In a world so reliant on hard evidence and fact, how do we place our faith in the things unseen? In this video, Pastor David Platt interviews Mark Dever as we find out how Pastor Mark Dever became a Christian. Mark Dever, the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., was agnostic for many years until he found Jesus as he studied the Scriptures just like any other historical source or text. Throughout this interview, Mark Dever explains how he threw off skepticism and investigated Christianity for himself. Mark Dever discusses what faith looks like when we ground our truths in Scripture, and how our lives change as a result.
- Childhood Beliefs
- Investigating Christianity
- Using Truth to Share Christianity
Hey, my name is David Platt and we are sitting here at Church at Brook Hills and I’m with Mark Dever, who is senior pastor of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. A brother who has become a dear friend of mine has been very gracious in expressing God’s grace toward me in a variety of different ways, and he’s in town meeting with some of our elders tonight talking about baptism. So Mark-
We’re going to hope to get him baptized, David.
That’s right. Well, yeah, actually, all the elders thankfully have been baptized.
Got some significant issues we’re diving into as a church, so wanting to take some time. Some people may know Mark Dever really, really well. Some people may not. So, but I want you all to have an opportunity to benefit from God’s grace in this brother. So with that, Mark, thanks for doing this-
Brother it’s a privilege to spend time with you.
How Mark Denver Became a Christian
Well, thank you. All right. Give us, especially those who may not know Mark Dever just a glimpse into how Christ drew you to himself.
I was raised in the south, in the US in a nominally Christian home. Brought to church where I heard the gospel as a child, but didn’t keep going to church. By the time I was a young teenager, I was a self-conscious agnostic, and through a period of time really in junior high where I was real thoughtful about life. So I was a weird kid. I sat around reading all the time. I was thinking about philosophy and-
What were you reading in junior high?
World history. I read the Harvard Classic series. So Plato, the Socratic Dialogues, the Quran, the Rubaiyat, Iliad, the Odyssey, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.
I was trying to muster up strength to talk to a girl or something in sixth you were reading [inaudible 00:01:54].
Yeah. Well, we all have our own weirdnesses. That was mine. So I just read all the time, and I didn’t believe in God. I wasn’t an atheist, but I was an agnostic. I just wasn’t sure whether or not there was a God. But as I grew and began to mature, I began to wonder more what life was about. I began to realize school is going to run out some day. I can’t just get my self worth from getting good grades in school.
What Is Life About?
So what’s life about? That kind of question? And the Lord is so kind to bring that kind of question to us in different ways. That’s the way he brought it to my mind. So I began looking at different philosophies, and then I began looking at different world religions, turned last to Christianity. So I actually was reading from the Bhagavad Gita, I read the whole Qur’an, read other things before I ever seriously read the Bible.
Intentionally you were avoiding?
Well, I just assumed that growing up in the US and having gone to church as a child, I knew what Christianity was about. So then I decided to read the gospels. So I read Matthew, Mark Luke and John, and I was really surprised the Lord arrested me, though I didn’t realize that at the time. I was surprised with how sort of ordinary Jesus seemed, how much of a failure he seemed. I mean, his disciples didn’t seem to understand. He was lynched at the end.
But then I didn’t understand how I…I had discounted the supernatural when I read it, kind of like Thomas Jefferson. I just assumed that was not true. So I was just looking at the moral teaching and I was struck by what historically good source it seemed to be. You’ve got all kinds of things that why would you give that detail? Why would you have that unflattering portrayal of someone who later’s a leader of the Christian Church? So particularly after just having come from the Bhagavad Gita, it felt really historical.
But then I was left with a puzzle and this is really what the Lord used. This is the kind of hook that he used to draw me in. If Jesus was a failure, where did Christianity come from? Because Christianity’s not just a philosophy, I mean it’s history, brick and mortar. I mean, you can go knock on a building, somebody planted it, started it, you go back, get their story. They came from someplace.
You can trace this all the way back down to those original disciples in Asia, and they are the ones that first say this, but these guys just a few days earlier didn’t think any of this stuff. So when their rabbi is lynched, these Asian fishermen don’t believe any of this stuff we now call Christianity. So what happened? And that’s the question that it just captured me. And so I read and reread the gospels trying to understand this, and I couldn’t deny the change that seemed to have happened.
I mean, these guys all spread out all over the world, and though we don’t have this in the New Testament from other early historical sources, they just about all die for their faith. So they don’t hang around in Jerusalem and build some psychologically self-reinforcing community trying to believe this extraordinary story of the resurrection. They all scatter every place and give their lives for this. So maybe they were deceived, but I think they were at least sincere. I don’t think it was a plot. I don’t think they were hypocritical. So what made them think that extraordinary thought that a body that was dead and even mutilated got up because they clearly weren’t expecting that. It wasn’t wish fulfillment. So what happened? So as I read and reread the gospels, I became aware that I was reading them as if I were an atheist and not an agnostic.
And you weren’t reading them honestly.
I Didn’t Know there Wasn’t a God
I was trying to read them as honestly as I could. Carefully noting what was there thinking about it. But of course, that made me feel ashamed because I really never had any respect for atheism. I thought that was a more stupid position than Christianity because at least the poor benighted Christians thought they had a source of absolute knowledge that could tell them this stuff. The atheist admits they have no absolute source of knowledge, and yet they make these absolute claims. There is no God. I mean, you just look far better to be an agnostic, just humbly admit. Yeah, I don’t know [inaudible 00:05:54] without knowledge. I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think so, but what do I know? But I realized that I was reading these gospels as if I knew the supernatural were not true. I had to admit before myself, I didn’t know there wasn’t a God.
I didn’t know these things weren’t true. So I was kind of ashamed, just even mentally, why would I make that huge assumption? So I thought, okay, I need to give this thing a fair shot. I need to read through these once as if all this supernatural stuff is true because I don’t know it’s not, I don’t there’s not a God. I don’t know if he hasn’t done all this, so let me just read it again like that. Well, David, that’s when God saved me. I mean, I started to read it through like that and it all made sense. I mean, it was stunning.
So it clicked at that point, reading through the gospels and saying, I’m going to assume this is true-
The click was a kind of slow motion click, but it did click.
How Does Your Personal Story Affect Evangelism?
Yeah. So how does that affect evangelism that you do when you’re sharing the gospel with atheists and or agnostics? How does your even personal story then inform and even how can brothers and sisters be served in thinking through how to more effectively share the gospel with atheist or agnostic friends, or maybe even an atheist or agnostic who’s listening to this for some reason has come upon this and is thinking through some of the same questions. How does that affect evangelism when you think of sharing the gospel with others?
Well, one bad way it’s done, is I have projected the doubts that I had onto other people sometimes when they don’t have those doubts. And so I’ve really gotten into apologetics and tried to do a lot of apologetics on somebody instead of evangelizing. And I’ve tried to-
You’ve given them questions that they should be asking that they weren’t asking [inaudible 00:07:38].
You just might upset them that far.
Exactly. I’ve done a terrible job like that sometimes too often. But as I remember that, then what I try to do is I try to not do apologetics. I try to share the gospel, but then if they have questions, I think God in his providence has used that in my life to make me more empathetic, more careful to listen, to understand what they’re saying, to have empathy with doubt. I understand. I mean, it’s satanic almost to say you have empathy with doubt. But we are in a fallen world, and I’m coming from a man, being a man who doubted and even denied and mocked Christianity.
I’m sad to say. And one says that I understand when somebody’s doing that, and I, it’s like I got 49% of my brain that’s kind of secular and everything I see, I kind of see as if none of this is true, but 51% is decidedly Christian. And when I stare at something, it gets to be a hundred percent. Doubt lives best, I think in peripheral vision, for me anyway, whenever I grab a particular doubt and bring it over into the light, it just vanishes. I think the evidence for Christianity is good, both in my own life, but also historically in other things. So I think it just probably makes me a little on the patient side with conversations with non-Christian friends.