Monday, October 1, 2012

Mark Dever - What is the gospel?

In this video, self-styled "slobbering five-point Calvinist" Mark Dever endeavors to answer the question - What is the gospel? Unfortunately his answer, while laden with much biblical truth, is found wanting in several respects, especially from a minister who claims to believe that salvation is monergistic. You will find below a complete transcript of Dever's comments along with theearstohear commentary in blue. We believe that Dever's errors fall into three categories:

1.  Contradictory assertions regarding man's depravity.
2.  The positing of prerequisites for obtaining eternal life.
3.  Failure to attribute man's alienation to Adam's sin.

With that by way of introduction, I will Leave it to Dever....

BEGIN TRANSCRIPT ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mark Dever (MD):  The gospel is the great news that we as Christians have.  The gospel is the story that God is not going to leave this world in the mess that it’s currently in. God is going to, as it says in one place, make all things new.  

theearstohear (TETH):  So far so good.

MD:  Now, that’s not necessarily good news to me unless I’m included in that.  

TETH:  This is an excellent observation on Dever's part. We would state it this way:  The gospel is good news to God's people, not to all of humanity.  

MD:  So how do I get included in that?  

TETH:  Well, this is a bad sign. Is Dever going to suggest that there is something that man can do to "get included" in the monergistic work of salvation?  Surely not.

MD:  Well, I have to come to understand who God is, that I have a creator. I have to come to understand what he’s like, that he is holy and perfect, that he’s loving and merciful, but that I have sinned against him.  

TETH:  Dever posits spiritual "understanding" as either a prerequisite or corequisite to "getting included" in salvation. In sharp contrast, the apostle Paul teaches that the natural man has no spiritual understanding - "There is none that understandeth." (Rom 3:11)  How is a man who Paul says is utterly devoid of understanding, going to acquire the understanding that Dever's gospel requires so that he might obtain eternal life? If such a man can do something to acquire such an understanding and in so doing obtain eternal life, doesn't it betray one's claim that such a man is totally depraved? Dever goes on to add to his list of items which man must understand in order to be included in the work of salvation. Apparently we must also understand what God is like, his holiness, his love and mercy, and one's own sin. Adding requirements to Dever's mission impossible does not improve the likelihood that any will live in glory.

MD:  I’ve separated myself from him by my sin, and that in his love and mercy God could have simply allowed me an earthly life with some pleasures and then let me fall forever under his judgment. 

TETH:  Dever runs right past the sovereign grace truth of the imputation of Adam's sin to all of humanity wherein lies the basis of our sinful practice - "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." (Rom 5:12)  Mankind was separated from God by Adam's sin, not by his own sin. And so David could very plainly say, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity: and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Ps 51:5) Men commit sin as an evidence of an alienation from God that is founded in Adam's transgression. Stated more plainly, Adam sinned to become a sinner; everyone else sins because they are sinners. That Dever attributes an individual man's alienation from God to that individual man's sin is more akin to "the Four Spiritual Laws" than to anything one would expect from one who claims to promote salvation by sovereign grace.

MD:  But in his extraordinary, amazing, unparalleled love, the Son of God has come and taken on flesh. Jesus of Nazareth was fully God and fully man and he lived the life that I should have lived, in perfect fellowship with God. And he died a death that I deserve because I haven’t lived a life in perfect fellowship with God. And then God raised him from the dead, vindicating all the claims that he had made about what his life and his death were about and were for.  

TETH:  All evidently true of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of his people. Read on...

MD:  And he calls me now to repent and to turn from my sins and to trust in him as my savior, so that that which I deserve, I will not get. And that which he has deserved for me will be given to me.    

TETH:  This language is very strangely crafted and is often employed by NeoGrace theologians. It seems to imply a sort-of retroactive effectuation of the atoning work on Christ for your behalf contingent upon repentance and faith. Dever says that one "repent(s)... and... trust(s) so that that which I deserve I will not get." This is completely backwards and fails to embrace the utterly effectual nature of the atoning work of Christ on behalf of his people. Christ atonement is not looking to some act of improvement or ratification from man in order to find its efficacy. Rather, the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished the salvation of his people by fulfilling the covenant of salvation on their behalf. Repentance and faith are not conditions of the covenant of salvation, but provisions of the covenant of salvation.  This is evident in the bible's own definition of faith as:
  1. An Evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1) - namely the preceding acts of election, redemption and regeneration by God alone and without which man would be without the spiritual capacity of faith.
  2. A Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) - which so explicitly expresses the necessity of regeneration in imparting spiritual life (Eph 2:1) and capacities to God's people (John 3:3)
  3. A Gift of God (Phil 1:29) which not all men are given (II Thes 3:2) - which so perfectly defines the domain of the covenant blessings of God's people one and the same with the domain of God-given faith.
MD:  So I have faith in him, I trust him, and this is the good news, this is the gospel.  

TETH:  It is certainly true that the gospel is good news to those who believe in him, but it is not true that one must understand, repent, believe, etc. in order to obtain eternal life. Like so many others today who claim to be preaching salvation by sovereign grace, at first blush, Dever seems to understand the fundamental truth that regeneration imparts eternal life (Eph 2:1) and precedes the act of faith in time (I John 5:1). But upon closer inspection his theology ends up either denying it or relegating it to a thing of no practical value so far as man's salvation is concerned. While many of the NeoGrace movement will academically affirm this point, they refuse to accept its logical ramifications, opting instead for the religion of well-meant offers to all of humanity, prerequisite acts to "get included" in salvation, and other such contradictory religious rubbish. I'll try to state this as plainly as possible:

If your religion is pushing prerequisites for the unregenerate to obtain eternal salvation, 
you're not preaching the religion of Jesus Christ, but the religion of Nicodemus.  

Faith, understanding, and repentance are ever and only performed by a regenerate child of God. They are evidences of a preexisting salvation that was wrought by God alone on behalf of his people who were "ungodly" and "without strength." (Rom 5:6) Until God's people understand the relationship in time between regeneration and faith, they will continue to be blind as a Nicodemian bat when it comes to understanding that their salvation is "all of grace," irrespective of their attempts to commandeer that moniker.

MD:  Uh, this is how I can participate in that, in that recreation, uh, that God will be about, that we read about in the end of the bible, that’s just so marvelous. And that’s great news.  

TETH:  Brother Dever, man cannot participate in his recreation any more than Adam participated in his creation. The fact that man is dead in trespasses and in sins (Eph 2:1) and that the flesh profiteth nothing (John 6:63) so far as eternal salvation is concerned (Matt 19:26) establishes this point beyond any doubt.

If man can do something spiritual, he's not spiritually dead, 
and thus already has eternal life; 
and if he can do something in the flesh to obtain eternal life, 
then the flesh is profitable unto salvation.

And so regeneration, the eternal life giving resurrection act of God alone, must precede the exercise of faith in time (John 1:12-13) even as our Lord and Savior taught saying, "He who is of God heareth God's words." (John 8:47)  Stated another way:

Men believe because they have eternal life, not to obtain eternal life.

The good news is not that one can do something to participate in the work of salvation and thereby "get included." The good news is that Christ has finished the work of salvation on behalf of his people. What a difference! This message is accompanied by the assurance that those who believe it have everlasting life (John 3:16) because they have already passed from death unto life (John 5:24), else they would have no faith whereby to believe the gospel (Heb 4:2). On the basis of that belief, they are called into gospel obedience unto baptism and uniting with the Lord's church to walk in discipleship.

That is the gospel! It is good news to God's people because it says the work of our eternal salvation is DONE! Amen and hallelujah!  

MD:  And that’s the very center of what an evangelical church should be about, and what every Christian’s life should be about.  (Mark Dever,

TETH:  I would agree that the Lord's church should be about the gospel, but what Dever is pushing is NOT the gospel, but a convoluted, self-contradictory form of Calminianism styled as salvation by sovereign grace that breeds confusion among God's people rather than rest. (Matt 11:28)


  1. It is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement, by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, Crossway, 2010.

    Dever and Lawrence are Calvinists who think they believe in effective atonement. But they will not let a God-centered view of election change their basic man-centered approach to “evangelism”. I commend them for having two categories of people; they address themselves both to Christians and to “non-Christian friends”. Unlike many Reformed folks who use the ambiguity of “the covenant”, Dever and Lawrence are Baptists who believe in election. But they give no evidence of believing in federal union. They do not seem to have any idea of some sinners being united by election in Christ, so that the sins of these elect were already imputed to Christ.

    Nor do they seem to have any idea of faith being an benefit to the elect from Christ and His righteousness. Their man-centered approach makes the effectiveness of the atonement depend on faith given by God. They refuse to say that it is an effective atonement for the elect which results in faith by the elect in the true Christ revealed in the true gospel. This lack of attention to federal union is not caused by their being Baptists, nor by the absence of “the covenant” language. Rather, the problem is that they still have a gospel in common with Arminians.

    On page 75, Dever asks: “But who did Jesus die for? Well, I think
    Scripture is very clear on that. In Isaiah 53 we are told that the Servant would bear the sin of many and that he would justify many…That says to me that the Servant dies for and bears the iniquities of the very same ones he justifies.” This is the truth, but it not a truth that governs most of this book of sermons about the cross. Later on that same page (75), Dever refers to the sufficient and efficient formula, but never explains in what way he thinks the cross was enough for the non-elect (who all perish). Yes, “Christ knew those for whom he was laying down his life, and they were the same ones that the Father had elected”, but this statement does not rule out the idea that the death and the election were conditioned on foreseen faith. This statement lacks the antithesis to Arminianism.

    To make that antithesis, we need to talk about a federal union before we talk about an union by faith, and we need to talk about faith being a benefit given to the elect because of Christ’s obedience even to death. Lawrence (on p 97) correctly objects to any reading of John 3:16-17 which thinks that Christ’s “death made salvation possible but stopped short of actually accomplishing it.” He rightly points out that “our faith does not accomplish salvation.” But of course every Arminian I know would agree that faith is not the cause of salvation. If the death of Jesus is sufficient to save the non-elect, then saving faith cannot be a result of Christ’s death. And when that is so, you are left with an evangelism in which union with “Christ” (the false one who died for everybody) because of faith becomes everything.

  2. Dever describes mainline compromised Calvinism on p 144. He writes,
    “justification is not the same kind of merely objective act that
    propitiation is…Christ’s giving of Himself satisfied the demands of the Father’s judgment against us. He did it alone; we played no part in it. Justification, however, includes us and our faith in a way that propitiation did not. We must believe in order to be justified. “

    I agree that propitiation and justification are different, but I would deconstruct the difference as Dever locates it. Like most Calvinists, he and Lawrence have not considered the idea of a “justification
    through faith” in which the regeneration and faith of the elect are the immediate result of God’s imputation and act of justification. Of course they have heard of federal union (which they may equate with eternal justification), but they see no other alternative to a justification conditioned on what God does in the elect sinner in causing that sinner to believe. (See the essays by Bruce McCormack and Carl Braaten about Calvin putting regeneration in first place before justification, or see Edward Boehl’s discussion of John Owen in his The Reformed Doctrine of Justification.) Yes, it’s true that the elect are only justified when they believe, but it is not being honest to the truth of eternal election in union with Christ to say that faith is the instrumental condition of justification. But it does make Arminian evangelism easier.

    Who are the we? Who are the us? The New Testament letters were written for those who were already believing the gospel. Of course this “mail for Christians” is also meant to be read and proclaimed to those who have not yet believed the gospel (elect and non-elect). And the pastors Dever and Lawrence, who first did these sermons in their Southern Baptist church, do a good job of making a distinction between Christians and non-Christian friends. But they refuse to talk to these friends about election or about how the effectiveness of the cross not only satisfies justices but causes the elect to believe. Instead, they tell non-Christians that they “can be” saved if they trust Jesus (even the false one who died without anybody’s sin being imputed to Him at the time). Instead, they write as if faith is the way to get sins imputed to Christ, as if the lost sinner is the one who is the imputer.

  3. On page 200, Dever asks:”what will you do with your sins?” On page 213, he asks: “But did Jesus die for you? It depends. Do you know yourself to be unrighteous?” Is it adding to the gospel (and therefore a false gospel of additions) to tell sinners that making your faith to be the difference between saved and lost is unrighteousness, and that trusting the gospel means understanding and repenting of Arminian assumptions?

    My plea is not that the lost have to learn what an Arminian is before they can believe the gospel. My plea is that those who teach the gospel show how Christ’s death is effective for the elect by showing how the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ by God, and not by the sinner.

    It is well and good to tell the sinner that if she understands herself to be self-righteous, then she has a substitute. But part of
    self-righteousness is any idea that we cause Christ to become our
    substitute because God make us believers. Rather, God makes the elect to become believers because the elect died in union with Christ, so that His death is their death. This book has no reference to II Cor 5:15 and its reference to Romans 6 makes “baptism” to be a symbol of our faith (instead of God placing the elect into Christ’s death). On this page (111, in the middle of a very interesting sermon on the irony of “better that one man die”), Lawrence writes out plainly the assumption: “through faith, sinners like you and me are brought into union with Christ so that our sins are credited to him.”

    Why do I call this Arminian evangelism? Don’t the Arminians say that all the sins of all sinners have already been credited to Christ, and that this is ineffective? Well, no, they would not agree that it’s ineffective; they simply say that the whole thing is also conditioned on faith. While the Calvinist disagrees with the Arminian about the source of this faith, as long as the Calvinist does not talk of a federal union in which God has already credited the sins of the elect to Christ, they can share the same gospel. They can also agree not to mention that the non-elect sinner cannot believe the true gospel. They can very much agree not to mention that the non-elect CAN believe the false gospel that God loves everybody and that “Christ” died for everybody.

  4. On page 38, they write: an atonement needs to be made for you. No,this is not correct. An atonement has already been made. An atonement has already been made for the elect alone. It is not true to say to the unbeliever: “or you can trust that someone else has suffered for your sins and paid the penalty for them.” (p56) An unbeliever can believe that, and also believe that her believing is what made that penalty to be effective in her case, but if she does that, she is still in her sins, and still worshiping a false God who cannot save. But the true gospel tells sinners that God is the one who put Christ to death for the sins of the elect, and that this same Christ will return a second time “without sin”, all the future sins of the elect having been paid.

    Again, I am not asking that evangelists explain to the lost what
    Arminianism is. Rather, I am asking us to not proclaim an Arminian gospel. The Bible talks about “us” and “our” sins, but it never sounds Arminan or resorts to an Arminian logic. Let us try to do the same thing. When we tell people that God saves “as many as” (whosoever) has faith in Jesus, let us make sure that we tell them for whom Jesus died. Let’s NOT merely say: “there is no other qualification, no other work, no other standard to be met.” (p126). Faith is not what makes Christ’s death effective for us: the Holy Spirit is not the One who makes the atonement work.

    Faith is not a qualification, but a result of Christ’s death, a benefit of Christ’s righteousness. (II Peter 1:1) It is true to say that “without trust we will know no benefit through his death” (p152), but it not the whole truth, and it becomes a lie when we do not rule out he idea that trust is what makes the death work. And we cannot rule out trust as what makes the death work, unless we teach that trust is a result given to the elect by the instrument of Christ’s death for the elect.

    God has a non-elect. My worry is not that some of the non-elect will be saved. But neither should these pastors worry that the elect will not be saved if they told the truth that God has a non-elect and that God does not love all sinners. But Dever and Lawrence assure their non-Christian friends that “God wants you to wake up to the spiritual peril you are in”. (p153). But this is not true of all non-Christians who God has predestined to be listening to these sermons. Certainly God commands in God’s law what God has not ordained to happen. But God’s gospel does not include any idea that God “wants” things to happen that will not happen.