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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever


Love Does, Do Love

Hey Greg,Stop it, man.  I'm having flashbacks.Love is the ideal in Christian ethics, right? (1 Cor. 13).  And I completely agree that love is active; it does stuff and commands stuff.  But, here's how I'd make the distinction.  The closer the command gets to the ideal of love, the more it feels and looks and sounds like "ethics."  The more it moves out to an activity less obviously an issue of love, it sounds and looks and feels like mission.  So, you asked, "which are a matter of Christian mission?"  Here's how I'd answer (admittedly, more art than science):a) Honor your parents.  Ethics (honor and love are siblings)b) Go into all the world and make disciples.  Missionc) Be subject to the governing authorities.  Mission (doesn't require love)d) Love your wife as your own self.  Ethicse) Baptize them [the disciples you make].  Missionf) Flee sexual immorality.  Ethic (immorality is an ethical construct, isn't it?)g) Teach them to obey all Jesus has commanded.  Missionh) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Mission and Ethic ("whole duty of man")i) Love your neighbor as yourself.  Ethicj) Cultivate it and keep it [creation].  Mission

Ummm... I Don't Know

Hey Greg,I'm with Mike... only less courageous.  Smells like a trap, especially when you say, "It's not a trap.  I promise."  Last time someone said that to me, we had drilled holes in the bottom of a steel drum trash can and were setting off firecrackers inside the holes (makes a very robust booming sound that enhances the effect of cheap firecrackers).  I was suckered into getting a dud firecracker out of the trash can.  When I stuck my head and shoulders in to retrieve the dud, a friend dropped a live firecracker in the trash can.  I was deaf for what seemed like an hour.  Head still rings from that one!Anyway, post traumatic stress disorder aside, doesn't it depend in part on how you're using "Christian."  Are we talking individual ethics or thinking in terms of the church?  I suppose my answer might differ depending on the level of analysis.  But assuming individuals...1)  Is Christian mission coextensive with Christian ethics?  Is everything that a Christian is enjoined to do to be considered part of Christian mission?Yes.  It would be unethical for a Christian to neglect any part of his/her mission, and it would be off mission to set aside any ethical calling in Scripture.  In other words, can we think of a command (mission) that would be "okay" (ethical) to set aside or not fulfill?  Or, can we think of an ethical good that would not be commanded or at least warranted (mission) for a Christian?  I suppose there are particular applications of an ethical principle or a general mission that would not be binding upon every individual Christian.  For example, all Christians are called to be generous (that's both part of our mission and good Christian ethics).  But individual liberty allows Christan A to tip his waiter and Christian B to give to Samaritan's Purse.  The applications differ in accord with freedom.  And neither tipping or giving to Samaritan's Purse are a binding NT law/requirement.  But at least at the principal level, these things seem coextensive.2)  Is "Christian mission" a meaningful concept, worth distinguishing from Christian ethics?Yes, I think so.  At least they conjure different things to my mind.  "Mission" has that Matt. 28 association Mike mentions, and connotes something of the objectives and tasks given the Christian.  I think things you "do" when I think "mission."  "Ethics" suggests the moral evaluation of a set of actions or ideas.  So we speak of things being (un)ethical and of completing missions.  3) 
If so, how do you define Christian mission so that it remains distinct
from Christian ethics?  What is it that puts something in the category
of "mission" rather than (or in addition to, if you like that better)
"ethic?"For me, it's the above.  I've not ever thought about this before your question, but that's my gut-level reaction.  Strange... I hear firecrackers....

Are Baptists Reformed? Should We Care?

Thabiti,Thanks for the links.  There is a whole world of knuckle-headery out there that I would never know about if it weren't for blogs.Are Reformed Baptists "Reformed"?  Is it me or is this a silly question?  It rather depends on how you use the word, doesn't it?  We all agree that credo-baptists are not "Reformed" if by "Reformed" you mean "basically in step with Geneva and the Reformed confessions in all the major points of doctrine and ecclesiology".  This is probably the more historically accurate way of using the word, though I appreciated Dr. Haykin's informative post.And I think we can all agree that credo-baptists can be "Reformed" if by "Reformed" you mean "believe the so-called '5 points', hold to a form of covenant theology and the regulative principle".  This is the way the word is used by most people who don't wear bow ties.Hey fellas, sometimes the meaning of a word changes and develops over time!  Sometimes words have both a popular and a technical definition!  Wow, wasn't that an exciting exercise?  Thank goodness no trees were killed to publish this stuff. Look, I think these conversations are harmless and maybe fun (in a nerdish kind of way) as long as no one actually thinks they matter in the slightest.  But I fear people actually do care about this.  Seriously, why would this matter?  You're either a Baptist or you're not.  No one is changing their convictions based on whether Calvin would have tried to drown them with his bare hands.  Believe what you believe Scripture teaches and leave the labels to the Reformed police. This kind of reminds me of the fights we used to have when I was a kid over whether a certain band was genuinely "punk" or not.  You had to be signed on the right label, wear the right clothes, play the right kind of songs.  Come to think of it, maybe the real question is: Can Reformed Baptists be "punk"?      And Greg, isn't the most important question here "What is the Gospel?"  

Water Fight!

Well, it seems some people didn't get enough L-Tryptophan this Thanksgiving.  Rather than laying around on the couch swelling with gratitude, a couple dear brethren have gotten themselves into a water fight!  Apparently, there's some disagreement over just how much water one must use in baptism to be properly considered "Reformed."  Must you be a paedobaptist to be truly "Reformed," or can those of us who like deeper pools and bigger subjects join the "Reformed tent" as well?James White throws a turkey wing in favor of "Reformed baptists."R. Scott Clark counters with a little stuffing in favor of paedobaptists.  Clark also provides some helpful baptism debate audio with some great thinkers.Demonstrating true Canadian peace-loving sensibility, and not a little bit of "our-Thanksgiving-came-first-so-I've-already-reviewed-this-issue-thoroughly" acumen, Michael Haykin brings a little cranberry sauce with some historical fact-checking.Reformation Theology provides tops it off with the sweet potato pie, a timely book review on Baptism: Three Views.Well, I guess all of this proves that today really is "black Friday," just we Reformed types prefer a good theological scuffle to work off the Turkey day drowsiness.Question: What must one hold and practice to be "Reformed"?

Preaching and Prayer Around the Blog

Kevin and Owen, welcome to the 9Marks block party!  Glad to have you both on the team!
A couple things I thought might interest readers:
Hereyou can see the video and find a time-stamped outline (those SovGrace guys do everything with class, don't they?) of Jeff Purswell's address called, The Pastor's Teaching.  Along with Kevin's piece on learning to be yourself when preaching, this is good food for thought for all those looking for a sermon break today, or trying to recover from their sermon on Monday!
Also, our brother Lig' is teaching us to pray scripturally.  If we preach the word, we'd better start by praying the word.
Whether preaching or praying, Tony Carter reminds us do so like a Calvinist all the time.

Missions Driven By Theology

As a young pastor with no real SBC background, I'm more excited about being part of the convention than ever before (severed animal heads notwithstanding).  I resonate with all the things Aaron mentioned in his earlier post.  The overall tone of the convention has been more humble, co-operative, and focused on the glory of God realized in missions than I was expecting.I really appreciated Danny Akin's prescription for the SBC at last night's 9Marks event.  He said that the convention needs to move forward simultaneously on two tracks: missions and theology.  One quote stuck with me (and this is not a word-for-word representation): Great missionaries must be theologians, and truly great theologians will be missionaries.    I think that is exactly right.  Our missions must be driven and shaped by the gospel of grace and the character of our saving God.  And our theological reflections must drive us out into the world or we show that we haven't understood the God who came to seek and save the lost.

Difficult Doctrines

Thabiti,I suppose difficult doctrines really are in the eye of the beholder. The Trinity, Christ's two natures, and the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility certainly strike me as particularly hard to understand.However, an interesting thing about these doctrines is that though they are some of the hardest to understand, I'm not sure they are the most difficult to "personally grasp."The doctrine of Scripture and, specifically, the doctrine Jonathan referred to, inspiration, is one that I see people having the most difficult time both understanding and personally grasping. Such a difficulty is a relatively recent phenomenon--Christians before the rise of higher criticism would not have struggled so deeply with the proposition that God's words have been inscripturated for our benefit. A wedge has been driven in the minds of so many today who affirm the existence of God and even the lordship of Christ but who refuse to embrace a robust doctrine of inspiration.I am too young a person--or at least too young a Christian--to have first-hand experience with the inerrancy debates of the last century, but I don't want to lose for a moment the fruit of this controversy. Through it many were helped to understand and personally grasp that God has spoken; that revelation and inspiration must not be separated. I look forward to other's thoughts (and Greg's results)!

D.A. Carson -- Listen Up!

No, I'm not telling Don Carson to listen up. I'm telling YOU to listen to Don Carson. Mark Dever interviewed Don out at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School -- where Don teaches -- earlier this year. This newly posted interview is the first of a two-parter. It is very good! Click here to access Observing Evangelicalism with Don Carson.

Greg, Point Taken, Yet...

Okay, all our sensible friends have tuned out at this point. Emo kid Mike didn't even want to jump in the pool. So for you, me, and our three remaining readers… (everyone else can just scroll down to see Hugh Latimer's, er, Mike's latest entry):


Point taken. I’m grateful for (and agree with) everything you affirm. That is, the “gospel” in the New Testament is that Christ has defeated sin and all of its consequences (I’m thinking of 1 Cor. 15 (the whole chapter), 1 Peter 1:3-9, Ephesians 2:11-20, and certainly the gospel of the kingdom passages in the Gospels). It is good news indeed that creation will be restored, that a covenantal unity now abides between formerly divided humans, that we have been given the seal and the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, that we are now free to live for God’s glory in our work, our service, and entire lives, and so on.

Thank you, brother, for helping me to be clear about this.

Our explanations of the gospel to the church and non-Christian alike should ultimately point to all these things. I’m thinking about Jesus’ statement to John’s disciples about telling John that they see the blind seeing and so forth. Though we should take care not to over realize our eschatology, Christians have the amazing privilege of saying to non-Christians and their fellow Christians, “New life is happening here—just watch! And there’s more newness to come!”  All this is cause for rejoicing.


Yet let me try to frame the discussion in a slightly different way, so as to illustrate what I believe is the bull’s-eye accuracy of what Dever’s getting at: our presentations of the gospel and understanding of the church’s mission needs to be extremely clear about the difference between sin and the consequences of sin. We have to start with sin. What is sin? Sin is that fact we disregard God and his glory because we want to be God, and so we break his law. In Genesis 3, Adam overlooks the fact that he was created to image God’s glory (1:26-28) and decides to be God himself (3:5). So he breaks God’s Genesis 2 law (2:16-17).

From this sin comes, perhaps most immediately, guilt (him looking down) and wrath (us looking up), because guilt and wrath are the most immediate measurement of the fact that Adam has broken a law. It’s not enough to say that a “broken relationship” is the most immediate consequence (as many authors want to say), because it’s the way in which the relationship has been broken that counts—Adam hasn’t just strayed off and got lost; he has defied his Lord. He has counted his own glory as worth more than God’s. He has blasphemed before the heavenly host about the lightness of God’s glory (vindicating Satan). He has, in Paul’s language, fallen short of that glory. God’s holy glory requires a punishment (not just a reconciliation). To say otherwise is to say his glory isn’t worth that much. To say otherwise is to overestimate our own glory and worth. (But isn’t the Bible clear that we’re like blades of grass, here today and gone tomorrow?)

(Among other things, this means we shouldn’t pit “law” and “relationship” or “person” against one another as so many are doing. God's law is an expression of his person and the very thing that he means to use to protect and safeguard our relationship with him and one another (consider Gen. 9:6). Loneliness is not the problem, lawlessness is. Not isolation, but insubordination.)

From sin, this fundamental disposition of hatred for God’s glory and defiance of his law, many consequences follow: Shame follows, so they’ll hide themselves behind fig leaves and trees. The curses follow, breaking fellowship between man and God, man and man, and man and earth. Among those curses, death follows, so Adam will return to the dust. And the dust itself will only yield fruit through hard work, because creation is breaking down. Also, sins against fellow humans follow, so the woman will desire to rule over the man, and the man will probably abuse her in return. Also, Cain kills Abel. You get the point.

Now, consider what’s probably going to happen to explanations of the gospel in a culture which is gradually losing its very capacity to understand sin and guilt (as David Wells argues in Losing Our Virtue). I would predict that Christians would be tempted to define the gospel in a way that emphasizes how the gospel overcomes the consequences of sin. So they’ll talk about the gospel as “reconciling relationships” or “inaugurating God’s kingdom” or “restoring creation.” And, yes, amen, all of this is part of the good news Jesus brings. Preach it! But they will also, perhaps, be slower to emphasize sin itself and sin’s most immediate consequences, like guilt and God’s wrath. “People just don’t understand that,” they’ll say. And maybe, just maybe, they will be less able than their historical forbearers to recognize the weightiness of these things either, because they too are creatures of culture (and let me put myself first here, brother: I completely fail to recognize the weight of my sin and God’s glory!!! That’s the story of my life.)

But when we’re not explicit on these first things—sin as broken law; sin as hatred of God’s glory; guilt and God’s wrath as the most immediate consequences—then what it means to “reconcile relationships,” “inaugurate a kingdom,” or “restore creation” becomes vague and, often, man-centered. And have you noticed how so many definitions of the gospel these days fail to use those old words like propitiation, imputation, or justification, words which give meaning to “inaugurating a kingdom” or “restoring creation” because they get at the heart of the root of the problem, not just a consequence of the problem?

All this is where Tim Keller has been so helpful for my thinking. In all his talk about “functional justification” and idolatry, in his connecting of the first commandment and justification by faith (a la Luther), he has helped me to understand my sin more deeply. My breaking the law (esp. the first commandment) is the same thing as idolatry, which is the same thing as my justifying myself, which is the same thing as my despising of God’s glory. Solution: justification by faith (!), which is the same thing as reaching for an alien righteousness, which is the same thing as having no other gods before him. (I’m using the phrase “same thing” loosely here. But you get the point.)

Book recommendation

I just received Bruce Waltke's A Theology of the Old Testament and was reading through the portions on Leviticus since I'm teaching that tomorrow in Sunday School. Here's how he concludes his comments on the liturgical aspects of Exodus and Leviticus:The sacred sites, objects, seasons, personnel, and institutions under the administration of the old covenant are only types of the true reality. Christ fulfills the expectation that there will be one in whom God and man merge in perfect union and provide perfect access into the omnipresent God's unique presence and care. The incarnate Son of God fulfills what the temple always was, a place where infinite merges with the finite to give salvation to the faithful. The Truth said, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days," in references to his own body. Since he ascended to heaven, the covenant people no longer face toward Jerusalem, but pray, "Our Father in heaven," and worship in spirit in truth (i.e. in the Reality). Presently God's temple, is the Spirit-indwelt church, both in its individual members and in collective body. Natural humanity despises and seeks to destroy this temple, but the new humanity sees the church as an awesome sight--it is nothing less than the house of God! The consummation of the temple themes, for which the people of God have always hoped, lies in heaven, "the Father's house," from which Christ came and to which he returned to prepare a place for his covenant people, whom the Spirit is preparing to dwell in it. The Father's house, whose glory exceeds human imagination, has plenty of room to accommodate a multitude too numerous to count."Amen. What a gift Waltke's book appears to be for students of the OT, that is, the church!