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9 to 5 Marks and Mark Dever

Ironically in a day when I blogged about the 5 marks of mission. Mark Dever released a blog from his “9 Marks” site, which included the following, under the heading

What are some messages that people falsely claim are the gospel?

Jesus came to transform society. Some people believe that Jesus’ mission was to transform society and bring justice to the oppressed through a political revolution. But the Bible teaches that this world will only be made right when Jesus comes again and ushers in a new heaven and new earth (2 Thess. 2:9-10,Rev. 21:1-5). The gospel is fundamentally a message about salvation from the wrath of God through faith in Christ, not the transformation of society in this present age.

This relates to The distinction that Don Carson was trying to make between the gospel and it’s entailments and also to Dever’s opposition to social transformation as part of the church’s mission. I have got so many problems with this idea. It looks like Dever is saying that the gospel is only about individuals fleeing the judgement of God and not about what Christ calls his disciples to do. Carson wants to argue that (maybe) an entailment of the gospel but not the gospel itself. At least Carson argued the entailments were not optional extras. Dever wants to draw a big line between conversion and discipleship – emphasising what we are saved from – but not saying what we were saved to. There instead seems to be a dualistic desire to see personal conversion and individual escape from Hell as the sole extent the church’s mission. Dever’s church is ironically on Capitol hill in Washington DC. It puts Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury (not to mention the Lausanne Covenant) the wrong side of orthodoxy. It also puts Jesus’ manifesto in Luke 4, his command to his church to be salt and light and the early church’s insistence that Jesus was the true King / Caesar the wrong side of the gospel too.

I find this disappointing as Dever is a man who loves the scriptures, has a passion to preach the whole of the Bible and is a thoughtful a godly and kind man as far as I have had interaction with him. But in his post he puts belief in the church’s role in bringing social transformation alongside the prosperity gospel as a heresy.

What do you think motivates Dever’s opposition to social transformation?

 

 

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “9 to 5 Marks and Mark Dever”

  1. Hi Krish,
    From what I’ve heard many folks at Capitol Hill are politically/socially involved as individuals/households and they share about this in the time of prayer and testimony in their evening service. I wonder though if Dever puts this so strongly in order to ensure that people don’t think the church is the vehicle for their political projects which may well bring the church into conflict if those projects are partisan. You do hear of ‘democrat’ churches and ‘republican’ churches but Dever knows that the church is called to be a foretaste of a new humanity, neither Greek or Jew, neither Democrat or Republican and possibly one way to work that it is to draw sharp lines about what Jesus came to do primarily. So, I think you’re right that it’s not nuanced or careful enough and so excludes a chunk of the biblical witness.

    I tried to think of a test case to check Mark’s statement – say New Testament slavery. So you know what you said about Paul preaching in Romans, or Paul in Athens, or Jesus in Galillee did they lead with or major on “transformation of society *in this present age*”? For example did they preach the gospel of reversals or slave’s new position? I’m not sure they did – I think there’s more evidence so say they talked about “a message about salvation from the wrath of God through faith in Christ”. Now because of what Paul and others write in the household codes as entailments or implications of the gospel in what God’s done in creating a new community, a ‘chosen people, holy and dearly loved’, that is going to result in societal transformation for slaves – Onesimus being the key example. So I suppose I think that what Dever says holds so far as it goes. I think it does mean we sure be cautious on preaching societal transformation to try and connect with folks who have a heart for justice and work back to the gospel because that seems to be getting things the wrong way around. Especially since the gospel matters for the shape and nature and means of the societal transformation that is going to be different from people who are working from other stories and starting points.
    Yikes, that ended up being long – I’ll plead that I was provoked by what you and Mark said!

  2. Mark Dever indeed preaches that societal transformation this side of the second coming should happen through individuals being involved, rather than the church as an institution or corporate body.

    Personally I think that is a weak ecclesiology as it denies the nature of the new person and her belonging to the church what ever she does. Secondly, it denies real choices churches (even those which are not explicitly involved in ‘social transformation’) engage in, even if it is just to buy fair trade coffee, or spending their money on one form of international ‘mission’ rather than another. Here I am thinking of prioritizing the sending out medical practitioners, or teachers to start schools, rather than, say missionaries solely or wholly evangelizing and running churches (not that the last is less worthy, but it illustrates my point).

    So even if we cannot or don’t include ‘social transformation’ narrowly defined (as one would have to if one wants to narrowly define what the gospel is), there will be example in which choices the corporate body makes which impact on society.

    Matt I think it is a profound mistake to divorce these, especially on Capital Hill, in a polarized environment! Let the Church stand as an example of how the Kingdom can be NOW, rather than later, decontaminating the mess of partisanship.

    Finally, if you take this sort of view on the Gospel, what does the ministry to the widow and the fatherless look like? Is it then only to those in the church, and if so, how profoundly small hearted is that? How are you going to ‘love your enemy’ if you wont even look after the least of these. Shame.

  3. Hi Lauri, thanks for the comment. I’d like to respond to a couple of things you wrote.

    Lauri: “Matt I think it is a profound mistake to divorce these, especially on Capital Hill, in a polarized environment! Let the Church stand as an example of how the Kingdom can be NOW, rather than later, decontaminating the mess of partisanship.”

    Hi Lauri, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that it’s all ‘not yet’ and no ‘now’! And, I totally take your point too about ‘the church’ is going to be making decisions anyway which have implications.

    I think I have a particular concern that is animating my caution: that of room for methodological pluralism / Christian freedom
    Christians may disagree about how to go about these things and I think that the church shouldn’t require them to go against their conscience in this to be part of the fellowship. Everyone may agree that poverty is a tragedy and would want to do something about it. Yet you could imagine that there would be very different ideas about what to do about it. Where those ideas are not in contravention of an injunction of Scripture I think believers have freedom to pursue societal ends in different ways as they believe is best. These are again a foretaste and an expression of mercy, grace and kindness. Still some Christians may well disagree – even fundamentally about the approach that is taken. Should this divide the church if it commits itself to one organized approach over another? Does this also forsake the primary calling of the church (because frankly there are always going to be NGOs doing mercy ministry many of which Christians will be involved in but which of them is committed as its core mission to preach the gospel)? Can’t it be that the church can be the place people come together who are pursuing those things different outside of the gathered church? This instead of being a weak ecclesiology could be considered a strong one because we work as ‘the church’ with fellow believers outside of any one gathered church.

    Lauri: “Finally, if you take this sort of view on the Gospel, what does the ministry to the widow and the fatherless look like? Is it then only to those in the church, and if so, how profoundly small hearted is that? How are you going to ‘love your enemy’ if you wont even look after the least of these. Shame.”

    I think we need to make a distinction between doing things which are a blessing to those around us, or even those at a distance and organising to change the order of things. The phrase societal transformation is a little tricky in that sense – does it mean that widows and the fatherless are cared for (great!) or does it mean ‘the church’ should campaign for or against a particular policy as it effects widows or the fatherless.

    Also I’m afraid I do think that there are passages which indicate that the church is to be concerned in relationships of financial and social care primarily with those who are part of the fellowship. This is an expression of ‘one anothering’. But – and please don’t hear me wrong on this – I don’t think things stop there as believers (indeed as households) we demonstrate care to all, to ‘love our enemy’. But does Jesus address that injunction to ‘the church’ as some kind of organization structure that does stuff or to his disciples? That question really matters. And, just because a gathered fellowship isn’t doing it a part of a program doesn’t mean it should be being done any less – these things are very important!

    1. Matt, let’s be very clear. Never did I say that there is no room for methodological freedom, but by the same token turning your argument on its head I can say that Dever is not allowing for methodological freedom by arguing that the churches role corporate is not to engage with “mercy ministry”. The only difference is that I am not being proscriptive, though he is, and no mistake!

      The pastor of the church that we recently left took a Dever line (partially because of Dever’s blog no less!), which means that the passion which I have for engaging with structural sin through the church as an institution was not something I could engage in, or help others consider. (This was not the main reason we left, but it was something that irked me). I would have liked our church to join London Citizens. Community organizing being one of the pre-eminent ways that a community can engage with structural depravity, with a pick and chose attitude to how or what issue is engaged with (you have to show up to be a part, and you don’t always have to show up.

      But back to the post. Your argument turned around is actually an example of how directly Devers teaching inhibited my freedom and conscience.

      Matt: “I think that the church shouldn’t require them to go against their conscience in this to be part of the fellowship.” (Nor do I!)

      The point I would make here is that the decision needs to be made in line with the local churches situation and the gifts and desires that people in that congregation have!

      If it’s in the inner city, as Dever’s church is, there are things the church can do as a church to help the Black and Hispanic community integrate into the gentrification going happening on capitol hill and Hth street. (I know the area a little… perhaps you do too.)

      As per the partisan point, it’s not easy, I know, but be sure that if a pastor is willing to stand up and talk about ecclesiology like he does, with the variety of forms that he could talk about, including what evangelistic programs he is running, (and he is based in DC!) he better be able to stand up and challenge democrats and republicans for their failures, arrogance and self righteousness, as well as exhort where their heart is in the right place, but that is a slightly different point.

      Whose conscience are we talking about and can you help me imagine where somebody’s conscience might be singed if the church corporate engages in structural challenge to sin? I can imagine that a church preaching liberation theology could pose a problem, but anything less than that, where the church is committed to orthodoxy, I struggle to think how an individual’s conscience might be impaired. Please do illustrate.

      When you find two kids shot on the doorstep of your locked church and you don’t do anything about gun crime and gangs in your local community, you’re a wuss, a pansy, are callous hearted and have misunderstood the gospel and the churches call to discipleship.

      NGOs can only do so much… They sit within the power structures of this world. However the Church has a unique role in being able to challenge the current settlement. I would say that it is very likely Dever’s account of Government is informed by a modernistic understanding of enlightenment settlement, but that is not the last word on governance.

      But to answer your question and Krishs’ original plea, my gut is that Dever and others fear is the loss of an emphasis on evangelism. Or that “vital” resources (money and man time) will be diverted away from “gospel” ministry (as if that was ever a problem for God). However because we are not a people of fear but of love, I cannot see how opening up the Church to engaging in structural change moves it away from evangelism. In fact, some might say that the modes of evangelism in which some churches engage in, in practise, actually do not preach the gospel despite the words that come out of the person speaking at the front. Conversely, engaging in “mercy ministry” means your evangelism could actually be enhanced.

      I would also say that the rigid categorisation that Dever has to use (to put forward this demarcation) owes a lot to modern understandings of what it means to be human, which are not owed to scripture but to enlightenment philosophy (and a individualistic understanding of self), it’s just that they are justified in bible speak so sound right.

      I think Krishes work in putting forward an argument for Christians to foster and adopt is a great example of how a church body, by the sacrifice of families, can come together to subvert structural evil. If a church eldership would take a line out of the budget and say that this money will be used to help any family who adopts… well all the above paradigms and categories collapse. More creative thinking and less pontificating and delineation and demarcation please… The irony there is that if you came to Dever with that proposal, he might well consider it, pragmatist that he is!

      Finally, the Church is called I think primarily to make disciples. Not to evangelism narrowly defined. But that is another topic, and touches on the ecclesiology I mentioned, because I think you can be well on your way to be a disciple without, yet, being saved.

  4. interesting points Matt thanks for sharing them. Not sure how the Parable of the Good Samaritan fits into the primarily caring for people within the people of God. Nor the injunctions to be salt and light – nor Blessed to be Blessing to all the nations in Gen 12. Nor the call to the Exiles to seek the welfare of the city Jeremiah 29…. Even in the proof text many Christians use to argue we should focus on the family of God with our care it says:
    let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. The “especially” i is not prohibitive of care for neighbour whoever that neighbour is. So long after the Lausanne Convenant its amazing we are still having these debates.

  5. Hi Krish,
    I’m curious, why do you think we are having these debates?
    I’m afraid too that I’m not properly clear myself where we disagree.
    I don’t disagree with any of the things you listed. I hoped to be careful in what I said: to say it’s a “first, then” argument not an “either, or” argument. Perhaps this is wrong and ‘all, especially’ is better.
    I feel a bit like I’m being criticized for positions that I don’t hold! This is my fault though for trying to argue other people’s positions for them and saying what I see in them that I think it true and not being clear enough about what I think.
    Can I come back to your original question about what motivates Dever. Do you want people to impugn his motives – is that really charitable? I’m also not clear whether you really disagree or whether the same words with different meanings/references/grids are causing confusion here. For example do you think it’s worth differentiating between *ultimate* societal transformation (which won’t come until Jesus’ return) and *limited* but yet still very meaningful transformation in society (which comes because of Jesus’ inaugurated breaking-in kindgom)?

    P.S. As a side note on the Good Samaritan, I hold with you that this is about doing good to your neighbour, not just people like you. However, Jewish friends interpret this passage differently from me and say they read Jesus as critiquing the Jews for failing to realise that the Samaritans were rightly to be considered part of the people of God. So whilst I disagree with that reading that’s how some people see the parable of the Good Samaritan as about primarily caring for people within the people of God but being challenged as to who we think ‘properly qualifies’.

    1. Sorry if I came over a bit strong. Just get upset with Dever as his post seems to take the moral and biblical high ground, which I think is unfair. I have a problem with his reading of scripture s understanding of the Church and the gospel. I am not trying to impugn his motives that’s why I have tried to honor him in the post and on Facebook. It’s just really hard for me to see why he reads the bible the way he does.

  6. Hi Lauri and Krish,

    Thank you for those things you’ve said – I think that helps me see a bit clearer what the issues are here. I don’t think you have impugned him Krish and I do appreciate the mode in which you posed the question.

    What I’m hearing (if I’m hearing right) is that part of the issue is the deep waters of the whole individual(istic) versus collective(ist) thing. So the question of structures and how they change and how that relates to the gospel. Does the gospel challenge structures directly (such as empire) or more indirectly (like slavery) through changed behaviour of individual in households (like in the household codes section of the NT epistles) which promotes reform and in time transformation. I’ve been trying to think this through a bit in relation to 1 Peter 2. Any ideas of resources that might help?

    I suppose still then you have the question of what is the relation of the gospel to the church which it forms. I see too Lauri’s point about conscience and that Dever’s position isn’t ‘neutral’ or ‘apolitical’ in that sense – his thinking does seem to be more individual-focused than collective/structural – I think I’d want to hold out a little longer though on whether that means he’s a full blown individualist captive to enlightenment modernism. The NT writers seem to be able to address individuals without being individualistic.

    Lauri when you say ‘community organizing being one of the pre-eminent ways that a community can engage with structural depravity’ – do you think the ‘engage’ is about restraining or minimizing the depravity or is more fully about transformation? This you see gets back for me to where we think the power for change comes from. Is new birth by the Spirit necessary for change (or only ultimate change)?

    As for your question about consciences an example might be this perhaps a church comes to believe that education is very important and that the lack of quality public education for students, particularly poor ethnically minoritised students, is a structural evil. The church decides to sets up a school and allocates money from the offerings given to run it. Do you think some might object that Christians should be involved in improving the state public schools rather than setting up others?

    All of this said I’m part of a church that is active in the community, which is seeking in related ways to support those which a vision for societal change – so when the rubber hits the road I too am concerned with the centrality of a gospel of individual salvation into the household of God that entails all sorts of stuff about doing good to all, to my neighbour and my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    1. I may have been a bit enthusiastic about Community Organizing, but it is a great way for a church to represent within its community. I think it is all of the things you mention. Forward and backward and never perfect. I think the Spirit works in the world, in the same way he worked to create the world. He keeps it together. He makes things better and he sometimes uses us to do that. He allows things to get worse, and he allows that too, and lets us help in doing that as well. God knows why.

  7. Does this have any relevance here?
    “Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”
    Or would Dever et al suggest that God’s kingdom isn’t to do with social justice (which surely, from the writing we see in the OT, would be very hard to argue…)

  8. Hey Krish, while this book isn’t exactly a direct response the themes underlying it relate I think very much to what you are thinking about in the confidence in the Gospel project and in response to the above: http://www.godsolovedhegave.com/welcome (you will remember me talking about Kelly as he did his PhD at Kings College London…)

  9. Hey folks,
    I’ve been considering this some more, reading my Bible and reading ‘When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself’ – a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.
    I think as I’ve been praying I’ve seen that my concern for Christian freedom and harmony within the church is not something that should be used as a reason for inaction that defaults to a privatized faith. Otherwise you end up with a King and no kingdom rather than some who are all kingdom but no King. Did Jesus come to transform society? Well he did come to institute a kingdom, a kingdom which is just and not oppressive and in which Deut 15:4 is fulfilled as Luke deliberately points out Acts 4:34.
    Anyway this is all to say I think that you’re right, I don’t want to give cover for this position out of a sense of fair play and because it does say some things which are true whilst getting the big sweep wrong. Thanks for the provocations and interacting with me.

  10. Interesting discussion!

    Jesus certainly spoke about the kingdom now and not yet, but the question remains whether that is the gospel or not. Is the good news that if you “sell everything you have and give it to the poor”, (Luke 18) that society will be transformed for the better? Or is it that, even though we could never meet such a standard, “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (the conclusion of Luke 18)?
    If the book of Acts is the record of the early church preaching the Gospel and growing as a result, I don’t see much societal transformation being preached as gospel…certainly it is there as being required- given the early church’s radical understanding of what it means to do church (selling property for anyone who needs it etc.)- this is never included in their evangelistic preaching.
    So I guess my position is that societal transformation is not optional for Christians: it is an exciting opportunity which all of us are called to engage in. I probably side with Keller, Wright et al that the church has a big part to play in this, not just individuals contra Dever.
    However, Acts seems to me to be pretty clearly teaching that the Gospel itself is not about societal transformation…the latter is the inescapable implication of the gospel?
    On another point, I’m not sure it’s being particularly charitable to say that, ” It looks like Dever is saying that the gospel is only about individuals fleeing the judgement of God and not about what Christ calls his disciples to do…There instead seems to be a dualistic desire to see personal conversion and individual escape from Hell as the sole extent the church’s mission.”
    Surely you know that Dever clearly is not characterizing the Gospel in this way…his understanding of the Gospel is far richer, wider, and deeper than this. He obviously believes it to be fantastic news that as wretched sinners, we are invited to come into the family of the triune God as sons and daughters of the Most High…he believes in adoption & new creation, and not just justification!

  11. The biggest supporter of Mez McConnell’s work amongst the council estates of Edinburgh is Mark Dever . This is not as simple as a straightforward distinction between gospel proclamation and social transformation

    1. interesting is it because it is an individual rather than the church doing it?
      this is why my critique is of the ecclesiology rather than just the straight forward gospel vs social justice issue

      1. I don’t know how De Yong et al are able to argue against the Church as a corporate body getting involved in compassionate ministry.
        Antioch called together it’s elders to discuss the famine in Jerusalem, and then the Apostle to all of the gentiles wrote to the churches in Asia Minor to ask for a contribution towards the famine relief effort.

      2. The social justice v gospel proclamation argument reminds me of the Galatians v James debate. There are liberal leaning churches that need to be challenged to get on and proclaim the gospel. There are conservative leaning churches that need to be challenged to get on and show distinctively Christian love to their neighbours. But setting these two up as opposing truths is foolishness. We are called to be 100% Christian; full of the gospel, full of love.

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