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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

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. 

Book Review: Work Matters by R. Paul Stevens


Based on what I saw in the Google preview of R. Paul Stevens’ new book Work Matters, I couldn’t wait to receive my copy in the mail. I was anxious to see how this author would write a theology of work focusing on individual narratives in Scripture’s storyline. I anticipated the book being amazingly theological, biblical and creative. But my expectations may have been unrealistically high, because after the first couple chapters, I was disappointed.

I thought I would see an unfolding theology of work, traced through the storyline of Scripture, almost like Greg Beale’s theology of God’s presence moves from garden to temple to Christ to church to the new heavens and earth. Instead, the book is more of a series of expositions and reflections on prominent biblical personalities that can be read in almost any order.

As I continued reading, however, my disappointment transformed into curiosity and moments of personal reflection coupled with thanksgiving. 

Click here to read the whole review.


Rejoinder to JD Greear on Bi-Vocational Church Planting


Ed Note: With Steve Wright, Jimmy Scroggins argued in a recent 9Marks Journal article that bi-vocational ministry is the future of church planting. J.D. Greear and Mike McDaniel responded to that piece here.

I am always inspired by my friend J.D. and his passion for Christ’s churches. It is a passion that I share. Our church in South Florida, like Summit in RDU, is committed to seeing new churches planted and to helping them flourish. We all agree that we need thousands of new congregations in North America, especially in the densely populated urban centers where our tribe (Southern Baptists) are notoriously ineffective. And we all agree that we are going to have to pursue multiple strategies and models in order to penetrate the lostness that grows around us.

So is bi-vocational “the future” of church planting? I still think it is. Church planting movements around the world are being driven by this model, and bi-vocational has been the pervasive strategy for most of church history. I still know that we have a “math problem” when it comes to funding the thousands of churches we need to start. But I also understand that bi-vocational church planting is not the only model we need to pursue. Our church is pursuing multiple strategies simultaneously: we partner with “launch-large” churches, we are multi-site, and we are developing our bi-vocational strategy. In fact, we are partnering with Summit to help plant a church in Indianapolis right now. The bottom line is this: we need more churches planting churches, and it is going to take more than a single model or strategy to plant them. There is no disagreement here.

Jimmy Scroggins is pastor of First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida.   

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.

Is the Future of Church Planting Bi-Vocational?

Ed note: See Jimmy Scroggins' rejoinder to this post here

There has been a lot of discussion lately about bi-vocational church planting. Jimmy Scroggins and Steve Wright represent many of the arguments for bi-vocational planting in their article, The Math Doesn’t Work: Why the Future of Church Planting is Bi-vocational. It’s a challenging and timely piece. Most pastors and planters consider bi-vocational planting second-class, a stepping stone to full-time ministry. The preferred method of planting remains raising 3-5 years of funds so that the lead pastor can start full-time from the beginning.


The problem with this model, Scroggins and Wright point out, is that it is expensive. Many church plants start with a yearly budget of $200,000 or more, which means that before they’ve even planted the church, they need to grow the church to 200+ just to become self-sustaining. For many planters, especially in difficult contexts, this is simply unrealistic. Unfortunately, most don’t recognize the mistake until year 3 when their funding begins to run out.

Another problem with this approach is the sheer amount of money it will require given the number of churches we need to plant. Southern Baptists have a goal of planting 15,000 churches by 2022. Even if every plant only required $100,000 each, that’s 1.5 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money in a day when many of our churches are plateaued or declining.

Bi-vocational planting addresses some of these problems. There are literally hundreds of people in our churches with good jobs and a calling to ministry. Their jobs grant them access into a mission field that a full-time pastor can’t access, and provide them with the means to support their families without drawing a salary from the church. These men are in our churches, and many of them are waiting to go—all we need to do is give them permission.


So is bi-vocational “the future” of planting? The answer is yes, and no.

We cannot afford not to embrace bi-vocational planting. For far too long, our strategy has been reduced to a single model, and as we’ve seen, that model simply isn’t enough.

However, there are several problems with the argument that bi-vocational is “the” future of planting (though, to be clear, Scroggins and Wright did not argue that traditional church planting has no place in the future):

1. It is not true that “traditional” church planting in urban centers is defunct.

When we say bi-vocational is the future, many will hear us saying that full-time planting is defunct. That’s simply not true. Admittedly, this is not Scroggins and Wright’s conclusion, but there are voices leaning this way. We at the Summit are very early into our church planting strategy, and we have much to learn, but our plants in urban, non-Bible-belt areas are doing well, and right on schedule or even ahead of schedule to become sustainable. Some of the largest churches in the Western world are in metropolitan cities outside of the Southeast. There is no reason to think we cannot, and should not, plant more.

2. We should not discourage pastors who have the capacity to plant these kinds of churches from doing so.

Our urban centers need more high capacity leaders, and those leaders are in our churches. For many of them, the most appropriate strategy is to enter the game full-time. If we put up a strategy that is bi-vocational only, many of them will conclude that church planting is not for them. We need to put before these people a compelling vision for urban centers and why church planting is a best use of all of their gifts.

3. An over-emphasis on bi-vocational planting will make fundraising for guys that should be full-time more difficult.

I could easily see pastors using the bi-vocational argument as a reason why they should not give funding to full-time planters. “No, I’m not giving you money. That’s not responsible. You should get a job at Starbucks.” There are 42,000 SBC churches, and we should do all we can to empower these guys to raise money, not keep them from it.

4. The resources are not as limited as we think.

American churches have more money now than they’ve ever had. Most churches could afford to plant a church every two to three years if they made the appropriate sacrifices. If each of those churches planted a church within five years, we would have a church planting explosion on our hands. The money is out there—churches and individuals simply need to be given a compelling vision for why church plants are what they should leverage their treasure for.  The answer is not to shrink our mission, but to enlarge our vision.

Further, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50:10). He has unlimited resources for his mission. In fact, in the conversations I have had with denominational leaders, the limiting factor that is keeping us from planting more churches is not money, it’s a shortage of qualified planters. Our churches are simply not skilled, anymore, at raising up leaders from within. 

5. Bi-vocational planting has its own challenges.

To succeed in many businesses, especially the kind in which a man can support his family over the long-term, requires consuming amounts of energy, energy that often leaves little reserve for pastoring. Perhaps here we could take a cue from our overseas church planting teams. These teams often consist of some team members who work primarily in the “business” sector while devoting a little time to the church, and many who work primarily on the church plant while devoting a little time to business.

There are some who possess jobs in which they make sufficient salaries and have excess time on their hands. We certainly should leverage that, but we should not suppose bi-vocational planting is going to be easy simply because it solves the money problem.


So yes, we absolutely need to develop bi-vocational strategies to reach our cities. Our church is beginning to discuss the implications of this for us. For too long, we’ve relied on one strategy. However, the answer is not to replace one “one-size-fits all” strategy for another, but to expand it.

We need multiple models of sending to fulfill the Great Commission. We need to raise up both full-time and bi-vocational planters within our churches. That is where the real challenge lies. We have to get better at making disciples and training leaders again. The greatest mathematical explosion happens when churches multiply by planting churches that plant churches.

J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and is the author, most recently, of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (B&H).

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.