Mark Dever is a Warrior; or, A Fundamentalist Spends A Day at The Ockenga Institute
by Greg Linscott
Yesterday was a very good day. I had the privilege of attending a day-long seminar hosted by The Ockenga Institute of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The featured speaker was Dr. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and executive director of 9 Marks Ministries.
It was a good day for several reasons:
The company. It was my privilege to spend the day in the company of 11 other pastors and deacons from fundamental Baptist churches here in Maine. I won’t ‘out’ them here, but I must admit there was more than a bit of juvenile laughter as we arrived on campus, and continued to make a series of left turns before we arrived at the proper building. More seriously, the quality of the experienced was magnified exponentially by the quality of company and continuous conversations throughout the day. I was encouraged, as I know our church’s two deacons who accompanied me were, too.
The content. Dr. Dever had us riveted. Many of the men who I traveled with were unfamiliar with Dever’s ministry. They were thrilled and encouraged by what they heard. Dever knows how to strike the chords of the hearts of men who love Christ’s church. It was a blessing to see brothers in Christ from diverse backgrounds and distinctive beliefs able to rejoice together- reveling in the common ground of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the task committed to His church to proclaim it and live it. More on the content later.
The conversation. The content had us talking. From listening to 9 Marks Audio, I knew Dever was good at interviewing. I learned yesterday that the skill wasn’t stilted or forced, or even dependent on engaging “big names” or intellectual equals. He genuinely likes to talk to people about these issues. Every pastor’s session ended with 10-15 minutes of lively Q&A. Each breaktime, Dever could be observed actively seeking out different people and groups.After one of the sessions, He approached some of the guys in our group. I had my jacket on, and my name tag was on my shirt underneath. So he looks at my jacket, sees the LL Bean logo, and says, “Hey, ‘LL,’ how are things with the Fundamentalists?” (I had mentioned to him earlier that day I worked on SharperIron with Jason, who interviewed him a while back). We had a very interesting conversation about some issues, and he made it clear to us that he realized that he was among friends, so to speak.
Dever’s theme was “The Gospel.” The first session (which you may listen to here) doubled as the chapel session for the GCTS faculty and students. Much of it was familiar territory for those who have read Nine Marks of a Healthy Church… and yet, at the same time, it seemed fresh and vibrant. While he is far removed in style and presentation from the “platform presence” valued by many within our movement, he spoke with a passion that was engaging and riveting.
I would like to share a few memorable thoughts. I do not have the recordings, so the quotes are quite loose, and subject to limits of my recollection.
On Public Invitations/Responses
- The story was told of a man who approached Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The man told him that he was inclined to respond to the message that he had preached the previous night. However, since Lloyd-Jones had not extended a public invitation then, he did not believe that he would respond positively tonight- the urge to respond had passed. Lloyd-Jones observed that a decision that could not even last 24 hours was not one he took seriously or thought very highly of.
- Sometime following these comments, Dever was questioned on the importance of making a public decision/affirmation of following Christ. Dever replied, “Yes- I think it’s very important. That’s why the Lord gave us the ordinance of baptism.” He also later mentioned that his policy at CHBC is not to baptize people until they are 19-21 years old, when, as he explained, “the church has had sufficient time to see the Spirit at work and observe them resist the pull of sin, the flesh, and the world.”
On The Limits of Contextualization and the specific example of Mark Driscoll:
- “Well, there are some things we can conclude… Swearing is a sin. If you are looking to Chris Rock as your influence/inspiration as a preacher, you are looking in the wrong place.”
On Distinctive Christianity
- Dever spoke of being in a restaurant waiting for a friend. While waiting, he overheard a conversation at another table. The conversants were Raelians. As his friend arrived, he prompted him to take a minute and just listen. Struck by the preposterousness of the conversation, they both sought to stifle incredulous laughter.“However, we must not forget,” Dever reminded, “that to the world, the Christian gospel sounds as completely foreign and preposterous as that conversation did to us.”
- In observing the mindset of the 20-something generation, Dever noted that there was a great deal of thought and effort being placed on making Christianity accessible to the culture. In the process, he noted, little to no thought is given on how their Christianity will present its differentness.
On Presenting The Gospel
- 1. Tell people with honesty. Remind them it will be costly to follow Christ.
2. Stress that there is no need to wait for a better offer- communicate the urgency.
3. Speak of the joy of following Christ- it will all be worth it.
4. Use the Bible.
5. Christian lives lived together are crucial. Your church exists to lend your words more weight- to give credence to the Gospel you proclaim. It is a community that gives hope.
6. Remember to pray.
On How-To Books
- The problem with The Purpose-Driven Life is that people may be confused. They want purpose in their lives- and in the process, may assume that’s what it means to be a Christian.
- Virtually all the books on methods in the campus bookstore are telling you how to get an immediate response.
A Fundamentalist’s Casual Observations
- Dever is a warrior. Listening to Dever say what he did where we did increased my respect for him exponentially. I imagine that there were many listening who did not embrace what he had to say. A simple visit to the recent chapel schedule will demonstrate that Dever, a visibly outspoken complementarian, was in hostile egalitarian territory. Dever spoke fervently and passionately against the emergent and seeker sensitive philosophies that have obvious and sizeable followings represented on the campus.Some will say that Dever is not a Fundamentalist (in the sense that he is not a part of the modern manifestation that was left by the New Evangelicals)- and I would agree, as I’m sure he would. He is an Evangelical with a capital “E,” and identifies himself as such. That being said, I see qualities in him that I respect, affirm, and seek to learn from in my own life and ministry, including the way he practices what I believe to be a form of militancy and separation. In the short day I spent listening to him, he addressed problems such as the PurposeDriven franchise, the inadequacy of SBC stat-tracking, the faulty theology of Emergent Village… and many others. There is no question in my mind these issues are the equivalents to the Liberalism and Modernism faced by our Fundamentalist forbears of generations past. I praise the Lord for men like Dever who fear God more than men, and boldly proclaim the truth. May his tribe increase!
- Has Linscott Gone Liberal? I’m sure there are those out there who would ask why on earth any self-identified Separatist Fundamentalist would set foot on the GCTS campus, much less an event sponsored by the Ockenga Institute! It’s not an unfair question.I do believe it behooves us to know what is going on in our world. While I would not want to get primary influence from an institution such as Gordon, I certainly believe there is value in understanding what distinguishes me as a Fundamentalist from my counterparts. Being on campus there helped me understand the distinction a bit better. I may reflect on that thought more later.
- Misery loves company. This may be difficult for some of you to understand, but I found strange comfort in a remark Dr, Dever made to me personally. As he conversed with our small group, he was asking our names and where we were from, where we pastored, and so on. I seemed to recall that Dever himself had pastored a New England church at one point, so I asked him about it. He didn’t go into detail, but I understood him to have had less than a successful tenure there. As funny as it might seem, that was helpful to me. Here, a man of some renown and skill in ministry had also experienced… failure. Setbacks. In New England.Hey, if Dever had problems… can I expect anything less? 😀
In the unlikely event that Dr. Dever or anyone from 9 Marks happens to read this post- Thank you. I appreciate your stand for the Gospel, your evident love for Christ and His church, and your steadfastness for the Truth. You have been a blessing and a help to at least 12 Fundamental Baptist pastors and deacons here in Maine. May God continue to bless your efforts and see churches abandon the “faithless methodological pragmatism” so indicative of the age.