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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Steve Jobs and the Goal of Preaching


The grind of preparing and delivering weekly sermons is a challenge for me in many ways, but the struggle to apply the text stands at the top of the list. At this point I’ve got more book learning than life experience. So, to borrow an image from Tim Keller, my preaching tends towards words that too rarely take on flesh. And the more obscure the passage, the more acute the problem.

About a year ago I was in the early weeks of a series on Hebrews, barreling towards those Melchizedek passages. And it was then that I received some help—at least on a conceptual level—from an unexpected source.


A friend had loaned me a copy of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, a captivating read. I was especially struck by a passage where Jobs describes his product development strategy and its relationship to market research:

“Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page” (567).

Job’s point is that it’s not enough to offer customers what they already think they need. He wanted Apple to be a transformational influence, which meant his goal was to expose and then meet needs and desires that customers didn’t realize they had. He was aiming at things that, in the minds and hearts of his customers, were “not yet on the page.”

With a little tweaking, I’ve found this Jobsian insight to be really helpful for pushing myself out of the realm of Bible trivia and into the realm of life transformation.


What makes Scripture glorious is the time-tested truth that it's not only God-breathed but "profitable" (2 Tim. 3:16). Surely one step in helping our people see its profitability is to know our people well. We need to get in their lives and in their minds so we internalize their questions, empathize with their struggles, and then apply the gospel where they need to hear it in our time and place. 

But there’s a danger here if we limit the goal of our preaching to so-called felt needs, those desires already “on the page.” If we limit our aim to these, we’ll be in trouble when we get to Melchizedek. In fact we're not likely to get to Melchizedek at all. Not many of us serve people who wake up thinking that what they really need to get through the day is a dependable high priest, preferably one in the order of Melchizedek.

But if the Bible is God-breathed and profitable, a covenant document preserved in total for our good, then all of it stands over us with authority to define our true condition and diagnose our deepest needs. And if this is true, preaching that submits to the Bible’s priorities and seeks to meet the deepest needs of our hearers will address needs that are not yet on the page. Part of our job as bridge-builders is to help people get a taste of their needs as the Bible defines and meets them.

Ford knew his customers wanted faster horses, but what they “needed” was the Model T. Jobs knew customers wanted thinner flip phones to leave more room for carrying around their Palm Pilots, but they “needed” pocket-sized computers that make phone calls.

We know our people want advice on how to make relationships more stable, peaceful, and fulfilling—certainly an important need which the Bible richly addresses. But we know our people truly need something even more fundamental. We have broken the relationship at the core of our lives. So we need a priest, a mediator to bridge the gap and make peace. And what we really need is a priest like Melchizedek. We need one who not only knows us inside and out but one who won’t die and pass our case on to someone else.

To faithfully communicate the whole counsel of Scripture in all its diversity, we must labor to free our people from the tyranny of felt needs so they can see beauty and life-giving goodness even in textual obscurity. It will mean looking at every text and trusting that it meets a real need of your people, and that your goal is to explain it to them. This kind of application takes work and gets nowhere without the illuminating power of the Spirit in us and in our people. But this is our target. Guided by Scripture, we go after what's not yet on the page.

Matt McCullough is the pastor of Trinity Church in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of “My Brother's Keeper”: Christian Nationalism, Messianic Interventionism, and the Spanish-American War of 1898 (University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming).

April 2013

© 9Marks

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.


Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © 9Marks. Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: info@9marks.org. Toll Free: (888) 543-1030.


Book Review: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (new ed.), by John Piper


I was fortunate to attend a very healthy seminary. That said, I recall being assigned a book in a pastoral ministry class that discussed the color of socks a pastor should wear. I also endured a lecture that instructed us to dress from the “upper third of your wardrobe.” While I’m confident my professor was a godly man and a wonderful pastor, this comment seems to owe a little too much to the professionalism that has taken root among American pastors. And a focus on appearance is just one facet of the professionalism which John Piper takes aim at in his recent, updated and expanded edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.

This updated edition has a new introduction along with six additional chapters. The reason Piper gives for these additional chapters is that “they [have] pressed themselves on me. One for personal reasons like health (chap. 27 [Bodily Training]). One for family reasons relating to my own sanctification (chap. 22 [Act the Miracle]). Two for theological reasons where I felt I needed greater clarity or correction (chaps. 4 & 6 [God does make much of us & God is the Gospel]). And two in pursuit of being a better preacher (chaps. 13 & 18 [Bible oriented & Tone of Text])” (xi).                                                                

This re-release comes at the close of Piper’s 33 years as pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As Piper looks back on the ten years since the release of the first edition he not only remains convinced of the need for this book, but believes that the “pressure to ‘professionalize’ the pastorate has morphed and strengthened” (ix). As such, the book, and in particular this new edition, would encourage and instruct many Christians, but its aim is pastors.

Click here to continue reading. 

Leading the Church While Leading your Family


Seventeen years ago I went on a two-week trip to India and Korea to teach in a Bible college and some churches. Security at the airport was not as tight pre-9/11, so my family accompanied me to the gate. As I left my wife and three young children in the midst of a Michigan winter, my youngest daughter cried out "NOOOOO!" so long and so loud that the echo followed me down the jet way into the plane itself. She wasn't the only one who cried that day.

As I sat on the plane and tried to catch one last glimpse of them, I wondered, "What was I doing to my family? Was this trip really worth it? Was I right to do this? Couldn’t someone else have taught this course and preached these messages?" It was not the last time I would ask those questions.

Serving the church is not merely a job; it is an all-consuming responsibility that can threaten a family. The emergency hospital trips and the frantic calls from a heartbroken spouse never come when you are sitting at home, caught up on your to-do list, bored stiff, and hoping for a crisis to break the monotony. For most of us, our bodies may be home, but our full attention is slow to arrive.

There are always more visits to schedule, more people to counsel, more calls to make, more meetings to attend, more functions to pray at, more books to read, more emails to answer, more blogs to write (and read), more classes to take and teach, more work for the sermon(s), more degrees to finish or pursue, more, more, more, meaning that your family will get less, less, less. How many times have you come home late knowing that while you were trying to save your church, your wife was left alone trying to save your kids?

Can we really be effective pastors and good husbands and dads? Do we really have to choose between the church and our family?

In this article I’ll argue it does not have to be an “either/or.”


Leading a church well and leading a family well are not mutually exclusive: “[An elder] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Tim. 3.4).

However, Paul is not only saying that an elder can lead both family and church well, but that he must. But how? Through the gospel! The gospel protects you from taking yourself too seriously and exposes the idols of your heart.

Don’t Take Yourself so Seriously

The gospel reminds me that I am a sinner prone to self-centeredness and self-righteousness. The fact that I am a pastor does not mean that I don’t have to confess my sin with my family when I have blown it. In fact, I need to take the lead in confessing when I have sinned against my family.

Your kids know that you are human. They see your underwear in the laundry and smell your breath in the morning. They’ve watched you try to fix that faucet, replace the water heater and drop your cell phone. You are not a perfect parent. You are going to overreact, over-promise, and forget. You are going to fail. You are a sinner. On many occasions, I’ve had to go into my kids’ bedroom and ask forgiveness for being a jerk. They forgave me. Some of my most humble moments in life have been sitting on my kids’ bed, while being patted on the back, hearing one of them say, “It’s okay, Dad. I sin too.” Respect is best earned through relationships built on love, rather than rules that can only make demands.

Christ Is a Better Savior than my Image

I am tempted to believe that if I am a perfect pastor, then others will think well of me, and I worship that approval. And in order to be a perfect pastor, I need to have perfect children. Therefore, I need to get my children to cooperate with my desires to be respected.

Thankfully, neither God nor my children have gone along with my desires. When my son was about four, we went to a funeral home to visit the family of an influential lady in the church who had died. After looking at her body in the casket, my son announced to her daughter that the lady had died because, “She ate too much.” That evening I updated my resume, believing that I would need it shortly. There were many situations with my children when I was forced to ask, “Am I more concerned about my children and the gospel, or about how their failures will reflect on me?”

Again, the gospel is clear. Christ alone is my hope, not my children. If I expect perfect behavior from them, I am demanding from them what only Christ can provide, and that expectation will crush them. They need to have the freedom to fail, so they too can experience grace. Along the way, my church family has seen our warts and imperfections. They did not have a perfect pastor, but that’s okay. They have a perfect Savior.


With those two things in mind, here are four more specific matters that have helped me navigate the leadership of my home while leading the church.

1. You Can’t Please Everyone.

First, you can’t please everyone. It is tempting to listen to a visitor tell you how terrible that “other church” is. They seem so sincere, so hurt. And so now, I am going to rush in and show them what a real church, a real pastor should be like. I will impress them with my sacrifice, my availability, and my attention to their needs. I can be a hero. I can restore their faith and rescue them. Really? Now, obviously, there are plenty of people who truly need care. But there are some people who do not want to actually deal with their issues; they just want attention from you. They don’t care if you sacrifice your children for them. They will take all that you offer and demand even more.

One summer, while I was on vacation with my family in Florida, a church member called to ask if I would do his aunt’s funeral—three and a half hours across the state. My wife was stunned. I am ashamed to admit that because he was new to the church, and I wanted him to think well of me, I agreed. I had to buy a suit, shoes, shirt, and tie, leave my family, and drive across the state, all to make a good impression. A few years later he left the church because he did not get to sing enough solos. Remember, if Jesus isn’t good enough for some people, what makes you think you will be?

Related to this is the reality that only God is omnipresent, not you. You simply cannot be in two places at the same time. It is tempting to break a promise to your family because, after all, “they will understand” that something has come up. The truth is, they will understand—they will understand that others matter more to you than they do.

2. Your Family Is Part of Your Church—or by God’s Grace Will Be.

Second, remember that your family is part of your church—or by God’s grace will be. Often people ask, “What is more important: your family or your church?” Yet as our kids were growing up, Cathi and I attempted to integrate our family and the church, and did things to involve our family in the church. For example, when appropriate, I took my children with me on home or hospital visits. One evening they sang to a lady who was dying from cancer in her home. Her husband never forgot this.

I discovered that while my children may have to share me with many people, they get to share in many things as well. They get to see the reality of death more than others. They get to see how a church family serves one another. They get to meet missionaries and other pastors. They get to unlock doors, turn off lights, fill the baptismal, fold bulletins, and make copies. They get to see so many things that others may take for granted, which can help them have a greater sense of ownership as church members.

If your children have professed faith in Christ and have become members of the church, they are part of your church in the fullest sense. If they are not members yet, you are preparing them for the day when, you hope, by God’s grace, they will become members of the church. In both cases, you are seeking to instill in them a love for the church.

Yet they are in the spotlight to some degree. You cannot prevent that. They are part of your qualification as a pastor (1 Tim. 3:4). But you can also help the congregation try to treat them like they would treat any other members’ children. I attempted to minimize the spotlight on my children by not using many family stories in sermons, and by ensuring that they had to play by the same rules as everyone else.

A word of caution: some people in the church will hurt you. It may be tempting to feel sorry for yourself and gossip in front of your children. There will be times when you feel taken advantage of and are tempted to play the “victim” card with your family. Please, guard them from that! In spite of the difficult days, it really is a privilege to carry water for the church and wash her feet. Let your children know what a privilege it is to serve the church. This is—or, Lord willing, will be—their family too.

3. Your Church Can Get another Pastor, but Your Kids Can’t Get another Dad.

Third, your church can get another pastor, but your kids can’t get another dad. There are times when we have to choose between an important event for our kids and an event for the church. When facing those decisions I have often asked, “Is this church event something that someone else can cover?” I also ask, “Is this event something that my child really needs me to be at?” Not every event in my child’s life is a really big deal. But if I knew the event was important to them, I did everything I could to be there.

4. Little Things Really Do Matter.

Fourth, little things really do matter. Every night when I would say goodnight to my children, I would usually pray with them and then my last words to them were, “I love you. I will always love you and there is nothing that you can do that will ever make me stop loving you.” (There were times I would have to add, “But don’t push it!”) I did this night after night, year after year, until when I started in they would say with a sigh, “Yeah, I know Dad, and there is nothing that I can do that will ever make you stop loving me.” And I would respond, “And don’t you ever forget it.”

I wanted them to know that what I attempted to do imperfectly was done for them perfectly by God through Christ. I wanted them to know their acceptance and security was not rooted in their grades, awards, achievements, and success as the world defined it. They heard this before solos, piano competitions, spelling bees, basketball and soccer games, final exams, college entrance exams, and every night before bed.

One day I was at a track meet for my youngest daughter. I was screaming loudly as she ran her event when my other daughter called from college in great distress. She was facing a test of monumental importance that would determine the success or failure of her entire degree program, and she felt that she was cracking under the pressure. Four years was resting all on this! I reminded her that she was not sufficient for this, but that her confidence and rest was in Christ. I was eleven hours away. With my fist pumping the air for my youngest who was crossing the finish line in record time, I cried with my other daughter and prayed with her to rest in Christ. Then I said again. “Remember, I love you, I will always love and there is nothing that you can do to ever make me stop loving you.” She knew I would tell her that and just wanted to hear it.


When I became the pastor here, our son was two, Cathi was expecting our second child, and our third was several years away. Now, our kids are basically grown and gone from the house. It is a bit odd that after years of frenzy, loudness, laughter, and chaos, the home is rather quiet. We used to be the young pastor’s family but are now viewed as the seasoned warriors.

Any time with our children is a joy, but there is something that is even more delightful. Recently two of our children flew halfway around the world to serve on a team attempting to reach people on an island in the Mekong River in Cambodia who had never been exposed to the gospel. They left the day after Christmas. Sure, it took away “family time,” and perhaps someone else could have done it. But on that trip, they were able to get to the island and were some of the first believers ever to do so. Today, fourteen months later, there are a couple dozen believers there.

Bob Johnson is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan.

April 2013
© 9Marks

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © 9Marks. Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: info@9marks.org. Toll Free: (888) 543-1030.


Topics: Pastoring

Book Review: The Imperative of Preaching, by John Carrick


If you love biblical theology, if preaching in light of redemptive history is your jet fuel, if the gospel is life to you and not just a trendy buzzword, then you really need to read John Carrick’s book The Imperative of Preaching. Hang on and I’ll tell you why. But first things first.


Carrick advocates for what he calls “sacred rhetoric.” Essentially he has given us a theology of grammar. You heard it—a theology of grammar—which doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but is actually surprisingly helpful. The Bible, as you know, has sentences in it, and those sentences have moods, and those moods work on us in various ways. Why, therefore, shouldn’t sermons follow the same grammatical path? The preacher who has an ear, let him hear.

Take the indicative, for example, which is the mood of declaration. The New Testament brims with indicatives. This should come as no surprise, since the New Testament is full of gospel declarations. Likewise, sermons should have their fair share of indicatives. The text must be explained, truth must be unpacked, news of the gospel must be announced. The indicative appeals to the mind, and Christianity falls without it.

Click here to continue reading.

Book Review: The Creedal Imperative, by Carl Trueman


In The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman argues that, if a church hopes to “follow the pattern of the sound words” that has been entrusted to it (2 Tim. 1:13), that church requires a robust confessionalism.

Trueman begins the book with an anecdote about a preacher who held the Bible in his right hand and said, “This is our only creed and confession” (12). It is a statement that has a noble and pious ring, but it is ultimately false. Trueman aptly points out that everyone has a creed and confession; everyone holds to a particular summary and synthesis of what the Bible teaches (15). The difference is that some make their creed explicit by writing it down while others do not.

The Creedal Imperative demonstrates both the value of creeds and confessions for the life of the local church and the serious consequences that follow if we refuse to make our doctrinal beliefs explicit in writing. 

Click here to read the whole review.

Shepherding a Church through the Loss of a Shepherd


Over time, we pastors grow accustomed to going straight from labor and delivery to the hospice floor. At the end of a worship service, we learn to grieve with those broadsided by tragedy only to laugh a few minutes later with those who want to share something with us that was really funny. These are roles we are expected to play. And if we are not careful, we can play the part well simply because we have done it so many times.

Recently Patrick McGoldrick, a friend of mine who served with me as an elder and pastoral staff member, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He died the day after Christmas, barely a year after diagnosis. This was my friend, my brother, and my colleague. He moved to Detroit (imagine that) in order to serve in this church, never realizing that he would die here and leave his family to our care. We served together for over 12 years. My children spent many hours in his care in his home, on mission trips, on camping trips, and at retreats and conferences with him and his wife and kids. My son served in an internship directly under his care.

So, when Patrick was diagnosed with this disease, it seemed surreal, but not for long. It was real and I needed to think about how to shepherd a shepherd who is dying.


Paul Tripp addresses pastors’ temptation to allow the ministry to define our identity (Dangerous Calling, 21). It is also a temptation for pastors to view other pastors that way. Was Patrick my friend only because we served together? Did I care for him because he was able to make such a worthwhile contribution to the church? Or, did I really cherish him as a brother, no matter what he could or couldn’t do? If I ignored him now because he could no longer perform, then it would be clear that I was not treasuring the gospel and that the church was no different than any other corporate endeavor, and perhaps worse.

So, I determined not to let Patrick be isolated. He should not go home and wait to die. Instead, taking a cue from John Piper, I sat down with Patrick and talked with him about how not to waste his dying. He was already thinking in that vein. Out of that conversation and subsequent talks he decided to start a website in order to keep the congregation updated. I asked him to preach one last time before he lost that ability. I told him that he could stay on the staff as long as he wanted and that his office was his for as long as he desired. He was welcome to come to staff meetings, elder meetings, and anything else as much or little as he wanted. My goal in all of this was to treat him as he is: a brother in Christ, nothing less.

The disease advanced rapidly. As Patrick’s ability to speak, walk, type, and even whisper eroded away, I attempted to keep him informed of what was going on at the church. I informed him of what we were discussing among the staff or the elders. I asked for his opinions and relied upon his counsel. I began to weave in stories of how he had impacted the lives of people. On other occasions, I would just stop by his house to watch a football game.


As Patrick drew closer to the end, our talks became more direct. I prayed with him and read the Word to him, sometimes through tears. He was a pastor who needed a pastor, a brother who needed a brother. He was a friend and a co-laborer who allowed me into some of the most intimate parts of his life. He and his wife told me and my wife of his diagnosis before they told just about anyone else. And I was one of the last people he would see before he closed his eyes for the last time. It was a huge gift of trust that he gave to me, a gift I will cherish for the rest of my life. Meanwhile, I had a flock who were hurting as much as I was. I needed to consider how to shepherd a church through the death of a shepherd.

This I found challenging. It has been said that every church has a choice: we can be a bag of marbles or a bag of grapes. Marbles only affect each other when they happen to collide. No marble changes shape, color or design. No marble really affects the life of another marble, and it really does not matter if there are 149 or 150 marbles in the bag. What’s one marble? But a bag of grapes is different. When a bag of grapes are in that bag for a while, the skin begins to break down and the grapes themselves begin to mesh with each other until every grape becomes part of the whole. Eventually, you cannot tell where one grape ends and other begins. If you took one part out, you would take out a part of every grape that was originally placed in there.

Now, that sounds attractive until you realize that every grape that goes into the bag is rotten. The whole thing can end up being a stinking mess. Pastoral ministry is living inside this mess, as one of the stinking grapes.

There are few things in life that will put you under such relentless scrutiny like the ministry. People talk about you: what you wear, what car you drive, where you live, how your children behave—or don’t behave. People scrutinize your hair, weight, choices, habits, vacations, schooling decisions for your kids, and hobbies. There is no way you can please every single person. Neither can you handle every situation in a way that will keep you from disappointing someone or shield you from criticism.

When that truth eventually hits you, it can be devastating. Your inadequacies are displayed before what seems like the whole world. What is the natural reaction to that? Most people would want to run and hide. I do not want you to see my inadequacies and weaknesses. You do not want me or anyone else to see yours. So, instead of being a bag of grapes, we choose to be a bag of marbles.

How then is a shepherd supposed to die as part of the congregation? It is not easy to live in full view of the flock. Do we have to die that way too? How much information should be shared? Does everyone really need to know every detail? How can well-meaning but at times un-informed people provide care so that it truly is care? I determined to give the congregation opportunities to express care for Patrick while protecting him from an onslaught of visitors that would not be helpful. The nature of the disease and other factors are going to call for different responses. But for us here is what we did.

  1. Patrick and I announced his diagnosis to the church at the end of a morning service. We took an extended time that morning to inform the congregation, then to read the Word. On that day the words of 2 Corinthians 4:16, “So we do not lose heart,” were etched on our hearts. It would be a phrase that we would return to over and over in the coming months.
  2. As I mentioned earlier, Patrick preached a sermon before his ability to speak was completely gone. This afforded the congregation and many other friends an opportunity to see and hear from him in an extended period of time.
  3. With the help of his wife, Patrick started a blog to let people know of the daily aspects of his life, and of his hope in Christ. Both the sermon and the blog became wonderful resources for people to share with unbelievers.
  4. Because Patrick had been our Student Ministries Pastor, on the Sunday when we would normally honor our high school graduates we had a student from every graduating class that had been under his care stand in order of their year of graduation. We had prepared a runner’s baton with the words of Hebrews 12:1-2 engraved on it. The graduate from last year took the baton from the current class and handed it to the representative from the next who handed it to the next until all of the classes were covered. At the hand-off each said to the other, “Press on, pilgrim,” until the last one handed it to Patrick and admonished him to “Press on” as well.
  5. Patrick, his wife, and I pre-planned his funeral service. We covered every detail that we could think of ahead of time so that when he died, we were able to put the plan into place.
  6. When Patrick died, I interrupted my series and preached the next two Sundays from 2 Corinthians 4 and 5. I did not want to waste his dying, nor his death.

This whole situation was made even more complicated by the fact that Patrick was a staff pastor, in the employ of the church. So what does a church with a dying pastor do about the logistical details like salary, health insurance, and all of the additional expenses? Our church budget, like many others, affords little wiggle room. On the one hand, you cannot cut a brother off financially, and yet how can you hire someone to serve in the now-unfilled ministry capacity when you do not have extra funds? Thankfully, we were spared some of that angst because several years ago our finance team took out a disability policy on the pastoral staff members. This proved to be extremely helpful. While it did not cover all of Patrick’s salary during the time of his illness, it covered a lot, and the church made up the difference as a gift. This enabled us to care for Patrick and his family and replace the position on staff at a reasonable time.

But even so, we found out that the level of detail we had to provide insurance companies could be exhausting. So, we had to learn very quickly to put things in writing not only for them but for us. If we made a commitment to “take care of that” we needed to write it down so that we all knew exactly what we were talking about and so that there were no hidden assumptions.


Ministering to my friend allowed me to experience a depth of pastoral care that I believe was helpful to him and satisfying to me. To get that close to someone is not only an opportunity to show them Christ, it is an opportunity to know Christ and to share more fully in his sufferings. It was also a much-needed reminder of the personal care that every member of the flock needs.

Bob Johnson is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. 

March 2013
© 9Marks

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © 9Marks. Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: info@9marks.org. Toll Free: (888) 543-1030.


Being informed on challenges to religious liberty


In a recent post, I argued that the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 have left American evangelicals with a growing sense of their own disenfranchisement in the public square. Christians will have different responses concerning whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But one thing I hope that Christians can agree upon is that Christians should pray "for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Tim. 2:2).

I don't want conflate this text with every argument you might find for religious liberty, particularly those which depend upon some idea of the supreme and autonomous individual. Yet I do think this text encourages Christians to pray and possibly work for something like religious liberty. Let me try putting the verse in my own words: pray for your political leaders, that they would write constitutions, pass laws,  build institutions, and make judgments which, among other things, would permit churches to exist and for Christians to live according to their understanding of biblical godliness and holiness, never required by their political leaders to contravene the commandments of Scripture.

What do you think--a fair rendering?

As you may know, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has chosen to apply the Affordable Care Act in a manner that requires non-church organizations of over 50 employees to provide insurance which covers contraception and abortifacient drugs. And the question at stake here is whether requiring an employer to provide this kind of insurance is requiring them to contravene the commandments of Scripture and is therefore a violation of religious liberty.

In order to educate its own members as well as the community at large, Capitol Hill Baptist Church invited a representative of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to explain how the HHS mandate is a violation of religious liberty. Westminster Seminary's Carl Trueman was also on hand to offer his two cents on the matter.

I am posting the video of this event because I believe churches and their leaders should take the time to inform themselves of what's at stake with the HHS mandate. Plus, members of the public have an opportunity between now and April 8 to officially comment on the coverage of certain services under the Affordable Care Act.   

Watch a video by Henry Forum: The HHS Mandate and Challenges to Religious Liberty

Book Review: Work Matters, by Tom Nelson


Work. For many this word brings to mind frustration, weariness, disillusionment, and the like. But as Tom Nelson explains in his book Work Matters, “work” does not have to be a “four-letter word.” Rather, God’s design for vocation enables us to see the significance of work in the Christian life and also allows us to receive work as a good gift.

Nelson expresses concern that many Christians live compartmentalized lives in which they simply do not know how to connect “Sunday worship to Monday work.” The chief burden of Work Matters is to show that “work has intrinsic value in itself and is to be an act of worship” (60) and that “the doctrine of vocation properly understood weaves together a seamless life of true Christian discipleship in all facets of life” (189).


The first four chapters of the book explore the theme of work across the major divisions of the redemptive storyline of Scripture: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Chapter 1 explores the notion of work in God’s original created order, especially in relation to our being made in God’s image. As image-bearers of God we are designed to image a working GodNelson reminds his readers that being a “do-nothing couch potato…is actually repulsive and dehumanizing” (20). The reason, of course, is that the God whose image we bear is a creator, “a worker…not some cosmic do-nothing deity” (22).

Click here to read the rest of the review. 

Audio and Video from 9Marks at SBTS Now Available!


The audio and video files from the 9Marks at SBTS conference a week ago are now available on our website!

Click any of the links below to go to a page on which you can watch the video and listen to or download the audio. 

Session 1: Mike Bullmore

Session 1 Panel

Session 2: Mark Dever

Session 2 Panel

Session 3: K. Edward Copeland

Session 3 Panel

Session 4: Albert Mohler

Session 4 Panel

Session 5: David Helm

Session 5 Panel

Session 6: Ryan Fullerton

Thanks to Southern Seminary for your partnership and to all the pastors and others who attended! We'll see you next year, Lord willing. 


Book Review: The Call, by Os Guinness


With books as with cars and cameras, the good ones stand up over time. Much has changed in the fifteen years since Os Guinness’s now-classic disquisition on work, The Call, was first published. Economic recession has stonewalled the prosperity and optimism of the late 1990s and early 2000s, an era in which opportunity seemed unbounded and which produced, by consequence, a rash of evangelical books and sermon series that too often touted as supreme virtues in Christian discipleship the quest for purpose, meaningful work, and the fulfillment of lifelong passions and desires. Faithfulness and joyful obedience took a backseat to freedom and choice. It sometimes felt that to be a mature Christian meant to be one’s own boss.

These were the choppy waters Guinness waded into with The Call. Although the book is soaked in the language of the genre—the subtitle is Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life—it is one of the few work-related titles from the nineties and noughties that still seems apropos in 2013, when for many in our churches the hope of snagging a dream job has been replaced by the more modest hope of finding and keeping a job that pays the bills. Writes Guinness:

If there had been no Fall, all our work would have naturally and fully expressed who we are and exercised the gifts we have been given. But after the Fall this is not so. Work is now partly creative and partly cursed. Thus to find work that perfectly fits our callings is not a right, but a blessing. (50)

Guinness’s recognition of the inevitable dissonance between the life we often feel called to and the realities of this fallen, faltering world gives The Call a refreshing grittiness, a truer-to-life air. I had country singer Steve Earle’s “Someday” playing low in the background on repeat as I read the book (“Now I work at the filling station on the interstate / Pumping gasoline and counting out-of-state plates”); the song wasn’t out of place. Here is a read for the Christian doing the thing he always wanted and thus tempted to genuflect at the altar of work. And here is a book for the one toiling away in thankless fields (Earle’s gas station attendant, for instance), grappling for motivation, struggling to trust God.

Click here to read the whole review.