Is Daniel Owen’s Blackhawk Fitchburg Neo-Calvinist and 9 Marks? Are they confused? Or is Mark Noll’s Theory on the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Further Validated?

Is Blackhawk Fitchburg Neo-Calvinist and a part of 9 Marks? This looks at an Evangelical Free Church in the Madison, Wisconsin area. If Blackhawk Fitchburg is not Neo-Calvinist why are they in the 9 Marks church search? Does this validate Mark Noll’s theory on the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind? Or is Blackhawk Fitchburg just confused? 

“At Blackhawk we are trying to build a loving community that follows Christ in order to reach the community that is all around us, both locally and globally. We are trying to do that by becoming the kind of church the Bible describes – a church with relevant teaching, God-honoring worship, honest friendships, continual prayer and compassionate love for people. We know that life can be tough and challenging. You won’t hear easy answers to complex issues here. We believe in an invisible God who sent His Son, a couple of thousand years ago, to a culture that none of us has experienced in a place that is on the other side of the planet. What is easy about any of that? On top of that He gave us instructions He wants us to follow, but no one has ever followed them completely without fail. We know this is not easy to translate or digest in our world. Together we are learning what it really means to be Christ-followers. And we hope you choose to visit us – whether you’re just starting to ask questions about God, or are a committed Christ-follower or some place in between. We hope you will find Blackhawk to be a place where you can grow in your journey toward God. If you’re new, check out the Connect page to see the ways you can get involved and connected at Blackhawk Church.”

How Blackhawk Fitchburg describes itself at 9 Marks

“You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.


“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

Oscar Wilde    

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Zechariah 14:9 NIV

Daniel Owen the Lead Pastor of Blackhawk Fitchburg 

The maestro of 9 Marks Jonathan Leeman

Blackhawk Church in Madison, Wisconsin started in a living room in 1965 when a small group from nearby Bethany Evangelical Free Church made a decision to plant a church further west. They purchased a building on Blackhawk Avenue and the original church had 19 people. In 1986 the church moved to Whitney Way, and still kept its name from Blackhawk. In 1994 Chris Dolson became the senior pastor of Blackhawk. Chris is originally from Indiana and earned a B.S. from Indiana State University. He went on to obtain a Masters of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Seminary. For many in Wisconsin Chris is also a heretic. After all in Milwaukee Brewer country he supports the Chicago Cubs. In 1994 about 300 people attended Blackhawk. The motto of Blackhawk became “Building a Community to Reach a Community.” The Whitney Way location was expanded three additional times. In the course of time new services were added as well as video and offsite venues. In 2000 the Blackhawk congregation supported an initiative from the elders. The idea was to move to one location that would allow for continued growth. Eventually a location was found on Brader Way in the spring of 2006 and the building was completed in 2007. In 2010 Blackhawk opened a couple of other locations. In the fall of 2010 Blackhawk Downtown opened at the Majestic Theater. In the spring of 2013 Blackhawk Fitchburg began meeting at Savanna Oaks Middle School.  The Fitchburg location is led by Daniel Owen. Daniel originates from Memphis, Tennessee. Daniel went to Denver Seminary where he earned a Masters of Divinity. Daniel came on staff at Fitchburg in 2015. This post is going to be about the Fitchburg location of Blackhawk. 


What is 9 Marks? 

When I was calculating the growth of Neo-Calvinism/Neo-Puritanism in the Forest Lakes District of the EFCA I ran 115 churches through the 9 Marks database. To my surprised I learned that Blackhawk Fitchburg is listed as being a part of 9 Marks. I have the description from the 9 Marks database up above leading this post. So we must ask the question, what is 9 Marks? 

9 Marks grew out of a book Mark Dever wrote in 2004 called “9 Marks of a Health Church.”  Mark Dever is a Neo-Calvinist and the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church here in Washington, D.C. Mark Dever went to Duke University where he earned a B.A. That was followed with a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a Masters of Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Finally he earned a Doctor of Philosophy in ecclesiastical history from Cambridge University.  “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” has become the banner of the Neo-Calvinist movement. There is a ministry called 9 Marks that has arisen and is the darling of the Neo-Calvinists. Jonathan Leeman is a key player in this organization as its editor. 9 Marks has even organized a church directory that allows for Neo-Calvinists to find 9 Marks churches. However, Neo-Calvinism as taught by Mark Dever should be thought more like a virus, similar to the Ebola virus;  I will explain why shortly. 

The 9 Marks of a Health Church as Mark Dever has written are the following: 

  1. Preaching
  2. Biblical Theology
  3. The Gospel 
  4. Conversion 
  5. Evangelism
  6. Membership
  7. Discipline
  8. Discipleship
  9. Leadership

Now that all sounds wonderful and fantastic. After all who would have a problem with “Biblical Theology”, evangelism, or discipleship? Well actually there are many reasons to be concerned. Coming from a hardcore Neo-Calvinist perspective Mark Dever and company view those who are not Neo-Calvinist in low light. 9 Marks is not about making a church healthy, its about advancing and advocating for a hard core  form of Neo-Calvinism. After all you could be Armenian or somewhere in between and be a great expositor and be solid on the theology. The fact is that if you are not preaching Neo-Calvinism then really you are not preaching the gospel at all, from their perspective.  But there is another dark side to 9 Marks. Its connected with what happened with C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries (today Sovereign Grace Churches). 

In the summer of 2011 controversy and scandal involving C.J. Mahaney erupted and spilled out onto the internet. Mahaney who had called the church the dearest place on earth (a reference to Charles Spurgeon I believe…) fled Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Allegations of Mahaney covering up child sex abuse and of practicing blackmail against Larry Tomczak came out. Mahaney who fled, then took refuge at Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Mark Dever who can be a theological dictator and totalitarian took him in. In the process church discipline was revealed to be applied only to the people in the pews. In my analysis Mark Dever violated several 9 Marks. Those 9 Marks that were violated were the following: 

  1. Membership
  2. Leadership
  3. “The Gospel”
  4. Discipline
  5. Discipleship 

I wrote a post about how Mark Dever made 9 Marks worthless in “9 Marks: What is it? How Mark Dever Undermined it and Made it Worthless.” So if Blackhawk Fitchburg is into Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, what I will say is that church members have a lot of toilet paper to use. If people at Blackhawk want to read more about embattled C.J. Mahaney they can read “Pastor Accused of Covering Up Abuse Returns to Spotlight” in The Daley Beast. Plus I have written quite a few articles about SGM and C.J. Mahaney that you can find in the directory of this blog. 


Does this Valdidate Mark Noll’s Theory on the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind? 

In 1994 Mark Noll, who taught at Wheaton published a book that would lead to an earthquake in evangelicalism. That book was called “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” In that book Mark Noll wrote about how evangelical Christianity lacked intellectualism and how he felt betrayed by the modern evangelical faith. The book won the book of the year I believe by Christianity Today and helped explain why evangelicalism is anti-intellectual.

I wrote a post about how I have seen the scandal of the evangelical mind play out regularly in evangelicalism and more. I saw it in Mormonism when I was younger in seeing evangelicals struggle with discernment in regards to Joseph Smith being a false prophet, as they were converting into Mormonism. I have seen it in modern evangelicalism in sensing the hostility some evangelicals have for fields such as science. And I have seen it in Neo-Calvinism when I saw a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy call his Sovereign Grace church “the healthiest thing he knew.” This is despite the fact that his pastor (Eric Simmons) was not educated, and that C.J. Mahaney’s network of churches was bleeding horrific stories of corruption, allegations of criminal activity and more, which validated atheism.  Over and over I have routinely see this issue pop up. I wrote about it in “From Mormonism in Montana to Sovereign Grace in the Washington, D.C. Area; The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Comes Full Circle.” The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind can definitely be a factor in that the Fitchberg staff is not aware of theological issues, lacks depth, and can’t see things in the wider theological context. That is a possibility. However, it can also be another issue as well. 


Or is Daniel Owen’s Blackhawk Fitchburg Just Confused? Plus my Assessment on Fitchburg 

Another possibility is that Daniel Owen’s Blackhawk Church is just confused. They are confused and like many evangelical churches are enamored with fads and just filled out the paperwork and submitted it without thinking as to what they were associating with. Of course this creates its own problems as it leaves me to ask the question. Does Blackhawk Fitchburg have an identify crisis? Do they know what they believe? Its sad that one can go into many Christian churches and encounter staff and leaders who don’t know the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism or can explain issues like the trinity. After all there is a huge difference between regular grace and the doctrines of grace. Does Blackhawk Fitchburg know the difference? And of course how effective are these places in evangelizing or sharing the Gospel with atheists, agnostics and skeptics who can ask pointed and sharp questions about the problem of evil, theistic evolution, the problem of pain and suffering and more?  While I think the EFCA has enormous potential I see situations like this that raise a red flag.

Here’s what I believe is the situation. Blackhawk Fitchburg is not Neo-Calvinist. Mark Dever and the 9 Marks crowd wouldn’t believe Daniel Owen and his crowd to be Christian. So I don’t believe Blackhawk Fitchburg is 9 Marks at its core. If you want to see a real example of a 9 Marks church in the Forest Lakes District look at River Hills Community Church in Janesville, Wisconsin, which is south of Madison.  That church is led by Aaron White.  Do I think Mark Noll’s “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” can be at play here? That I can see more of…however that just doesn’t represent itself entirely here as that issue pops itself in so many places in Evangelicalism. What I think happened is that Blackhawk Fitchburg is just confused. I believe they are confused about what they believe. They probably signed up for 9 Marks not realizing what they were doing. That is what I suspect happened.  I hope Blackhawk Fitchburg can grow and learn from this post and I hope the other Blackhawk locations can also learn from this situation as well. This post is a way to introduce myself to the Blackhawk Churches. If Blackhawk wants to learn more about me they can do so in “First Free Church in Onalaska, Wisconsin Wants You to Share Your Story: Here is Mine, From Mormonism to a Brush with Jordan Kauflin’s Redeemer Arlington and Sovereign Grace.”  Okay Blackhawk Fitchburg that is it for the day, please know that I love you.

3 thoughts on “Is Daniel Owen’s Blackhawk Fitchburg Neo-Calvinist and 9 Marks? Are they confused? Or is Mark Noll’s Theory on the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Further Validated?

  1. Pingback: An Open Letter to Jon Payne (District Superintendent of the Forest Lakes District on Reflecting on my Life in Wisconsin) | Wondering Eagle

  2. Eagle…. They (Blackhawk) are not 9MARKS. I personally wrote them on the subject and they flat out deny any association with them They are working to remove their name from their website. If any one would listed to the last six months of sermons you could easily see that they are not. You do understand that Fitchburg is just an extension campus of Blackhawk Madison and in no way independent of Madison.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wade, thanks for your comment. I do not believe Blackhawk Fitchberg to be 9 Marks. Yet I was baffled as to why they were listed on the 9 Marks registry. I think the listing happened in error. Its good that they are removing their listing from 9 Marks. Thanks for the comment and welcome by the way. There is a lot in the EFCA to write about in Wisconsin.


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