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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever


"Dug Down Deep" Worth Digging Into

Dee, thanks for the recommendation on anxiety.  Looks like a good resource to have.If you're looking for material for discipling others, I'd also have to recommend Joshua Harris' new book, Dug Down Deep.  I did a summary/review at Pure Church today.  The punchline for me:Dug Down Deep is Knowing God in blue jeans and a shaved head.  That is to say, it’s a book of classic truth and worth, written for our day.  It’s instantly in my top two or three reads so far in 2010.  The blend of autobiography and exploration of big systematic categories was helpful for (a) taking any fear out of "theology" or "doctrine;" (b) thereby making those truths accessible for people who may never have read a systematic; and (c) illustrating what it looks like to live the truths we believe.  Awesome read.

A. T. Robertson, the Book of James, and Dudes with Ambition

If you have not picked up Greg Wills's recent The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (Oxford, 2009), you owe it to yourself to do so.  It's a huge book, it is an institutional history, and it may seem esoteric, but in reality, it reads crisply, it tells an engrossing story, and it offers wisdom on a great number of topics related to Christian life and ministry. 
In the course of reading the text, this section stood out to me.  Wills describes how the seminary's fourth president, E. Y. Mullins, handed down a policy in 1911 that pushed faculty away from leadership positions in the Southern Baptist Convention.  This may have happened 100 years ago, but I assure you that it is relevant for us today:
"Mullins apparently felt that the seminary president alone should exercise significant denominational leadership.  Mullins may have feared that his faculty would become more popular and influential in the denomination than he was.  Robertson, Sampey, McGlothlin, and Carver were indeed becoming very popular.  Robertson especially was growing in the esteem of the denomination for both his preaching and his scholarship." (280)
Wills comments on how two of the professors handled this seeming slight:
"Robertson became Mullins's warm supporter and promoter, and Mullins came to rely heavily on Robertson's counsel.  He gave up aspirations to equality with the president and became instead his promoter and chief counselor.  McGlothlin, however, apparently transgressed Mullins's restrictions inadvertently around 1914 or 1915, as McGlothlin attained the kind of leadership that had thus far eluded Mullins." (282)
In situations like this, there is always more than meets the eye.  Whether in a seminary, on a church staff, or among friends, jealousy and ambition have a way of finding an entryway.  In this particular case, Mullins seems to have acted out of naked jealousy and thus put his faculty in a difficult and unfair position.  He was the principal wrongdoer here.  In response, A. T. Robertson chose the high road and sacrificed his interests for the sake of peace at Southern.  McGlothlin took a different tack and ended up leaving the school and becoming the president of both Furman University in 1919 and the Southern Baptist Convention from 1930-32.  His route to leadership involved the loss of friendship with Mullins.
It surprised me in reading this sad story how much it mirrors the trajectory mapped out for jealousy and ambition in James 3:13-18:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. 
We note that James predicts perfectly what will happen when we allow the "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition" that reside in our hearts to creep into our friendships and working partnerships.  Peace will evade us.  "Disorder" will overtake us.  This is what happened at Southern nearly a century ago; this is what happens today, in countless places and situations, including in churches, seminaries, homes, and the contexts of everyday friendship.
It is a difficult thing to find the balance between righteous agency, of the kind commended, for example, in Proverbs and the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), and "selfish ambition".  Mullins and McGlothlin were both gifted for leadership; neither was sinful in principle for pursuing the application of their gifts in ministry.  But the way in which we fallen people work out the application of our gifts amongst brothers and sisters takes careful discernment. 
It can be very difficult to know whether in seeking more work, or a role that better suits our abilities, or the improvement of a certain sphere of our church, we are being selfishly ambitious and acting in part out of a jealous desire to displace others and exalt ourselves.  Or take another example.  In the age of the Internet, is it "selfishly ambitious" for authors to in some way advocate for their texts?  Or is it wise stewardship?  Is it better to have one's book languish on Amazon, unnoticed and thus of little benefit to the church, or to push a little harder and get the material into the hands of readers who may benefit from it?  These are tricky questions that necessitate prayer, brotherly counsel, and keen discernment.
What we can say for sure, though, and what we might forget as we tackle such thorny issues is that James commends "the meekness of wisdom" to those who are tempted to be sinfully ambitious and jealous.  What exactly does meekness look like?  Does it mean talking in a soft voice?  Limply shaking hands?  Wearing sweater-vests on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays? 
Speaking as a young man, I wonder whether those of us who want to kill our sin and embody "the meekness of wisdom" might locate this quality in an inward demeanor, a posture before the Lord that is "pure, peaceable, gentle...open to reason" and so on.  Those of us who want to avoid a limp-wristed Christianity need to remember that these traits are commended to us by God.  This does not put them in opposition to other biblical traits like agency, dominion-taking, kingdom shrewdness, boldness, courage, strength, and much more.  But it does mean that these qualities need to figure prominently in our character, and especially in areas where we are tempted to be jealous and ambitious.
That balanced way of life reminds us ultimately of another man and His own self-sacrifice for something much greater than a seminary or an institution.  In Jesus Christ, we have both the perfect example of self-sacrifice and the blood-bought means by which to live in "the meekness of wisdom".  We need when tempted to promote ourselves (a sin expedited by certain features of the web) and to hate others out of jealousy to remember with A. T. Robertson that the work the Lord has given us to do is rooted in Christ and the promotion of His fame and glory.  He is infinitely worthy of celebration; we are not. 
As we learn this--and it will take some of us young dudes a while to do so--we recall the biblical irony that characterized Christ's life and that should characterize our own.  In seeking a position of lowliness, He became great (Philippians 2:1-11).  In adopting a course of existence that sometimes appeared so weak, He in fact destroyed the powers of darkness that rule this world.  So may it be for us if we will allow God to humble us and further conform us to the role of servant in order that we might rule with Him.

Fun With Book Titles

Deepak,Well, I am glad you asked!  A small part of the book is spent arguing that we should consider church revitalization instead of planting new churches.  But I totally respect church planting (despite the title) and most of the book is aimed at both church revitalizers and church planters.(What's that you say?  Oh, it's forthcoming from Crossway in April.  Yes, you can pre-order it here.  No, there's no limit on the number of copies you can buy.)

It is not about Church Planting?

Okay, Mike.  Just a point of clarification.  I heard someone recently described your book, and it prompted some questions in my mind...so your book isn't really about traditional church planting (starting without a building, launching a team, etc.)?   The book is really about going into an existing church and revitalizing it?  Sorry, brother, but I can be a bit slow at times.  If what I'm saying is right then I am finally "understanding" the title.  You are really encouraging folks to consider going into existing churches that need help and watch what God can do....

Comments on Commentaries

Hey Dee,Thanks for the questions on commentaries.  Here are my answers.
1. How much time do you spend in the text before you
consult commentaries? 

I start with the text early in the week, but I don't restrict myself
from looking at commentaries until I've put in a certain number of
hours.  In fact, I read commentaries in small chunks throughout the
week to stimulate my thinking before I ever sit down to plan out the

2.  It is obvious that when you are not sure about an interpretation
of a text that we should check a commentary, but do you ever use
commentaries to just check your exegesis?

Absolutely, especially when I first started preaching.  I have more confidence now, but I still double check myself oftentimes.

3.  What are your favorite commentaries (either individual or series)? 

I really like the Pillar New Testament Commentaries.  Right now I'm really benefiting from the Bruce Waltke's volumes on Proverbs.  And I really loved using Klyne Snodgrass' Stories WIth Intent.  

4.  How often do you consult one volume commentaries of the whole Bible (like Matthew Henry)?

Once in a blue moon.  The old ones aren't that helpful exegetically and I don't often quote from them. 

5.  Any other general comments about your use of commentaries? 
I found that I use them a lot less now that I've been preaching
regularly for several years.  When I first started out, I bought every
commentary in print on my passage in order to try and make sure that I
had all my bases covered.  Now I find myself using mostly one good
technical commentary and one good expositional commentary.  

What Do I Get with Those Christmas Gift Cards?

Two excellent books to recommend to parents with young children. 
In Sammy and His Shepherd, Susan Hunt offers families a delightful story, built around the Twenty-third Psalm, that will help children grow in their understanding of what it is to live among a community of redeemed people guided by a loving Lord.

Fool Moon Rising is an illustrated tale about the moon stealing the sun’s glory.  In this wonderful book, children learn about the importance of humility and the dangers of pride.

Biblia Para Ninos Historias de Jesus

Did you know that you can get The Jesus Storybook Bible in seven other (that is, non-English) languages? Check it out.  If you live in a multi-cultural area, this may be a great outreach resource! 

Six Keys to Living Well Within God's Reality

In the final chapter of his book The Trouble with Paris, Mark Sayers gives "Six Keys to Living Well WIthin God's Reality".  These are aimed at young people living in the prevailing culture of the day.  They are:  

  1. Examine your life with fearless honesty.
  2. Bathe in the satisfaction of covenant relationships. 
  3. Enjoy a mission bigger than yourself. 
  4. Follow Jesus as Lord and Guide. 
  5. Hook into countercultural Christian community. 
  6. Learn to live redemptively. 

Helpful stuff.  You can read Doug Groothuis' positive review of the book here.

The Best Book Cover Art Ever

I just want to make sure that if someone Googles "nazi Irish dwarf whip 9 Marks", something pops up. HT: Bookdwarf

Another Special Interest Study Bible?

Okay, a confession: the shelf over my desk has a few Bibles on it.  There's The Apologetics Study Bible, The Archaeological Study Bible, The MacArthur Study Bible, The Key Word Study Bible, The Original African Heritage Study Bible (I'm still Black), and the "apotheosis of study Bibles" (to quote Phil Ryken), The ESV Study Bible (because I'm still biblical).  That's not to mention the differing translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV, and so on).
But now there is The Green Bible (HT: JT).  Apparently God used all natural fibers making Adam and Eve that covering after the Fall, and Moses wore Birkenstock.  Who knew?  There's even a daily devotional.  And this plug from the publisher:

The Green Biblewill equip and encourage you to see God's vision for creation and help you engage in the work of healing and sustaining it. This first Bible of its kind includes inspirational essays from key leaders such as N. T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, Matthew Sleeth, Pope John Paul II, and Wendell Berry. As you read the scriptures anew, The Green Bible will help you see that caring for the earth is not only a calling, but a lifestyle.
And if that weren't enough, there's also the New Testament for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender.  Sub-titled--get this--"With Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning and Context."  Yeeaaaaahhhh.  Riiiggghhhhtttt....  Hmmmm.... 
Okay... I'm guessing that with rainbow coloring and genuine tree bark pages (which would seem to contradict the "God's vision for creation" in The Green Bible) we've gone about as far as we can with the commodification of the Bible.  What possible ways of customizing to our niche interest could be left?
This is almost enough to make me a KJV-only-straight text-printed on a scroll kinda brother.  As I heard one lady say in protest, "If the King James was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me!"