The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander

Mark Dever is a pastor with strong and definite ideas about the church. Readers will warm to his ideas based upon their own church background and convictions. Dever’s church is Southern Baptist with some unique distinctions. Like most Baptist churches it is congregational in polity, which will not resonate with many. Unlike most Baptist churches it is elder led, which will rankle any normal Baptist (p. 131). Southern Baptists may take offense at Dever’s emphasis on keeping the membership roll “clean” and on multiple elders giving leadership to the church. Seeker-sensitive church leaders will be offended at Dever’s views of worship, entertainment, and the gospel (he provides a wonderful biblical definition). Non-reformed believers should be unhappy with Dever’s misuse of Ezekiel 37:1-14 to proclaim that Christians today have a new heart (pp. 35, 105, 197), as well as his abuse of Colossians 2:11-15 to force the same conclusion (p. 105). Others will wonder how he could say, based on 1 Corinthians 5, that a disciplined member is removed from the membership rolls and is excluded from communion (neither found in 1 Corinthians 5) but is allowed to attend church (which surely is forbidden in the passage) (p. 71). Dever also takes a questionable view of Hebrews 13:17, stating that elders are accountable for the souls on the membership rolls, but are not for those who are removed (p. 48). That would mean the elders have no accountability for a faithful attendee of many years who is not a member but do for a member who has not attended in a decade.

On a more philosophical front Dever, opposes multiple worship services but provides no clear alternative for the growing church (pp. 86-88). He disagrees with staff specialties (e.g. youth pastor) but does not detail how a staff of generalists would function in real life (pp. 166).

All of this to say The Deliberate Church has some holes in it that need to be recognized. Having said that, however, I need to clearly state that this is a mighty fine book. Dever is, in essence, telling us how his church, Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., functions. Admittedly, he is dogmatic about some of his convictions, but his ideas are worth pondering even if some are dismissed. Dever has attempted, with apparently much success, to develop a church which is centered on the Word. He is not chasing the latest fad, looking for gimmicks or jumping on the newest movement. He is going back to the basics of Scripture and building a church on that foundation. On the particulars there may be room to wiggle, but he has nailed the principles.

I especially appreciate his definition of the gospel and method of evangelism (pp. 44, 51ff). His understanding of the role of the pastor and elders is outstanding (e.g. p. 94). He rightly believes that theology drives method. Dever provides excellent philosophy and ideals concerning worship services. He devotes nine chapters to elders and how they are to function in the spiritual leadership of the local church.

In an age when most books on the local church are filled with unbiblical concepts, ways to entertain the “seekers” or the newest wave of postmodern tripe, The Deliberate Church is refreshing. I recommend that all church leaders read this helpful book.