A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Steve West
About the Author
Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He is the president of 9Marks and has published numerous works on ecclesiology and church leadership.
Table of Contents
Foreword by H. B. Charles Jr.
Preface to the Fourth Edition (2020)
Preface to the Third Edition (2013)
Preface to the Second “New Expanded Edition” (2004)
Chapter 1: Expositional Preaching
Chapter 2: Gospel Doctrine
Chapter 3: A Biblical Understanding of Conversion and Evangelism
Chapter 4: A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership
Chapter 5: Biblical Church Discipline
Chapter 6: A Biblical Concern for Discipleship and Growth
Chapter 7: Biblical Church Leadership
Chapter 8: A Biblical Understanding and Practice of Prayer
Chapter 9: A Biblical Understanding and Practice of Missions
Appendix 1: Tips for Leading the Church in a Healthy Direction
Appendix 2: “Don’t Do It!” Why You Shouldn’t Practice Church Discipline
Appendix 3: The Original 9 Marks Letter
For many readers, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church is a well-known resource that has served as a help and guide in the area of practical ecclesiology. It is not surprising that this book has had numerous printings, as well as been published in updated editions. For those who are familiar with the original, what might be surprising about this fourth edition is that some of the nine marks have changed! This change has not come from deletion, but from merging a few of the marks together and the addition of two new ones.
Dever was always clear that his nine marks were not the definitive list, and the changes in this fourth edition are salutary. By combining the marks of biblical theology and the gospel into one chapter on gospel doctrine, and by combining the material on conversion and evangelism, Dever was able to create room for new chapters on prayer and missions respectively. One suspects that if the title of 9Marks was not such a recognizable ministry brand, this edition of the book could have kept things as they were with the addition of two new chapters and the title of Eleven Marks of a Healthy Church. The reader of this edition is not getting less than they got in previous iterations: they are getting more.
At this time in history, much of the book’s contents do not seem groundbreaking, and this is partly owing to the tremendous influence the original Nine Marks book had on conservative evangelical ecclesiology. Dever’s ministry has shaped and influenced countless pastors, seminary professors, and students, as well as local church leaders. His material is often studied by elders, deacons, and in small group Bible studies. Many other prominent evangelical leaders have shared platforms with 9Marks and supported the general thrust of the ministry. In many churches and circles, this is still the go-to book for beginning to think about the basics of church structure, organization, and ministry. Leaders and laypersons alike have found it an extremely valuable resource.
Looking at the marks laid out in this book, most of them will find wide agreement in much of evangelicalism today. The primacy of expository preaching with the gospel as the heart of the preaching ministry resonates widely. The importance of biblical theology is likewise now assumed in many places. Even accepting a plurality of elders in churches that are congregational in structure seems fairly typical today. So does the idea that the New Testament teaches the importance of church discipline.
For those who are not familiar with 9Marks, this book can be very helpful in removing a caricatured understanding of the ministry’s teaching about eldership and church discipline. Dever does not teach that elders rule the church and that the congregation has no say in important decisions. In point of fact, he says nothing of the kind and comes from quite a different perspective. He is also very careful in talking about the practice of church discipline.
The second appendix in this book is actually about how not to rush into church discipline in a church that is unfamiliar with the practice. Far from envisioning heavy-handed, authoritarian, and draconian elders punishing people for every tiny misdemeanor, Dever presents the biblical case for church discipline that is rooted in Scriptural texts and God’s holiness and love. Although churches and pastors may disagree about how to proceed in a given set of circumstances, the theology of discipline that Dever presents from Scripture is hard to argue against without making several biblical passages irrelevant for the life of the church in this age.
The material in Nine Marks of a Healthy Church can be implemented in any local church without making it a clone of Capitol Hill Baptist Church where Dever pastors. In a world where pastors’ shelves can groan under the weight of books on ministry and church life, perhaps the highest praise one can give a book on these topics is that it is actually worth picking out of the crowd and reading. This book is one of a select number that is. Whether for encouragement to continue doing what one is already doing, for clarifying vision for the church, or for seeing a new perspective on certain aspects of ministry, this book can be a help. Especially at the level of church leadership teams or small group studies, the combining of material and the two new chapters can really help.
For a church member who is not in vocational ministry, a chapter on prayer or on missions may seem more relevant than a chapter on biblical theology. These new chapters can help mobilize and engage church members in fresh ways. For example, an individual may doubt that they will contribute much in the field of biblical theology, but they may be encouraged to participate in prayer or in supporting missions. As helpful as the first edition of Nine Marks proved to be, this edition should prove to be even more beneficial for more people in the church.
Steve West is pastor of Madoc Baptist Church in Madoc, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Heritage College and Seminary and Toronto Baptist Seminary. He is also an assistant editor here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
NINE MARKS OF A HEALTHY CHURCH, 4TH EDITION, by Mark Dever