9Marks Turns Left
Since its founding roughly 20 years ago, 9Marks Ministries has been assisting churches throughout the United States and across the world to become more biblically minded by applying the “9 marks of a healthy church.” Among these marks are such indispensible church qualities as expositional preaching, biblical theology, evangelism and membership. The 9Marks ministry itself was born out of the vision of Mark Dever, the Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (Southern Baptist Convention affiliate) in Washington D.C. starting in 1998. Since its inception, 9Marks has grown to encompass a network of churches, a publishing arm churning out a multitude of books, conferences, a user friendly website full of articles on a plethora of topics and perhaps most importantly, a place of influence within the Gospel Coalition, T4G, The Shepherd’s Conference and several other evangelical think tanks and conference circuits.
In form and growth, 9Marks has shared much in common with Grace To You (of John Macarthur fame), Mark Dever frequently having been a keynote speaker at the Shepherds Conference, hosted by Grace Community Church. Despite many commonalities, recent revelations and developments have made it clear that the two ministries are beginning to head in very different directions. It was at the 2019 Shepherds Conference that some hints of a more leftward trajectory seemed to be obvious not only with Mark Dever, but also with several other evangelical leaders with whom he shared the stage during an immensely awkward Q&A session concerning social justice (specifically, the Dallas Statement). While Dever didn’t say a lot during the exchange it was clear there was not agreement on issues relating to the church’s position on social justice. This was within the context of two major 2018 evangelical conferences that mainstreamed leftist viewpoints about social justice, one in which Dever partook in a panel discussion about gaining pastoral inspiration from Martin Luther King. While there were already inklings that Dever may have been influenced by leftward trends in the evangelical world (for example, tweeting: “#BlackLivesMatter seems to be a wonderfully pro-life statement as well” in 2016), recently this has become more blatant among 9Marks in general.
The most unapologetically left among those in any prominent position who fall under the 9Marks umbrella is unquestionably Thabiti Anyabwile. Thabiti (formally Ron Burns before changing his name) served with Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church as a pastor before pastoring in the Cayman Islands and eventually at Anacostia River Church in Washington D.C., but also being a frequent contributor to the Gospel Coalition where he has his own blog. Though platformed by the traditionally conservative ministry, Thabiti’s stances have been anything but conservative. Among his blatantly leftist positions he advocated voting for Hilary Clinton in 2016, advocated supporting pro-abortion candidates in 2018, wanted white Americans to “admit their parents and grandparents were complicit” in “murdering” MLK in a 2018 blog and has consistently advocated for immensely divisive slavery reparations. While not currently a full time staff member with 9Marks, Thabiti’s contributions continue to be prominent in the ministry. He has written several books for 9Marks, published many articles and was a featured conference speaker as late as the fall of 2019.
Dr. Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director for 9Marks, as well as an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Washington D.C. and an adjunct professor at several seminaries. As one of the primary mouthpieces for 9Marks, Leeman’s voice is often heard through podcasts, lectures and articles on the 9Marks website. If one reads or listens to Leeman’s work, there is a tendency to glorify the “third way” (Christians being neither right nor left but seemingly as a cover for drifting left), for example, his talk on “the Death of Christian Unity” in which he refers to identity politics as both a “useful ally” and a “misleading ally.” Despite trying to present nuanced views of both sides of political issues, it seems that Leeman and 9Mark as a whole is basically supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. Leeman celebrated attending a non-socially distant rally after the death of George Floyd in early June, 2020. Just days before the rally, 9Marks published an article by Michael Lawrence, a pastor in Portland Oregon that advocated affirming media narratives concerning several recent racially charged incidents.
While only recently having attended the rally, Leeman published a confusing response to the elders of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles concerning their decision to reopen the church in defiance of state and local government. Leeman’s article seemed to simultaneously praise (calling the statement “wonderful”) and challenge Grace’s decision to reopen, putting forward several arguments for continued subjugation to California’s draconian lockdown mandates. Because of the perplexed reactions to his article, Leeman put out another article attempting to clarify his position in which he mentions among other things, that he invited his church to attend the FaithWorksDC march (though also recognizing that his congregation may not agree with his stance), which appears to have been a Chrisitanized BLM rally.
While there is no doubt variation in the views of those directly involved with 9Marks, the seeming leftward movement among its primary leaders is at the very least, concerning.