Category Archives: Mark Dever
From my (very limited) vantage point, American churches seem to be cultivating a growing interest in apologetics (that is, defending the faith and answering objections). In a pluralistic culture that grows ever diverse, it’s important for the church to formulate answers to the challenges. This is commendable and biblical (1 Peter 3:15).
But along with this new emphasis on apologetics runs a concurrent temptation for churches to confuse evangelism and apologetics, to confuse defending and proclaiming.
Examples of this are not hard to find. In an interview with Christianity Today, Brian McLaren blurs traditional evangelism and apologetics to the point where they are really indistinguishable. I think this reflects a broader confusion.
This blurring of lines and even an apologetics-for-evangelism replacement is especially dangerous because it relocates the ultimate goal of the Gospel. In apologetics we seek the intellectual assent of others by overcoming their questions and engaging their obstacles. But the goal of evangelism is to proclaim the message of the Cross and see God (by His sovereign grace) produce personal brokenness, humility, and repentance.
By replacing evangelism with apologetics, we may unwittingly replace weeping hearts for nodding heads. Carried out ecclesiastically, everyday evangelism gets replaced by group meetings led by experts.
So I was especially encouraged by these comments in Mark Dever’s new book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Crossway: 2007):
“… practicing apologetics is a good thing, but it’s not evangelism. Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism … By far the greatest danger in apologetics is being distracted from the main message. Evangelism is not defending the virgin birth or defending the historicity of the resurrection” (pp. 77-78).
And with this shift from evangelism to apologetics comes a subversive shift in agenda. Dever writes,
“Apologetics is defending the faith, answering the questions others have about Christianity. It is responding to the agenda that others set. Evangelism, however, is following Christ’s agenda, the news about him. Evangelism is the positive act of telling the good news about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him” (p. 78).
This is a great point to stop for personal reflection. Does what I call evangelism look more like apologetics? Is the ultimate goal of my evangelism aimed towards mere agreement? Or am I lovingly and gently calling sinners to see sin as personal sin, and see wrath as wrath directed towards them? Am I calling for repentance, encouraging “godly grief,” seeking repentance from “dead works,” and a clinging to the Cross (Acts 26:20; 2 Cor. 7:10; Heb. 6:1)? In short, is my evangelism marked as defending or proclaiming?
These are good things to consider.
Thankfully pastor and author Mark Dever doesn’t read blogs so he will be spared from seeing this.
Thursday morning (4/12/07)
Breakout seminar #2
Mark Dever: “Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians”
GAITHERSBURG, MD – Being one who loves to read the books of dead theologians and preachers, Mark Dever’s session was a personal highlight. The point was to encourage us to broaden our theological and biographical reading to at least 12 different authors, each to be read for one month annually. Dever himself uses a yearly reading plan where he reads a specific author each month of the year (like Augustine in February). Then every April he moves on to John Calvin, reading a new biography or theological work. Each year the reading plan starts over.
For readers of the Together for the Gospel blog, this will sound familiar. On February 1, 2006 Dever wrote a short post titled “An apostolic agenda” outlining this very thing. On Thursday morning at the Sovereign Grace Ministries Leader’s Conference, Dever filled out the details.
Dever began with a lengthy quote from C.S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ On The Incarnation which outlines some reasons why old books are important. Lewis writes,
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire. …
The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.
With this introduction, Dever launched into his “canon of theologians.” He encouraged us to read on theological issues that are not a particular struggle at the time. Let the theologians talk about what they want to talk about. Dever then outlined his own personal reading plan.
The ‘canon of theologians’
January – Early church writings (1st-3rd centuries). Recommended reading: Many and various works and authors were mentioned like the Epistle of Dionysius, The Didache, Clement, The Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Penguin paperback, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers (0140444750). When asked if he used the early church writings in his expositional research, he said ‘no.’ He is familiar with the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture but has not found them exegetically beneficial. [This helps answer an important question we asked earlier this year]. Dever’s use of the early church fathers is predominantly theological and historical.
February – Augustine (354-430). The most influential extra-biblical theologian in the West. Recommended: City of God and The Confessions (Henry Chadwick edition). Dever’s disagreement: That the church is the conduit of salvation. “Augustine got it bad wrong on ecclesiology.”
March – Martin Luther (1483-1546). Lessons learned: 1. Justification is by faith alone, all of sheer grace. Luther “cleanses the church from the barnacles of traditionalism.” 2. Luther’s boldness. Read biography Here I Stand. Recommended reading: 95 Theses and Bondage of the Will. You can read Bondage of the Will out loud to children and they will be engaged because of the vigorous prose and Luther’s name-calling towards Erasmus (Dever is very funny). Best bio being Here I Stand by Roland Bainton (0452011469).
April – John Calvin (1509-1564). The greatest theologian of the Reformation period. Lessons learned: 1. God’s glory at the center of everything. The world is the “theater” of God’s glory. 2. Centrality of man’s depravity, shown especially in the heart’s perpetual idol production. 3. He was careful with Scripture. Calvin had a very rare combination of gifts that balanced the theological, linguistic, pastoral, and exegetical. 4. He filled both the offices of pastor and scholar. 5. The diligent training of his spiritual children even as he knew sending these pastors back into France would mean certain death [see the concept of “Calvin’s School of Death”]. Disagreements: That the state is responsible for the church. He confused the church and state, a distinction we take for granted today. Recommended: Sermons on the Ten Commandments, commentary on 1 Cor. 12-14, The Institutes of the Christian Religion and anything written by T.H.L. Parker. He does not recommend modern bios of Calvin and especially warned against McGrath.
May – Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). Lessons learned: 1. The tenderness of Christ. The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax a great example of Jesus’ tenderness and it makes for a great read together with your spouse. Sibbes was able to point out evidences of grace very well. 2. “Diagnostic evangelism.” Sibbes continued to hold out the biblical truth of what a genuine Christian looks like and, by consequence, sorted out those who nominally professed faith. By authenticating the Christian life he naturally separated the sheep from the wolves and goats. He was clear that one’s salvation does not come through assurance but rather assurance comes from genuine salvation. Sibbes pointed those who were never converted to run to grace in the Cross. Disagreement: Infant baptism. Recommendations: Sibbes stuttered in his preaching so he kept his sentences relatively short and this makes him easier to read than his contemporaries. Start with the sermons in volume seven of his collected works.
June – John Owen (1616-1683) and John Bunyan (1628-1688). John Owen is known for his argument on limited atonement in Death of Death. It’s a good book to scare Arminians, but there exist better exegetical ways to argue for limited atonement. Lesson learned: Linger with Scripture. “Diligent meditation reaps great rewards.” Dever especially recommends the Owen volumes by Kris Lundgaard (The Enemy Within and Through the Looking Glass) and those by Kapic and Taylor (Overcoming Sin and Temptation). … John Bunyan was a “pot-repairer with extraordinary preaching gifts.” Bunyan clearly expresses himself without the use of long, Latin sentences. His life was marked by a sincere pastoral concern. Recommended: Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (autobiographical) and The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Pilgrim’s Progress being a “great systematic theology” built around the “centrality of heaven.”
July – Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). There are many lessons and warnings from the life of Jonathan Edwards. Lessons learned: 1. Diligent meditation. “Edwards can stare at an idea” and has “a powerful ability to think out and illustrate” that idea. An excellent example of this is Edward’s sermon The Excellency of Christ. 2. Edwards demonstrates a zeal for the purity of the church. 3. Understands the connection between his ministry and his congregation. In his Farewell Sermon, after Edwards was fired, he tells his congregation “I’ll see you before the throne.” Disagreements: 1. Infant baptism. 2. The logic of God’s centrality seemed a bit philosophical rather than always biblical. 3. He shows some pastoral carelessness especially with the “young folks’ Bible” controversy [see chapter 18 in George Marsden’s biography]. Nevertheless, Edwards demonstrates a powerful ability to think out and illustrate. Read his sermons and especially his sermon The Nakedness of Job which he wrote when he was 18 years old! As an interesting side note, Dever has preached an Edwards sermon to his congregation. On October 5, 2003 he took Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, marked up the manuscript as he would his own and preached it. You can listen to the final product here.
August – C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). Lessons learned: 1. Evangelism. Spurgeon preached the gospel from any and every text. “More than anyone else, I think of Spurgeon when I prepare my sermons.” Preach each sermon as though someone may be converted. 2. His life is filled with stories of God’s kindness upon his ministry. Read Spurgeon’s autobiography and be amazed at the stories. Spurgeon’s autobiography “may be the most fun thing to read apart from Scripture.” It will encourage you to see that we have a glorious God. 3. He had a lively faith. Spurgeon had “a heightened God-consciousness.” Even in the midst of a prolonged depression, Spurgeon shows that depression drives a faithful Christian to God. Read his Morning and Evening devotional.
September – B.B. Warfield (1851-1921). “Warfield strengthens my faith.” Like John Calvin, Warfield had a wonderful mix of scholarship and piety. Disagreements include infant baptism and Presbyterian polity.
October – Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). Not much in disagreement. Lessons learned: 1. Gave his life to preaching and lived confident in the power of God’s Word. 2. Deadly earnest. It was no light thing for him to preach. The pulpit was the “desk of God.” Recommended: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Preaching and Preachers, Spiritual Depression and his biography by Iain Murray.
November – C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003). Because time ran short, Dever simply finished off his list of writers he reads in November and December without further comment or recommendation.
December – Contemporary authors like John Stott, J.I. Packer, Iain Murray, R.C. Sproul and John Piper.
This breakout session encourages me to pursue the study of the early church writers, although I’ve become more convinced that they will not prove as helpful in my expositional research and sermon preparation as others. It also encourages me to narrow my focus to a handful of great writers and focus attention on their writings each year. I’m in the process of creating my own “canon of theologians” for annual study.
I doubt I’m alone when I say the Old Testament in my Bible is largely unknown to me. This is probably due to the fact that it’s not chronologically structured and many overlaps and gaps make things confusing. Such prospects can be despairing for a big-picture reader like myself.
Typically before I begin a book I question the themes and overall direction of what I’m about to read. It’s the basic ABCs of critical thinking, really. However the historical big-picture of the Old Testament is often hard to discern and so the details are often disconnected.
Enter Mark Dever.
I remember my introduction to Mark Dever four years ago as a carpenter finishing a basement drywall project. I was somewhat new to drywalling myself, usually opting to hire an expert (the wise choice). So like an amateur, I made the mistake of applying too much drywall mud on the walls. Thus I sanded and sanded for several painful winter days while me and my .mp3 player were both covered in several layers of fine white dust. Audible amidst the white fog, however, Mark Dever preached on.
Over those days I listened to (and was sustained by) Dever’s entire sermon series on New Testament (now also in print). I was amazed at the clarity of his messages and his uncanny ability to summarize whole NT books into nice packages. And I anticipated a survey of the Old Testament.
At Together for the Gospel in Louisville Dever’s Old Testament survey was available for purchase and I jumped at the chance. Although several hundred of you jumped sooner I guess because they were sold out before I could get my hands on a copy. As soon as I returned home I ordered a copy and have not regretted it!
The book is simply a 960-page collection of sermon manuscripts. But don’t be intimidated by its size. Dever’s summary of the message of the Old Testament is terse and clear. With a broad brush he paints the major movements of the Old Testament to highlight the history of God’s chosen nation. In fact, early in the book he summarizes the history of the Old Testament in about 2 pages! Very helpful for big-picture readers like myself.
This is one of the most helpful and (in a world of redundant publishing) truly original books. This volume will provide great help for preachers and laypersons wanting to unlock the message of the Old Testament.
As an unexpected bonus, wonderful reflection questions conclude each chapter perfectly suited for group study and personal meditation.
The Message of the Old Testament is the perfect balance of two worlds – letting the biblical storyline come alive for readers today AND addressing the pressing issues of our lives from the application of the ancient text. Buy it, read it, cherish it and some day pass it on to your children. It’s one of those rare and priceless volumes that will bless your heart and your ministry.
Every time I go to the Together for the Gospel blog I am reminded of the wonderful time in Louisville, KY at T4G 2006 and my time meeting so many of you and getting some great time with my fellow shepherd-in-training, Charlie Jackson. The following quote from the blog was recently mentioned by Joshua Harris at New Attitude 2006. It is a great reminder of the preachers relationship to the Word of God.
"What we need is humble theology — theology which submits itself to the truth of God's Word. 'Liberal' theology — theology which does not view Scripture as finally trustworthy and authoritative — is not humble before the Word. Churches which are tentative and decry dogmatism may sound humble, but it is not truly humble to do anything other than to submit to God's Word. Christian humility is to simply accept whatever God has revealed in His Word. Humility is following God's Word wherever it goes, as far as it goes, not either going beyond it or stopping short of it."
"Bertrand Russell, the late, well-known, British philosopher wrote in 1950 that 'The essence of the liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology.' These days, I guess many are holding theological conclusions in such a 'scientific' manner. But such hestitancy is not humility. The humility we want in our churches is to read the Bible and believe it — everything God has said, dogmatically, and humbly! It is not humble to be hesitant where God has been clear and plain."
- Mark Dever, Together for the Gospel blog (2/8/06)