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5 Minutes with Mark Dever

In the recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Old Princeton,” Mark Dever talks about his two most recent publications, The Church and Preach. Here is what he had to say:

What is the benefit of releasing The Church and Preach simultaneously?

That was B&H. The Church I’ve been working on for a while. It appears in Danny Akin’s A Theology for the Church, but because it’s a summary of my thinking about the church and gives a whole ecclesiology, I wanted it available separately. So, I’ve been working on that for awhile and Danny was agreeable and B&H was agreeable, so last summer I finally had time to change some things, to lengthen it a bit and add some things I don’t address in the chapter.

Whereas the Preach book was something we talked about with B&H several years ago. It was just a matter of when Greg Gilbert had time to work on it. I have some preaching lectures I’ve given at various seminaries that form the back end of the book and Greg had come up with some ideas for some other things. So, I sent him the chapters and he chopped them up, popularized them and added some of his own stuff, to which we added my lecture manuscripts and comments in the back.

Regarding The Church, what was your impetus for expanding the chapter from A Theology for the Church into a monograph?

I couldn’t think of a good, modern Baptist ecclesiology that I could easily put in people’s hands. The stuff that I’ve done is all incidental and occasional. It’s trying to address particular situations in churches. I was looking for something that was a more balanced, full ecclesiology. I wanted something more like what Ed Clowney does so well in his book about the church, but of course, Clowney was a Presbyterian. So, while I like 80 percent of it, there’s 20 percent of it that I want to say, “Well, can we think a little bit differently about this?”

How does the church make the gospel visible?

The character of God is reflected in his people. Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians 1:13, “Is Christ divided?” shows that when there were divisions in the church, the assumption was that God’s own being is reflected in the nature of the church. He is one, we are united. Leviticus and 1 Peter talks about how our holiness is to reflect God’s own holiness – and that’s not just us as individuals; that’s us as a community. And love is a great example of that. It is particular aspects of his character that so marks him that is to mark us as well.

To what extent can other conservative Christian, non-Baptists resonate with what you say?

It’s interesting. On the back cover, B&H decided to put two Southern Baptist seminary presidents on there, but also blurbs from two other guys: a Reformed Church of America guy and a Presbyterian Church in America guy. So, I guess they see some utility in it. Inside, I see, they’ve got a blurb from C.J. Mahaney, my charismatic friend. I think as evangelicals, we have a lot of commonality, whatever our differences may be in terms of polity. And much of what this book is intended to do would be things I would hope a good Bible-believing evangelical of whatever polity would be able to agree with.

Where does the rub lie for non-Baptists in your argument?

Certainly in my understanding of baptism. And these days, although Baptists are historically congregational, I think I’m in a minority among Southern Baptists in being self-consciously congregational, though all of our forbearers were.

I think there was a pragmatism in the 20th century, where large churches became CEO-run. I think the multi-service movement, and now the multi-site movement, have just encouraged more confusion in terms of polity.

How important are those issues for a local body?

A local church will have a particular polity and that is very important. It’s obviously not essential to the gospel, but we’re called to be obedient to what God reveals in Scripture, not merely to judge what we think are essential and then obey only those things.

Turning to Preach, how do we get expositional preaching from the model the Bible presents?

We see expositional preaching in the Old Testament with Nehemiah 8, where you see Ezra, the priests and the Levites explaining the Law. And in the New Testament, what Peter is doing in Acts 2 is take various passages from Joel and the Psalms and he interprets those passages and explains them to the people spontaneously, giving explanation of what they’re seeing with the commotion of the early disciples and tongues of fire. When you look through the New Testament, you see this pattern, again and again, of people going to Scripture using pneumonic devices that would help them remember the passages from the Old Testament because they wouldn’t have a written copy of the Scriptures in front of their eyes all the time like we do. And those pneumonic devices are then keys for their climbing into whole passages.

How does biblical theology inform expositional preaching?

Christians have disagreed as to whether you should unveil the whole story in the sermon or discipline yourself to stay only in the parameters of, say, 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, and nothing else – when you’re preaching about that. I see the correct answer is definitely with the former. You should avail yourself of the whole story. I think you want to have a lens particularly to explain the verses that you’re looking at, but I think you always want to do that in light of the whole. And I think when Jesus meets with his disciples after the resurrection, in Luke 24, he explains all of Scripture and how these Scriptures spoke of him. Or when you look at Stephen when he’s being stoned in Acts 7, he gives a biblical theology. Or, the writer of to the Hebrews going through the Old Testament history; or you look at sometimes in the Psalms, David or the psalmist will go through the history of the exodus. I think perspective is gained by remembering what God has done in placing what we’re talking about in a particular instance in a particular context of what God has done. And I think that this helps us to be more amazed at the scale of what God’s about and be more awed and humbled, to be more accurately informed.

What are some essential tools for a preacher to do exegesis for his local congregation?

First, a good translation of the Bible. Second, a heart broken over your own sin and amazement at God’s mercy in Christ.

In terms of resources for preaching, I would say John Stott’s Between Two Worlds, Haddon Robinson’s Biblical Preaching, Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers, Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching, John Piper’s Supremacy of God in Preaching, Ed Clowney’s Biblical Preaching – those would be some good ones. And for the church, I would certainly mention Ed Clowney’s book The Church, John Hammett’s book Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches – that is, I think, quite useful.

Editor’s note: This interview originally appeared in “Towers” with guest interviewer Paul Conrad.

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Each of us are indebted to those theologians of ages past who have gone before us, heralding the gospel, and even fighting to their last breath to keep the God of that gospel high and lifted up. It is hard to think of a group of men more worthy of this praise than those of the Old Princeton heritage. Men like Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and many others, stand in this rich heritage, men who defended the faith once for all delivered to the saints against the ever-growing threat of liberalism around them.

Since this year marks the 200th anniversary of Old Princeton (1812-2012), it is fitting that we devote ourselves to remembering and imitating these great theologians of yesterday, not because they are great in and of themselves, but because their example points us to the great and mighty God we worship. And who better to introduce us to these Old Princetonians than James M. Garretson writing on Archibald Alexander, W. Andrew Hoffecker making our acquaintance with Charles Hodge, Fred Zaspel reminding us of B. B. Warfield, and D. G. Hart increasing our love for J. Gresham Machen? Not to mention a very in-depth interview with Paul Helseth on Old Princton and the debate over “right reason.”  May these articles and interviews inspire us so that in our own day we might experience a revival of this rich orthodoxy that has stood the test of time.

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