes down to what that individual person wants in life.

“The only people that matter is the coach and the family and what they want and value and where they’re at in life,” said Few. “Do you want to pack up and move young kids, kids in junior high, high school? That’s where it becomes an individual choice and situation.”

The whole piece is worth reading.

I really like Shaka Smart.  He seems like an excellent coach in every way.  He builds his players up and doesn’t tear them down.  I’m impressed by his decision to stay–for now–at VCU.  He may well leave in the future, but even staying this long at a small school is unusual in the college basketball world when one has the kind of chances that Smart does.  Smart stayed because he genuinely likes VCU, and his family likes Richmond.  It’s refreshing to see a talented young coach do this.

It reminded me of a piece on pastoral ministry that Mark Dever wrote a little while back.  Dever suggested that his models for pastoral ministry are three Anglican bachelors who each stayed in a pastorate for decades:

When I’m asked about my models for pastoral ministry I’ve often said, “Three Cambridge Anglican bachelor S’s—Sibbes, Simeon, and Stott.” Each of these men found a strategic location, began expounding God’s Word, and stayed. Expositional preaching is foundational to a Christian ministry, and it’s worth thinking about finding a strategic location and even remaining single. But for this article I want us to consider that other matter of longevity.

First, the facts about these three. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) began preaching in Cambridge in the early 1600s, and had a continuous ministry in London at Gray’s Inn from 1617 until his death in 1635. Charles Simeon (1759-1836) preached at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge from 1782 until his death in 1836, a remarkable 54-year ministry! And John Stott (b. 1921) began preaching at All Souls’ Church, Langham Place, in London from his appointment as curate (1945) and rector (1950), and he preached there regularly until just a few years ago—a ministry that, remarkably, even exceeds Simeon’s in length!

Here’s the whole piece.

Not every pastor needs to stay in one place for their entire career to be faithful to Christ.  But this is an inspiring model.  Those that do stay in one church for decades will know a level of influence that pastors with shorter tenures simply will not.  There will be many good things that come from such a situation–knowing generations of your people, becoming known in the community as a substantive and durable leader, and observing the gospel change hundreds and perhaps thousands of lives.

In the same way that we could commend Smart for his wise decision, we can commend the pastor who labors to love a certain people for much longer than he could.  There is a beauty in that, a humility, and a reward to be had on the last day.

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Doing Ministry with a Shelby Cobra Mustang Engine (Like Piper & Carson)

I just did an interview with Christ the Center, a podcast produced by the Reformed Forum, which is associated with Westminster Theological Seminary.  This is a high-powered theological podcast that has hosted such important discussions as the recent debate among Presbyterian theologians over justification and union with Christ (with Michael Horton and Lane Tipton) and the ongoing conversation about the gospel and sanctification (with Rick Phillips and Kevin DeYoung).

Camden Bucey, Jared Oliphint, and Nick Batzig hosted the conversation.  The topic was pastor-theologians and the book The Pastor as Scholar, the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry (Crossway, 2011), which John Piper and D. A. Carson wrote and David Mathis and I edited.

I had a fun and extensive conversation with the CTC guys, who are great guys with keen theological minds.  The topic in question related directly to the Reformed tradition, which has produced so many fantastic pastor-scholars (Calvin) and scholar-pastors (Warfield).  J. Gresham Machen is of course one of the five most important Christian figures of the twentieth century and fits nicely into the scholar-pastor mold.  He was a brilliant theologian who was nevertheless keenly focused on the church.  Much of his writing is deep but directly accessible to the thoughtful layperson.

Head over to the Reformed Forum and give this podcast a listen if you’re so inclined.  During the course of this hourlong conversation, we covered all kinds of things: why Piper and Dever might be wary of the term “pastor-scholar,” how pastors can own this role as theologian, and how church history relates to the present discussion.

About 15 minutes in, we cover the idea that being a pastor-theologian isn’t about escaping the hard work of pastoral ministry–counseling, evangelism, discipleship.  Instead, it’s about infusing all of that valuable pastoral labor with a 500-horsepower theological engine such that the work of the pastor is transformed and Christ is richly displayed in churchly ministry.

That’s what I’m after.  I think that’s what the CTC guys are after.  Can’t you hear the roar of that Christocentric engine?

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Things You Should Go To: The 9Marks Weekender

I don’t know if you’ve heard about these, but if you’re interested in entering a full-blown “church lab,” a program that will allow you to savor God’s work to reform one local church–Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C.–then you need to sign up for May’s 9Marks Weekender.

It’s being held from May 17-21, 2012 (update: March is full, but May is still open) at CHBC, just a few blocks behind the Supreme Court.  Here’s a bit more information about this exciting (and often ecclesiologically transformative) event:

Three times a year, 9Marks and Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC host around fifty pastors, seminarians, and church leaders from Thursday night to Monday morning for a full-on immersion in the life and inner workings of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a church committed to living and ministering biblically.

You’ll have box seats for a new members’ class. You’ll be front and center for lectures from Mark Dever on expositional preaching and implementing change. You’ll even go behind closed doors to observe an elders’ meeting. And all that’s just the first half of the weekend.

From leadership to worship to body life and more, it’s all on the table. So bring your questions, and don’t forget to stash some cash for the CHBC bookstall.

See a sample Weekender itinerary

Why should you attend one?  Well, here’s why:

We encourage pastors and church leaders to attend because, just as every Timothy needs a Paul, so every church needs a model. “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 3:174:9).

You may not implement or even agree with every last thing you see during your visit, but having this biblical model can help develop a more directed movement in the way you serve and lead in your local body.

Then again, maybe you know where to go, but feel clueless about how to get there: “I know I want elders, but what do they do when they meet? I know I need to preach, but how do I go about preparing sermons week in and week out? I know the budget needs work, but I’m no accountant.” The goal of The 9Marks Weekender is to provide an environment in which leaders can observe and discuss the biblical and practical dynamics of nurturing love and holiness in a local church.

Read the whole piece on “Weekenders” over at the 9Marks site.

You don’t need to be a Southern Seminary student or a Southern Baptist or even a Baptist to attend this event.  Regardless of your background, this would be a fantastic way to encounter some really keen thinking on the local church and its polity, its leadership, and the way a healthy church can function.

It would be hard for me to put into words how thankful I am that I did a Weekender and then a CHBC internship (which I also commend to seminarians and future leaders–well worth moving to DC to do!).  Even if you have no prior plans to buy into the “model,” I would encourage you to go, whether you’re from Maine or Chicago or Louisville or Oregon or Brazil or China.  It’s that formative for getting a framework for how to shepherd the members of Christ’s church, the engine of his triumphant, world-defying kingdom.


Filed under church internships, church life

Jonathan Edwards on Hell

I recently had the privilege to sit down with Dustin Neeley of Church Planting for the Rest of Us to talk about several topics that will be released on video, including Jonathan Edwards on hell.  The above video covers how Edwards might have responded to the recent controversy regarding Rob Bell’s book Love Wins.  As I say in the video, Edwards believed that hell was powerfully evangelistic.  There is an irony in that reality–the worst news can end up being good news for those who cry out to God for mercy.

By the way, Dustin’s blog is chock full of great content.  The pastor of Crossing Church in Louisville, he’s something of an interview maestro, and he’s sat down with all kinds of pastors and leaders and asked them very good, direct, honest questions, many of which relate to pastoring and church planting from a regular guy’s perspective.  Visit Church Planting for the Rest of Us and find a wealth of good material there for your ministry.  In the past few days alone he has great material from Mark Dever and Daniel Montgomery of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville.  Plus, he exercises a keen eye for the cool button-up.

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Free T4G Sessions, Liberating Black Theology, and the Sad Story of Jennifer Knapp

In a stunning twist of irony, The Gospel Coalition blog has all of the Together for the Gospel sessions posted online, while the T4G site does not.  And you thought the two did not interface.  It’s great that they do.

I don’t know why, but CJ Mahaney’s session is not up.  I thought it was exceptional, and that it tied the whole conference together.  You had Mohler and Sproul doing high-level worldview thinking, Dever and others working out of their pastor-theologian mindset, and CJ–the heart of the conference–tying it all together for the vast majority of attendees, the faithful pastors of countless churches across the world. 


Anthony Bradley has written a courageous book on black theology entitled Liberating Black TheologyJohn Starke of TGC Reviews interviewed him.  Looks highly worthwhile.


Denny Burk links to CT’s coverage of the recent “coming out” of musician Jennifer Knapp, one of the first Christian musicians I heard who made beautiful music and sang meaningful lyrics.  I’m deeply saddened by this news. 


You’ve heard about Dr. Oz, but you don’t know much about him.  Here’s your source for information.  I met a driver who had once taken him to the airport.  She said he was on his phone the whole time.  There–now you know something completely extraneous about the man.


If you have not introduced yourself to the wonder that is Andrew Belle’s music, please do so.  I dare you to find a better recent song than “The Ladder”.  You can’t do it.  That song will stand playing ten times in a row.  Trust me.

(Photo of CJ Mahaney at T4G 2010: Devin Maddox–more pictures here)

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What Is the Gospel, and Why Care?

Greg Gilbert’s brand-new What Is the Gospel? (Crossway–IXMarks, 2010) is dynamite.  Pick this book up to remind yourself of the essential of the essentials.  A short (127pp), small, readable, punchy text, What Is the Gospel? dispels the cloudiness surrounding the exact character of the gospel today.  Pastors, disciplers, Bible study leaders, and many others would find this a great book to pass on to believers, young believers, and unbelievers.

The book’s subject matter is deceptively easy to obscure.  There are many definitions given of what exactly the gospel is today.  Is it the proclamation of the kingdom?  Do we do the gospel?  Or is it a message to proclaim?  If it is a message, what is the core content of this message?  If you read widely in evangelicalism today, you’ll find all kinds of answers given to these questions.  There is indeed a great depth to the gospel, a many-sidedness, but I think Greg is quite right that there is a core to it that cannot be minimized or replaced.

On a personal note, I remember reading Greg’s 9Marks reviews almost a decade when I was a college student.  I read them and thought, “I want to write like that.”  Greg has a sharpness to his prose and a clarity to his thought that is unusual.   With this particular book, I liked Greg’s section on three ways that the gospel is unhelpfully defined.  For example, there is massive confusion today on how kingdom and cross, and social justice and evangelism, fit together.  Do you emphasize one?  Both together?  How do you figure this stuff out theologically, spiritually, exegetically?  Greg’s book is a starting point on this tricky matter.  I hope we’ll hear more from him on this.

Here’s a little bite to chew on from the provocative and rewarding book, which has a foreword by Don Carson and blurbs from too many Christian leaders to count (Mohler, Mahaney, Dever, Akin, Akinola, etc.):

The Bible actually gives us very clear instruction on how we should respond to any pressure to let the cross drift out of the center of the gospel.  We are to resist it.  Look at what Paul said about this in 1 Corinthians.  He knew the message of the cross sounded, at best, insane to those around him.  He knew they would reject the gospel because of it, that it would be a stench in their nostrils.  But even in the face of that sure rejection he said, “We preach Christ crucified” (! Cor. 1:23).  In fact, he resolved to “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).  That’s because, as he put it at the end of the book, the fact that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” was not just important, and not even just very important.  It was of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). (110)

Amen.  Pick up this little book, and gain clarity on a central matter that we are constantly tempted to minimize, whether on a theological level through direct challenge, or on a personal spiritual level through listening to our doubting hearts.  The gospel is clear, simple, a message to proclaim, and the means by which we and our wicked souls will be saved.

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The Link 12.5.09: Great Music, Scanwiches, and Climate Change

1. Here’s a link to some excellent music by Peter Bradley Adams, formerly of the duo eastmountainsouth.  Really–check this guy out.  You can even get a free EP of Adams’s music if you want to test-drive it.

2. Have you seen the site scanwiches.com?  Try looking at it without getting hungry.

3. Here’s a well-funded site, TCK (currently advertising in major media outlets) advocating for major investment in combating anthropogenic climate change.  For those who wonder why I would question this cause, the ethical, almost spiritual, significance attached to it fails my sniff test.  To make anthropogenic climate change–by no means proven to cause the kind of environmental effects some allege–a cause of “justice” is premature and potentially highly problematic.  Sites like this, with language like this, calling for expensive programs and postures like it does, require very careful thought.

4. Check out the latest 9Marks interview with Aussie Philip Jensen.  Knowing Jensen (and Dever’s interviewing style), this can only be provocative.

–Have a great Sunday, all.

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Live-Blog: Mark Dever at the Gospel Growth Conference

deverI’m here at the People Growth conference, cosponsored by the Henry Center, where Mark Dever is currently speaking on “The Four P’s of Ministry.”  However, I think that he may have retitled, or subtitled, the message, “The Person and Work of the Shepherd” from 1 Peter 5. Not sure about that.

Without further ado, here are some insights from Dever’s talk, which I would commend to your listening.  My notes are in brackets.


The judge spoken of here [1 Peter 5] is also our shepherd.  Psalm 23.  Read from Ezekiel 34 to illustrate how the Lord, the ultimate shepherd, also functioned as the judge of the Israelite shepherds (the leaders).

If we would be good shepherds, we must remember that we are merely stewards.  The wicked shepherds of Israel worked for their own good; the ultimate Shepherd, Jesus Christ, laid down His life for the wicked.

Suffering, then glory; suffering, then glory.  This is often the way pastoral ministry works out.  There are definitive trials to being a pastor–so the examples of figures like Christ and Peter show us.

The Four P’s: Preach, Pray, build Personal relationships, and be Patient.

On preaching, remember Ezekiel 37, where God’s Spirit goes out with His Word.  Preaching to dry bones is a ridiculous thing to do unless God’s Spirit accompanies His Word. [Note: this is the official 9Marks text.  I swear.  For good reason!]  What people have been born by they need to be sustained by.

Don Carson and Dever were in Brazil.  He realized that he was having a hard time with the whole translation thing, whereas Carson was doing well.  Dever wondered why this was so; he realized that he includes rhetorical flourishes in his preaching that were perhaps being missed or obscured, while Carson has only substance, and thus was communicated with enviable clarity [This drew a great deal of laughter.]

It is essential that we pray. We need to pray for a true understanding of God’s Word.  Every time we pray we show that we depend upon on God.  When Carson came to Cambridge and preached material from A Call to Spiritual Reformation, the prayers of people in Dever’s context changed.  They became bigger and more God-centered.  So: what would our prayers from the past week sound like if they were broadcast over the loudspeaker? Dever cited John Stott, who once heard “village prayers to a village god.”  [That is an extraordinary line.]

So, pastors: pray for your congregation to grow in love.  Pray for the church’s testimony to the community.  Pray that God would work in the congregation such that His own character would be revealed in the church.  Pray for sinners to be converted, and for personal evangelism efforts.  We evangelicals often feel guilty about our lack of prayer.  Don’t focus on guilt–focus on praying more.

One of the best things you’ll do in your ministry is to cultivate personal relationships. [At this point, Dever read a lengthy passage from The Trellis and the Vine, which he spoke of in glowing terms, noting that it lays out the proper way to get involved in the church and seek out people who need personal investment.]

Finally, you need patience. If you’re a young man, especially under 30, you need to find an older man who can help you develop a patient perspective on ministry.  This is one of the hardest things for young pastors to learn, but one of the most essential.


All in all, this was a deeply edifying and provocative talk, as I have so often found Mark Dever to be.  It was a treat to hear him, and here’s hoping that the People Growth conference goes as well on Thursday and Friday as it did today.  We had more than 150 people turn out, including folks from Atlanta, Louisville, Kansas, Missouri, Australia, England, the Philippines, and more.

I’m very thankful for Marty Sweeney of Matthias Media (the main sponsor),  Robert Kinney (and Colleen Gallagher) of the Simeon Trust, and Ben Peays of The Gospel Coalition for making this excellent event happen.  It’s been a treat to work together with three terrific evangelical organizations to make this conference come together, and here’s hoping that it will encourage pastors and church workers to continue to root their ministry–and the measurement of their ministry–in the gospel.


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The Link 9.25.09: Glenn Beck, The Way We Die, and Driscoll’s Free Stuff

GlennBeckThis is an eclectic day.  As usual.  For the report on Ravi Zacharias, see number 7.

1. Time Magazine recently ran a piece on conservative commentator Glenn Beck.  Interesting read.

2. A piece to read from the NYT on the debate over health-care, end-of-life issues, and “death panels.” There’s a bunch to sort out here, but we need to note at least one thing: while it’s important to focus on reforming end-of-life care, Christians have a huge interest in preserving the lives of the elderly and the right of the elderly and infirmed to live.

3. Mark Driscoll lists some free stuff that Mars Hill is and has been giving away.

4. Just heard this cutting-edge Chicago band: Milano.  Check out “Zombie World” toward the end: “the dead are going to live, the living are going to die.”  That’s going to be true, one day soon.

5. Theologian and Evangelical Theological Society president Bruce Ware on “Missional Christology.”

6. Soon and very soon, Andrew Sherwood of 9Marks is going to blog the “God Exposed” at Southeastern Seminary featuring names like Dever, Akin, Anyabwile, and McKinley.  My friends on Baptist21 are doing a panel: here’s a pic.  Looks like another packed event for B21…

7. For those who are wondering, the audio and video from the Henry Center’s Kantzer Lectures and Ravi Zacharias events will be online soon.  We had an incredible response to Ravi’s visit–ATO Chapel was completely filled, between 100-200 people filled the overflow room as well, and we had many more by webcast (including some of you–thanks for watching!).  We are grateful to God for this response, for Ravi’s global ministry, and the chance to participate in it in our small corner of things.

–Have a great and God-saturated weekend, all.


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