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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Sharing the Gospel With Gay People*


To be honest, sharing the gospel with gay people* can be intimidating. There is an increasing social stigma that comes with believing that homosexuality is a sin. Frankly, you risk being treated like a racist bigot when you tell a homosexual that they have offended God and should repent.

But here are three questions that I have found useful in these types of conversations. They can help clear some of the brush out of the way so that you can talk about Jesus (which is, after all, the point!). One caveat: people are not evangelistic projects. You need to communicate genuine, personal care for them as a person or else you might do more harm than good when you share Christ with them.

1. Can you still be friends with me even if I think homosexuality is a sin? This question helps to take the temperature down a little and put the “intolerance” shoe on the other foot. It makes it clear that you’re willing to be their friend, but you’re not sure if they are able to accept you as you are. If Christians are going to be a persecuted minority, we might as well take advantage of it!

2. Hypothetically, if you knew that God disapproved of homosexual behavior, would you stop and obey him? This gets at a key issue. It’s not usually fruitful to argue about the meaning of Hebrew words and the context of Romans 1. The bigger issue is whether we are willing to conform our lives to God’s will no matter what we want personally. Follow up questions can include:

  • How do you think we can know what God approves of and disapproves of?
  • Knowing what you do about yourself, do you think you are qualified to be the final judge of what is right and what is wrong?
  • Are all of the desires that spring up unbidden in you good and right? How do you know which ones you should act on and which ones you shouldn’t?

3. Are you happy? This isn’t a foolproof question, but can be quite useful. People in rebellion against God are often miserable. But there’s a certain insanity that keeps us from realizing that following our desires has not paid off at all in terms of personal peace, joy, and happiness. So it can be helpful simply to point out that their philosophy of happiness (do what feels right to me) hasn’t paid off (just as God said it wouldn’t). This opens a door to talk about Jesus who came to give us abundant life.

Ultimately, that is the key. It doesn’t do a person ensnared in sin a lot of good for you to win an argument about homosexuality in the Bible or wider society. They need to be convinced that when God calls them to obey him, he is not taking away the cookies - he’s taking away the poison. When Jesus calls us to lose everything, he’s giving us a far greater treasure in himself.


* I don’t particularly care for the term “gay people” or “homosexual” because it transfers the conversation from behavior and inclination to identity. I use it here for the sake of brevity.

Pastors: A Good Way to Eat Your Pauline Vegetables


Pastors in reformed circles tend to be strong on justification, and how our justification should shape our daily discipleship. But I'm not sure I hear Paul's emphasis on union with Christ, with its massive implications for our day-to-day discipleship, sounding out from pulpits quite as clearly.

With that in mind, I wanted to draw attention to an excellent new resource on Paul that could help balance out our theological diet: Con Campbell's recent book Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study.

No doubt the book requires plenty of crunching, chewing, and patient digesting. But, like eating your vegetables, I'd suggest that engaging this new book more than repays the effort in biblical nourishment. 

Here are a couple ways you might use the book, besides the hardy feat of plowing through the whole thing:

1) Skip to dessert--chapters 10-12--and carefully digest Campbell's work on union with Christ and Christian living, union with Christ and justification, and his theological summary of union with Christ. 

2) When you preach through any of Paul's epistles, check the Scripture index. Add Cambpell's book to the list of exegetical resources you consult. You'll find tons of brief, detailed discussions of specific passages that can help your preaching.

Book review: Baptism--Three Views


The most recent issue of Foundations: An International Journal of Evangelical Theology has just been released, which is entirely devoted to baptism. Looks like a good issue. See, for example, Mike Gilbart Smith's article on baptizing children.

Here is my review of a three views book on baptism. Spoiler alert: it's a good book!

Review: Baptism: Three Views, edited by David F. Wright, with contributions by Sinclair B. Ferguson, Anthony N. S. Lane, Bruce A. Ware

IVP Academic, 2009, 200 pages

There are two opposite errors that evangelical Christians easily stumble into on the topic of baptism: we treat it with too little or too much importance.

The former error, I assume, is more common these days. The thinking here is, the West is secularizing; we live in post-Christendom now; let’s not divide over non-essentials. Instead we must affirm the main thing we all share—the gospel.

The latter error, more common perhaps in former times, is still found wherever provincial mindsets cannot see that the work of Christ’s kingdom is afoot in denominations beyond their own. My own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the United States, often succumbs to this temptation. I remember one convention speech where the speaker made some remark about “As goes the SBC, so goes Christianity in America. As goes Christianity in America, so goes Christianity in…” You can guess how this fairly arrogant progression of thought ends.

The solution to the first error is to recognize that baptism may not be essential, but it is important. The solution to the second is to realize that baptism is important, but not essential. In short, Christians need at least three categories for setting theological priorities: essential, important, and unimportant. We often miss that middle category, and act as if everything is either essential or completely unimportant.

Baptism is not essential because it does not save. The word of the gospel alone saves. Yet baptism is important because (i) it proclaims the gospel visibly; (ii) it helps to protect the gospel from generation to generation; (iii) and it serves to publicly identify the people of heaven on earth, both for their sake and for the sake of the nations.

To help us sort through several prominent views on baptism comes the helpful book Baptism: Three Views, edited by the late professor of patristics and Reformation Christianity, David F. Wright. Presbyterian minister Sinclair Ferguson presents the case for infant or paedobaptism (“paedo” for child). Baptist theologian Bruce Ware agues for believers’ baptism or credobaptism (“credo” for creed). And professor of historical theology Anthony Lane offers a dual-practice position.   

My younger sister, who was raised a Baptist like me but now attends a Presbyterian church with her husband and a newborn, recently asked me for a good lay-level book on the topic. I happily commended this one. It is written in a friendly, easy-to-follow way. Each author provides a reasonably compelling defense of his position. And the book’s format is conducive to a fruitful interchange.

All three authors give a 30 to 35 page presentation of their position, which is followed by a 5 to 10 page response from the other two, and is then concluded with an approximately 5 page rejoinder by the original presenter. This creates—I dare say—a fun dynamic, allowing the reader to see the different sides on any given point of dispute without getting bogged down in the intricacies of one position. It is an ideal format for this type of topic.


Ware opens the conversation by doing what Baptist theologians typically do: he offers a definition of the disputed term and then marshals a host of texts before the reader. To summarize in bite-sized morsels, Ware, who alone argues for both a particular mode (immersion) and subject (believers) of baptism, presents these challenges:

1.     The root of the Greek word baptō means “immerse” or “submerge” (21).

2.     In terms of usage, the New Testament describes scenes of “going down to the water” or “coming up out of the water” of believers (e.g. Matt. 3:16; Acts 8:38)(21-23).

3.     Every New Testament instruction or command of baptism involves repentance, faith, or something else that presumes conscious belief (e.g. Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38; 2:41; 8:12; 8:35-38; 9:18), including the “household texts” (16:32-34; 18:8)(24-27; 29-35).

4.     No text in the New Testament explicitly mentions the baptism of infants (29-40), and the favorite texts of paedobaptists don’t say what they think they say (e.g. Acts 2:38-39).  

5.     “Only baptism by immersion provides the symbolism of dying to the old and being raised to the new life in Christ” (27).

6.     The old covenant incorporated people at two levels, both the ethnic and national as well as the spiritual or promise; but the new covenant incorporates only those who have been forgiven of the sins and received God’s law on their hearts, i.e. those who have repented and believed. Hence, the people of the new covenant, the church, is not a mixed community—“at least in principle and by structure and design” (emph. orig., 50; 41-47).  There is no category for unbelieving covenant members.

7.     Circumcision, too, functioned at both levels (ethnic/national and spiritual/promise). Which means, there is both continuity and discontinuity between circumcision and baptism. Both are a sign and seal of their respective covenants (see Rom. 4:11), but circumcision had an ethnic/national element that has fallen away. Only the spiritual/promise remains. Hence, the children of believers should not be baptized (45).

8.     Not surprisingly, the only explicit connection the New Testament makes between circumcision and baptism is drawn between spiritual circumcision of the heart and baptism (Col. 2:11-12)(46, 116).  

9.     A growing number of scholars suggest that most churches practiced believer’s baptism in the first four to six centuries of the church’s existence, and when infant baptism was practiced, it was treated as necessary for the remission of sins, hardly a theology most Protestant paedobaptists would welcome (47-49).

10. Believers’ baptism grounds the regenerate nature of the church.

11. Baptists link the objective work of Christ with the subjective response of faith (73).

Ware rests his case lightly on historical grounds, largely on exegetical grounds, but not insignificantly on historical-redemptive grounds.


Sinclair Ferguson makes his case mostly in this last historical-redemptive category, which of course is what Presbyterians do so well. He offers these challenges:

1.     In terms of mode, the New Testament baptismal accounts do not require immersion since pouring might have occurred (even in Matt. 3:16 or Acts 8:38) (51-53).

2.     The early church attests to the practice of infant baptism, as with the third century Apostolic Tradition which refers to baptizing children who are not yet able to speak (79-84).

3.     As with Abraham’s circumcision, baptism is a sign and seal of the righteousness that comes by faith. But where believers’ baptism emphasizes what the believer does in responding by faith, the paedobaptist emphasizes what Christ has done (53-55; 86-91; 92-96). It is a Christo-centric emblem, not a fidecentric one. Emphasis is on the movement from objective to subjective, not the opposite.

4.     The household baptism texts demonstrate that the Old Testament’s covenantal understanding of the family continues (56-57). God would not promote the family unit in the Old Testament only to displace it in the new, and nothing in the New Testament suggests the family has been displaced (106-07). The epochal movement from Old Covenant to New presents not a contraction (removing the family) but an expansion (adding the nations, as well as women into the covenantal sign).

5.     Jeremiah includes the “to you and your seed” principle in his exposition of the new covenant (Jer. 32:38-40), as do all divine covenants prior to Pentecost (57-58; 101, 103-04).

6.     The fact that the way of salvation has always been the same suggests that the ordinance which replaces circumcision, which was a sign of that salvation, can also be given to infants (100-01; 104).

7.     Peter’s promise at Pentecost specifically underscores that these promises also go to the seed of believers (Acts 2:38-39)(103-04).

8.     Christ specifically blesses not just children (Mark 10:13-16) but seemingly babies (Luke 18:15-17)(107-08).

No doubt Ferguson exegetes texts, like Ware. But the overall paedobaptist argument depends less on straightforward reading of the texts and more heavily on a canonical framework that informs how one reads the baptism texts. Ferguson calls Ware’s approach “proof-textual” (105), which is always a convenient epithet when the proof-texts don’t immediately work in your favor, at least on the surface.

To be forthright, reading these first two accounts back to back did make me think, “Perhaps this explains why the Presbyterians I know have more education than the Baptists I know.” Yes, that’s a stereotype, but I say that as a Baptist. The credobaptist account, I dare say, is just easier to grab onto for the common Joe (“Look, the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip went down to the water!”). The paedobaptist account, honestly, requires greater theological sophistication and canonical sensitivity, at least if you are not a first-century Jew. That does not mean it is right or wrong. It simply means a person in the twenty-first century who is not accustomed to conversations about Old Testament circumcision has to think harder to see it.


Anthony Lane, whose position will be less familiar to most readers, treats baptism on the pages of the New Testament not as “believers’ baptism” but as “converts’ baptism.” This subtle shift emphasizes the immediacy of a person’s baptism upon conversion: converts get baptized to show they are converts.

Conversion, Lane argues, consists of four steps: repentance, faith, baptism, and reception of the Holy Spirit. That does not mean baptism is regenerative or a salvific requirement, as such. Lane acknowledges that the thief on the cross was saved. His point is simply that baptism is the flip side of faith. It is how faith expresses itself.  

When it comes to the children of believers—whether infants or not—Lane appreciates the paedobaptist emphasis on the corporate and familial nature of the faith, and so assumes the early Christians would have done something to adapt or modify the practice of convert baptism for their children. Since conversion involves all four steps listed above, some may have concluded that nothing would be lost if baptism comes first, to be followed years later by repentance and faith.

What’s important to recognize, says Lane, is that the New Testament is silent on whether or not infants were baptized. When we look to the data of the first four centuries, however, we find a plurality of practices: sometimes infants were baptized, sometimes not, and for a number of reasons. Then, like seismologists who feel the ripples of an earthquake thousands of miles away, we can make deductions about what was happening in the original apostolic churches, namely, there were a variety of practices happening there as well. In other words, accepting the authority of Scripture means “respecting the silences of Scripture as well as its positive statements” (166).

A second kind of silence is important for Lane’s argument—the silence among the church fathers concerning principled arguments against infant baptism. Tertullian, for instance, offers something like a prudential against it. But that, in itself, is instructive. Apparently infants were being baptized, which is what prompted him to make a prudential argument. But the lack of a principled argument suggests that neither he nor others had principled objections. The first principled arguments against infant baptism don’t occur until one obscure group in the Middle Ages and then the Anabaptists in the Reformation.

Lane concludes from all of this that the contemporary church has grounds for a church to offer more than one practice. Surely adult converts must be baptized, most centrally. But then Christian families should be permitted to baptize their infants or to delay their baptism.    


Admittedly, I am not an objective reader. I was convinced of the believers’ baptism picking up the book, and I remain convinced of it setting it down, maybe even more so.

What the book did do, however, is enrich my original position by the things I learned from the other two perspectives. Ferguson’s robust presentation of baptism as a sign and seal of the righteousness a Christian gains through faith is worth incorporating and adapting into a baptist framework, as Ware gladly does. And Lane’s insistence on the tight relationship between faith and baptism, even calling it a Christian “passport” (129), reminds us of how important the topic is in the Bible. Faith subjectively expresses itself through baptism, and it is a public marker of entrance into the objective faith. 

Further, the book reminded me of how tough this topic is. Sinclair Ferguson observes at one point that the interlocutors had reached an “impasse,” and most readers will probably feel that. Every position is intelligent, and offers a reasonably coherent explanation for the biblical and historical data. It is like a private detective and a police lieutenant are staring down at the same dead body and same set of clues, but one is convinced the butler did it while the other is convinced the estranged wife did it, and both are adamant. Where do you go from there?

For instance, Bruce Ware offers what I took to be a compelling baptist explanation for the “household baptism” passages in Acts, but Ferguson and Lane are not compelled. What else can be said?! Thank you, folks. Goodnight. That’s all we have.

It is tempting for me to throw my two cents into the argument, perhaps observing that both Jeremiah and Jesus very much do annul the ethnic “and to your seed” covenantal principle (Jer. 31:29-30; Matt. 12:50; 19:29; cf. Matt. 3:9; 10:35).

Further, the paedobaptist idea of the covenantal inclusion of infants only works because of a vagueness surrounding which covenant they are included within—the theologically conceived covenant of grace? The exegetical new covenant? I honestly find it impossible to stare at the words of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and understand how exactly an infant is included in its promises, unless one wants to say that baptism guarantees such inclusion because it effectually implants the Holy Spirit, like the passages discusses.  

Or, Ferguson is surely right to affirm the continuous nature of salvation from old covenant to new. But I would argue that he, like paedobaptists generally, can only equate circumcision and baptism by smothering the institutional distinctions within the text, such as (Ware observes) the two layers of meaning behind circumcision (national/ethnic and spiritual/promise).

 But instead of hearing my own arguments, a reader does well to jump into the book’s responses and rejoinders. What he or she will discover, I contest, is that the different positions depend upon subtly different theological methodologies. One author emphasizes the exegetical, one the historical-redemptive, and one the historical. The impasse exists on this topic, in part, because of these differing assumptions about which kinds of data and methods are most persuasive.

Finally, there is only one right explanation for who should get wet, a point our relativistic age likes to overlook. And obedience to Jesus means searching for it. Paying closer attention to methodology, I believe, will help. A solution is not essential to faith, but it is important.

Jonathan Leeman, a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, is the editorial director for 9Marks and is the author, most recently, of Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Crossway, 2012).

This article was originally published in Foundations: An International Journal of Evangelical Theology

Jonathan Leeman audio on Membership, Discipline, Love, and the Word


Jonathan Leeman recently preached several messages on church membership, church discipline, God's love, and the power of God's Word at the People of God Conference in Sacramento, CA. 

You can go to 9Marks' Media page to download the talks and Q&A sessions from the conference, or click the links below:

Session 1: The Idolatry of Love 

Session 2: The Display of Love

Q&A session on Love

Session 3: A Vision of Membership

First Q&A session on Membership

Session 4: The Submission of Membership

Session 5: The Discipline of Membership

Second Q&A on Membership

Session 6: The Power and Preaching of the Word

Session 7: The Reverberation of the Word

Q&A session on Authority

Satan's Real Interest in Your Sin


Hath Satan any more friendly aim and intention towards thee, who is a sharer in every temptation? To beguile thee as a serpent, to devour thee as a lion, is the friendship he owes thee. I shall only add, that the sin he tempts thee to against the law, it is not the thing he aims at; his design lies against thy interest in the gospel. He would make sin but a bridge to get over to a better ground, to assault thee as to thy interest in Christ. He who perhaps will say to-day, "Thou mayst venture on sin, because thou hast an interest in Christ," will to-morrow tell thee to the purpose that thou hast none, because thou hast done so.  

                                    -- The Works of John Owen, vol 6, page 135.

In case you missed the new 9Marks Journal...(for Kindle too)


In case the 9Marks Journal that got released last week happened to get misplaced behind a bag of turkey leftovers, allow me to set it on the table again. It's on lay elders--that is, men who help shepherd their churches while holding down a full time job. 

Jonathan Leeman writes in the editor's note, 

"I am talking about the men who remain in their careers, but who begin to shepherd anyway. These are the men I admire so much. They move from the big prestigious firm to the small peripheral firm; they take the pay cut; they let themselves get passed over for promotion. Why? Because they love the sheep, and they cannot help but spend the time it takes to shepherd sheep."

You can start with Jeramie Rinne's helpful job description for lay elders and Mike McKinley's "I learned this the hard way" piece on how to raise up elders

Also, after an unexpected delay, the version for Kindle is now available. 

Keep an eye out for part 2 in this Journal series on lay elders, which will address the relationship between staff and lay elders, building unity and friendship among the elders, and other practical matters.

Together For the Gospel Live II - Out Today


One of the best things about the Together for the Gospel conference is the singing. It's quite moving to worship God in song with thousands and thousands of other believers. There's something about having that many voices expressing praise at the same time that is more than the sum of its parts.


Today Sovereign Grace Music releases Together for the Gospel Live II, a new album with 16 songs recorded at the 2010 and 2012 conferences. If Bob Kauflin leading a choir of thousands in singing beautiful hymns of priase sounds like your cup of tea, then you should definitely check it out. My personal favorite is "I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow", with "Come Praise and Glorify" coming in a close second. 

Violence Against Women and Church Discipline


The United Nations designates yesterday, November 25, as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. A number of friends have written comments on the matter. 

How should a church respond to the case of a husband abusing his wife, or man his daughter? Decisively and quickly

A church should start by helping to remove a woman from a place where she will be harmed. Elders may choose to assist a woman find different accomodations merely if there is a threat of violence. If a woman has actually been assaulted, they should involve the police. Crimes against the body fall within the jurisdiction of the state (Rom. 13:1-7), and Christians can thank God that we live in a time when the state actually takes interest in such matters.

As in other cases of clear and unrepentant sin, abuse can and often should be grounds for excommunication from the church. Rather than simply explain this, I thought it might be helpful to offer a sample of the kind of church discipline letter our church will send. (This particular letter does not refer to an actual situation.) No doubt, a letter like the following presumes that the elders have already been working with the individual, and for one reason or another they determine that the man's profession of faith is no longer credible by virtue of his actions.

Dear ----,

Greetings on behalf of ------ Church. 

The purpose of this letter is to inform you that last night, at the church's members meeting, the assembled congregation formally voted to remove you from the rolls as an act of discipline for violating your marital vows through acts of abuse toward your wife.  As you know, the Scriptures call husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25-33), and Christ does not abuse his church.  He protects and cherishes it. When a husband instead abuses his wife, he lies horribly about the character of God and the gospel of Christ.

----, by this letter we want to demonstrate our love for you by warning you of the seriousness of your sin and of your need to repent.   We understand that only God can evaluate the human heart, but we must tell you that the decisions you have made are not consistent with how the Bible describes a Christian.  Consequently, as a church, we can no longer with confidence call you our brother in Christ. 

However, we long to be able to do so!  Please know that you are always welcome to attend the services of our church.  We would be delighted to have you here, and should you desire to repent, we would love to see you restored to full fellowship with us in the gospel. If there is any way we can help you pursue that repentance, including helping you to discern what repentance would look like, we are only too ready.  ------, we love you, and even though it would be easier to do nothing, we hope that our actions will be seen by you as evidence of our love and concern for you, and of our love for the honor of Christ supremely.

May the Lord bless you with a sincere faith, a good conscience and a servant’s heart.  Know that we long to welcome you back here. 

On behalf of CHBC, I am


Sharing the Gospel With Your Family


Sometimes, conversation about the gospel don't go very well. We might fumble our words or say things that don't make a lot of sense. The person that we're talking to might be totally disinterested or even take offense at the message. 

For that reason, it is often far easier to share the gospel with casual acquaintances than with close friends and family. If I have an awkward conversation about Jesus with a stranger on the airplane or the dad who helps coach first base on my boys' little league team, no big deal. I don't have to see them on Christmas or go to their home for birthday parties. They won't take my faith in Jesus as a criticism of the way they raised me or evidence that I think I'm better than they are. There's just a lot more risk involved in evangelizing the people close to you.

If you will be spending time with family members who don't know Jesus this Thanksgiving, you may want to take a look at Randy Newman's book Bringing the Gospel Home. Newman has a lot of experience sharing the gospel, but he is sympathetic to the challenges that most Christians face when they open their mouth to talk about Jesus. The book is a good source of encouragement, advice, and motivation this holiday season.

Check out the Gospel at Work Conference


Loyal 9Marks readers: I'd encourage you to check out the Gospel at Work conference, scheduled for January 11-12, 2013 at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD (just outside of Washington, DC). Speakers include Os Guinness, Mark Dever, Michael Lawrence, and Bob Doll.  

Some of the goals of the conference:
  • to help Christians think biblically and theologically about their work,
  • to provide practical and pastoral wisdom on how to navigate the many workplace challenges arising from our secular culture;
  • to hold up examples of godly men and women who can be role models and guides for others;
  • and finally, to connect Christians in similar callings to encourage one another and to strategize together for evangelism.  
In addition to the main sessions, there are a series of very practical breakouts on topics like career planning as Christians, leading in the workplace, money as a motivator, and working for "difficult" bosses.
I'd encourage pastors to consdier attending in order to think through how to better equip their people to faithfully represent Christ in their day-to-day work. And I'd certainly encourage any Christian who wrestles with their work  to come for the teaching, encouragement, and fellowship. 
Registration is $49.  More info here