Feb 25

Session 7 Recap: Panel Discussion with Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert

2017 | by Nathan Sherman | Category: Clarus 17

Editor’s Note: Nathan Sherman is the Pastor for Preaching Christ Church, Albuquerque, NM. He is a member of the Albuquerque Chapter of The Gospel Coalition. This post is a summary of a panel discussion from Saturday afternoon, February 25, with Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert.


Question: What do we do with Romans 9 with God’s seeming election of ethnic Israel?

Mark Dever: Paul shows that God’s election is of individuals, not nations.

Greg Gilbert: The problem presented in Romans 9 is that most of the “elect” nation of Israel is in disbelief. So at face-value, it looks like God’s election isn’t working, but Paul explains that not all of ethnic Israel is actually of the elect.

Question: How do we reconcile that the gospel is an invitation that individuals must accept, and yet at the same time affirm God’s sovereignty?

Mark Dever: I’d recommend a great, little book called Big God, by Orlando Saer. The idea that God is sovereign does not mean that he doesn’t use means to accomplish his purposes. One of the clearest places in the Bible is in Acts 4:24 and following. We know that God is sovereign, and we know that we are responsible. We must affirm both of these and then go from there.

Question: How do you know if you’re of the elect?

Greg Gilbert: If you believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, you are of the elect. Don’t wait around wondering if you are or not. If you feel the need to repent of your sins and turn to Christ, then repent of your sins and turn to Christ! Later, you can look back on that and see that God was sovereignly calling you.

Mark Dever: Evangelical Christians have long pondered over these questions, and perhaps the divide between Calvinists and Arminians is wider than we think. We just sang “And Can It Be” by Charles Wesley who was largely Arminian but with wonderful “Calvinist” overtones. We have so much overlap and friendship.

Question: Should everyday Christians care about the Reformation?

Greg Gilbert: It’s been a long time since I’ve paid much careful attention to the details and dates of the Reformation, but the theology of the Reformers acts as a minesweeper for your own theology. They raise questions that you didn’t even know you were wrong about. There is also nothing new under the sun in error, so they are dealing with many of the same things we deal with today.

Mark Dever: Any biography that Banner of Truth publishes will bless your soul. Watch people who have run the race before us and learn.

Question: What did the Reformation change? Is justification at the top of the list?

Mark Dever: The authority of the Scripture alone actually comes before our understanding of justification. Exegetically, there is no way that when Peter hears Jesus say “upon this rock, I will build my church”, Peter then thought, “Hey, I’m the pope.” The foundation and authority of the gospel does not come from the Church—it comes from God revealed to us in Scripture. God’s people never makes God’s Word; God’s Word always makes God’s people.

Another massive doctrine that was affected was the doctrine of assurance. The Reformers and Puritans regularly talked about the “damnable doctrine of doubt.” Rome teaches that it is wrong for someone to presume that they will go to heaven when they die. When your Roman Catholic friend hears you say that you know you are saved, they hear a very prideful statement, but the doctrine of assurance is sweet to us—that we can go to sleep tonight knowing of our salvation through Christ. There was not one person in Europe in 1500 that could do that. There is a reason that the Protestant Reformation lit up Europe.

Question: What about vocation? We hear people talk about the Protestant work ethic.

Greg Gilbert: It’s not at all unrelated to what Mark was just describing. As long as justification is by faith in Christ alone, it changed everything. If I’m saved by Christ alone, then everything that I need is secure in Him and not my work. This doesn’t lead to laziness, because everything that I do is for the King. Wherever you work, you have been deployed there by the King to work with excellence and worship.

Question: Where was the gospel before the Reformation?

Mark Dever: God alone knows the answer to that. As someone who majored in Medieval History, we lament the many splendid centuries that many call the Dark Ages. There is a lot that goes on between Augustine and Luther, and a lot of it was very mixed—Augustine himself has a very Catholic ecclesiology but a very Protestant soteriology. Many people were believing, writing, and preaching many evangelical things—just not with the influence and clarity of the Reformers.

Question: Is the Reformation on-going and do we keep reforming?

Greg Gilbert: One of the battle cries of the Reformation was semper reformanda—always reforming. The same errors and temptations of the human heart to add to our salvation will be there in every generation. I had to have that kind of pride driven out of my heart, and we will have to drive it out of our children’s heart. The work of the Reformation is not that of always-changing, but that of always conforming to the gospel.

Mark Dever: We are here in New Mexico talking about the book of Romans. Why are we doing that? The same reason that Paul did—to make the gospel clear. We are continuing the work of the Reformation.

Question: Are there not saved, regenerate Christians within the Roman Catholic Church?

Greg Gilbert: A college minister of mine answered that very helpfully: “There are probably many people within the Catholic church who are actually saved by grace alone and faith alone, but if they are actually saved, then they are saved in spite of the teachings of the Catholic Church and not because of the teachings of the Church.”

If I were to meet someone in the Catholic Church whom I believed to be saved, I would urge that person to find a church that would not weekly preach against the gospel of Christ alone.

Question: When someone says that the Reformation is over, what do they mean and how do you respond?

Mark Dever: They are probably reflecting that because we live in a very secular age. We are recognizing that we share so much in common with the Roman Catholic Church. But what they are not taking into account is that all of the differences that existed in the 16th Century are still there. We have never had a debate about Jesus or grace or faith. Where we disagree is over the word “only”—that we believe that we are saved through Christ alone through grace alone through faith alone.

Question: What do you say to someone who says, “While I largely trust in Christ alone, sometimes I trust in my own salvation. Am I not saved?”

Mark Dever: You may not be. But we are sinners, even as Christians, so it’s not surprising that you would think like a sinner and trust in your own work. But having said that, it is normal for a Christian to enjoy long periods of great assurance.

Question: If the Reformation was a split from Rome, are we dividing the Church which Jesus said should not be divided?

Mark Dever: Here in this room I have talked to many from extremely diverse traditions and denominations. We didn’t need someone in a pointy hat in Italy to tell us that we had to be here. People all over the world are sharing the gospel very clearly without some earthly authority telling them to or protecting their message. Our Catholic friends think that unity should be visible or organizational. The fact that we give our missionary dollars to thousands of different organizations confuses them. But the visible and organizational structure of the church is just not found in the New Testament—it is a spiritual organization and unity.

Greg Gilbert: If the faith is based on the foundation and teaching of the apostles, then I think we need to ask who are the real schismatics? Who really left the gospel?

Question: Why do many protestants leave their churches? What is alluring about Rome?

Greg Gilbert: The folks that I have known have been unsettled that there is disagreement among Protestants—they want an earthly, authoritative voice to tell them what the Bible means. But I’ve found that many of the most fruitful times in God’s Word have been the times that I have wrestled through the text in disagreement with others.

Mark Dever: The great statistical traffic is from the Roman Catholic Church to Protestant churches and not the other way around. The only reason that the Catholic Church is not beginning to almost entirely close is because of Hispanic migration to the U.S. But I would agree with Greg—when someone leaves for the Catholic Church, it is nearly always a search for authority. If that’s you, then I would encourage you to study history. The Catholic Church has a history of just as many questions, disagreements, and debates.