Like many, I am sort of a hybrid of church cultures. I grew up in a non-denominational vanilla theology wanna-be megachurch. I did my MDiv at the Southern Baptist Theological seminary and I have served in Southern Baptist churches. I hold to a reformed soteriology but many in the “reformed” world view me as a “low calvinist,” which is fine because I think of them as “Big R” reformed folk. I don’t think you can rely solely on either presuppositional or evidential apologetics. I consider myself “missional” but not “emergent.” I believe that the church needs to get off of its collective butt and start loving and serving our communities while never losing sight of the fact that we are called to preach the Gospel; the good news about Jesus, who He is, and what He’s done.
As such, I have been thinking a lot lately about this clip featuring Ed Stetzer interviewing Mark Dever.
Url Scaramanga wonders: “Is Dever asking us to put theological tradition ahead of Scripture?” I must admit, when I first came across this segment, I wondered similar things. After all, I find myself in the midst of a church culture where personal evangelism has been so emphasized that it takes a lot for people to realize that it also means that they should go out and serve the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). I find myself having to remind people that the Gospel is about so much more than just “going to heaven when you die” and here is Dever saying that we don’t emphasize personal evangelism enough.
Dever admits that “gospel” has restoration/kingdom aspects to it but want to make sure that, as he says: ”that individual component has to be there.” He notes that in Acts, when the “Gospel of the Kingdom” was proclaimed, individuals repented and were baptized.
But here’s the thing: I have no idea who Dever is concerned about. He doesn’t name names, instead simply noting that if ”this generation that’s coming now” focuses primarily on Matthew 5 and 1 Peter 2 and doing good works so that the world will glorify God when He visits us and that’s what we major on, “then nobody’s going to evangelize.”
But I don’t know anyone in the missional world who espouses or practices any such thing. In fact, I have been tremendously challenged in these areas by Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, Neil Cole, Jeff Vanderstelt, Caesar Kalinowski, Steve Timmis, Tim Chester, Hugh Halter, Matt Smay, and even Ed Stetzer with whom Dever is speaking. No missional leader that I know would say that Francis Assisi’s quote: “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words” is adequate. Everyone I hear in the current missional conversation is calling for missionary lives of service coupled with the loving, humble proclamation of the Gospel.
So, why is Dever so concerned? It seems to me that there are at least 3 options, if not more:
- Dever has specific people in mind whom he simply chooses not to name.
- Dever is simply concerned about the possible “trajectory” of kingdom theology moreso than its actual current practice.
- Dever has larger concerns with the “missional” movement (which I am largely equating with the issue of “kingdom” that Dever and Stetzer discuss because that connection is there with every missional leader I read or listen to).
There are probably other options that I’m missing but these seem to me to be the most likely. I think it’s probably mostly #2, that Dever is concerned with the possible trajectory of current emphasis on “kingdom work.” After all, we have come through the era of the “social gospel” where the actual proclamation of the Gospel was often next to nil. However, the cynical side of me is concerned about the comment Dever makes at the 1:05 mark: ”I’m all about community . . . in one sense . . . ” Nearly every missional leader I know emphasizes community, so is Dever making a jab here or am I making too much out of his comment? I’m not sure.
Do you know the people about whom Dever is speaking? Do you know people who’ve swung the pendulum so far into “good works and service” that they no longer share the Gospel? As I’ve said, my experience seems to be the polar opposite. I find far too many Christians who simply think all we ever have to do is “get to the Gospel” with someone; so much so that it ends up being unloving because people simply become a number or a project. We’ve trained our people for years that it’s all about the sharing of the Gospel so that it’s not uncommon for well-intentioned Christians to not even know their neighbors’ names but they feel faithful because once, when they first moved in, they told those neighbors that God is mad at them and Jesus can make it all better.
The Gospel cannot be separated from words or action. I appreciate so much of Dever’s ministry but I’m just a bit confused about who he is going after here. Do you know these people?