I’m reading The Deliberate Church, by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander at the moment. I love this book. I’m finding tonnes of helpful advice and profound theology in these pages. So very helpful as I am currently working on a) developing a biblically faithful model for building a church and, b) thinking through topics of research for my Master’s degree “graduating essay”. I had been thinking, under the previous grad essay guidelines, of writing about forensic justification—that it is not, as N.T. Wright argues, an invention of the Protestant Reformation, but lately I’ve been rethinking the idea along the lines of the power and effectiveness of God’s Word, specifically the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for not only salvation but also for the building and health of the local church.
That’s where The Deliberate Church comes in: sort of a sequel to Mark Dever’s other books, it contains his mature reflections from years of ministry articulated as a model for building a healthy church. There are so many good quotes I’ve barely restrained myself from tweeting (a couple managed to get out anyway!), but one paragraph on page 56 is so well put, I had to share it here.
We shouldn’t want our Gospel presentations or invitations to be finally molded by what we think will “close the deal.” If they are, then they reveal that we think conversion is something we can orchestrate, which is the furthest thing from the truth. Instead of using all our powers to convict and change the sinner, while God stands back as a gentleman quietly waiting for the spiritual corpse, His declared spiritual enemy, to invite Him into his heart, let’s preach the Gospel like gentlemen, trying to persuade but knowing that we can’t convert. Then let’s stand back while God uses all of His powers to convict and convert and change the sinner. Then we’ll see clearly just who has the power to call the dead to life. (The Deliberate Church, p. 56)
This is along the lines of the “big lesson” my 8 newbie years of pastoral ministry have taught me. I’ve seen God move and save people in spite of my efforts. The more I tried to put on evangelistic programs and events, the more discouraged I became with the paltry results. But the more I learned to preach the Bible faithfully, the more God seems to have moved of His own free will to save people through the Gospel and to the Gospel. The above quote from Dever/Alexander (they both say in the introduction that the other man was primarily responsible for writing this book) shows how foolish I was to think my efforts had anything to do with conversions. You can’t persuade a corpse to do anything, much less believe the news you’re trying to convince it of—no matter how good the news is. Its ears don’t hear anymore. Its eyes don’t see anymore. Its mind doesn’t think anymore. Its a dead thing. And that’s the biblical picture of the spiritual condition of natural, unsaved, unconverted, unregenerate people: spiritual corpses.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–” (Eph 2:1-5 ESV)
How good is God to save His enemies by sheer grace in spite of our unspeakable offense against Him and in spite of our unrelenting hostility toward Him? “…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us… made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” That’s how to talk to corpses. Don’t argue with them, try to persuade them or manipulate them. Just announce to them God’s good news as it’s found in the Bible and let God’s power do the rest.