Greg and I would like to respond to Ed Stetzer’s thoughtful review of our book. It will be helpful to read his review along with our response. More importantly, we encourage you to read the book for yourself and not assume you have the book pegged apart from reading it.

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When we first began to write What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (WTS), we figured it would kick up some dust.  This question of what the church is sent into the world to accomplish is not only enormously complex, but it is also deeply felt.  People have strong emotions about it, and rightly so. We’ve already taken time to address the “nagging questions” posed by our friend Trevin Wax. We know that others have posted reviews of the book (sometimes multi-part, often critical). Unfortunately, we can’t respond to every critique that may arise.

We think it is important, however, to post a substantive response to Ed Stetzer’s lengthy review in the latest issue of Themelios.  Neither of us knows Stetzer well (though we have met him), but we’ve both read his materials and heard him speak over the years. We rejoice that we are on the same team, proclaiming the same gospel, loving the same Church. He is one of the good guys.

Areas of Agreement

We sincerely appreciate Stetzer’s encouragement about the careful exegetical work we tried to do throughout the book.  We understand that he doesn’t agree with all our conclusions.  But it’s our conviction that a careful look at particular texts is one of the things most grievously missing in this conversation about mission.  Much of the conversation seems to float above exegesis, focusing on themes and trajectories of Scripture rather than the details of the actual text. So we are glad that Stetzer is affirming our call for more of that kind of work.

We also are glad that Stetzer perceived our heart for establishing a better footing for the church’s life in the world.  Both of us love the church deeply.  Like Stetzer, we’ve given our lives to vocational ministry, and we are glad to be engaged with him in this work.  There’s a lot at stake in this conversation, and it’s good when brothers in Christ can engage in serious discussion about serious issues.

As a quick side-note, we also appreciate Stetzer’s commendation of our chapter on the Gospel.  In particular, Stetzer cites the wide-angle/zoom lens we advocate in this book, and applauds the “development” that framework represents from Greg’s What Is the Gospel? One minor quibble though: Greg actually published those ideas in the Together for the Gospel book from 2008 (published 2009), and before that in a series of blog posts at 9Marks—a good year-and-a-half before What Is the Gospel? was published.  In fact, though What Is the Gospel? focuses on the zoom lens, if you read it with the fuller picture in mind, you’ll see all those ideas underlying that book, too. Stetzer implies that there has been some development or refinement or improvement in our explanation of the gospel—but in fact, we aren’t saying anything here that we haven’t already laid out.

Responses

Besides that, there are a few other things in Stetzer’s review to which we wanted to respond as well. At times we disagree with his arguments. On other points we agree entirely and are not sure why Stetzer seems to think we don’t.  And then, most importantly, we also wonder if Stetzer hasn’t missed the main problem we’re aiming at in the book.

Love and Good Deeds and the Mission of the Church

Stetzer’s main criticism of What Is the Mission of the Church? is his contention that we “underplay” the importance of good works.  He says that we “equate ‘making disciples’ with evangelism,” and that we “do not adequately acknowledge the role of love and good deeds in commending the gospel to unbelievers.”  Then he makes a strong case that making disciples includes teaching everything Jesus commanded, that the life of disciples will issue in good deeds, and that good deeds extol and commend the gospel.

Conversations about whether something is “underplayed” or not emphasized enough—or acknowledged but not acknowledged adequately—are difficult conversations to have.  The fact is, we agree with most everything Stetzer says about how good deeds function in the Christian life and in the commendation of the gospel, and we say so repeatedly in the book.  For example, Stetzer says that we “underplay” the role of what he calls “secondary ministries” that are not immediately didactic and explicitly gospel-revealing.  But we have an entire section in Chapter 9 explaining how such mercy ministries can function to show God’s love to the community and how they function to further the church’s pursuit of its mission (see also our responses here and here to Trevin’s nagging questions). In another place he says that we don’t “adequately acknowledge” the role of love and good deeds in commending the gospel to unbelievers, but that’s only after saying that we “acknowledge” in a whole section of the book that doing good works will help us win a hearing for the gospel among unbelievers.

We’re not trying to be pedantic here. But it’s not clear to us what might be the difference between acknowledging something and adequately acknowledging it.  The fact is, we agree with Stetzer that good works play a confirming and extoling role with reference to the gospel.  When Jesus says that the world should see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16), or when Peter says we should watch our conduct so that the world may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:12), we understand the weight of what they are saying, and nothing we say should be understood as trying to avoid or de-emphasize this important biblical teaching.

Part of the problem, as we’ve mentioned before, is that many Christians do not distinguish between the church as organization and the church as organism (to use Bavinck’s terminology). We tend to think that “church” is basically plural for Christians. But the church as an institution with ordained officers and a ministry of word and sacrament is not equivalent to the individual church members who scatter each week and fulfill their various callings and vocations. Christians may work for fair housing or for better public schools, just as non-Christians may work for the exact same things, but the Church bears the unique responsibility to preach Christ and him crucified. As Michael Horton points out in a recent blog we highly recommend: “If we can distinguish between the church as organization (place) and the church as organism (people), rather than setting them in opposition, then we can avoid the dangers both of ecclesial mission creep and of ignoring our worldly callings.”

Evangelism and “Making Disciples” and “Teaching Everything”

Stetzer (and other critics) point out that the mission of the church includes disciple-making, and that disciple-making is done by “teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.” We agree. But strangely, Stetzer says that we “equate ‘making disciples’ with evangelism.”  That’s simply not the case. We are as appalled as anyone by the mechanical decisionism that has marked many evangelical churches over the past few decades.   Over and over in the book, in fact, we say that the mission of the church is “proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.”  At the end of the chapter on the Great Commission, we sum things up by saying that the task of the church is to win people to Christ and build them up in Christ (63).  We also say that the word “teaching” in Matthew 28 “makes clear that Jesus has more in mind than initial evangelism and response.  He wants obedient, mature disciples, not just immediate decisions” (46). We never suggest that disciple-making can be reduced to initial evangelism. We are surprised Stetzer charges us with an error we explicitly disavow.

However, we should probably say something here about the common idea that the church’s work of “making disciples,” that is, “teaching them to obey everything I commanded,” necessarily means that the church itself, as an institution, must provide an example of or model all those things.  Sometimes, of course, that’s true.  As the church loves one another and cares for one another, we are certainly modeling to one another what it means to love and care for others—our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, the needy, and others.  But sometimes the case is made that the command to “teach everything” implies that the church is to be “exampling everything.”  So, the argument runs, if we want Christians to care for the poor, the church as a whole needs to care for the poor.  If we want Christians to feed the hungry, the church needs to feed the hungry in order to provide a model for its members.  But surely that’s too easy a solution.  If you’re talking about a clothes closet or a soup kitchen, that solution works just fine. It makes sense in that particular case.  But considered as a driving principle, the idea that the church “teaching” necessarily includes the church “exampling” just doesn’t work.  You have to ask how far that goes.

For example, must the church, as an institution, be modeling to its members how to make good Christian films?  Must it be providing an example of how to do good Christian art?  How about good Christian cooking or marathon-running? We are not trying to be snarky with these questions. We believe there is a legitimate point to be raised. Must the church as an institution be actively engaged in politics so as to model what Christian civic engagement looks like? Doesn’t it make more sense to say that the church as an institution is to teach Christians what Jesus commanded, and teach his disciples that they are to obey him in every area of their lives, rather than to say that it must provide an example or model obedience in every particular instance?

The Main Thing We Are Seeking to Correct

Put that aside, though.  On the larger point we agree with Stetzer whole-heartedly that love and good deeds play a crucial role in confirming, extolling, and promoting the gospel. We abhor cheap grace.  God forbid we should ever be guilty of giving it aid and comfort in any Christian’s heart. As we state in the first chapter of our book, we do not want Christians to be indifferent toward suffering. We do not want Christians to think evangelism is the only thing that matters. We do not want Christians retreating into holy huddles. We do not want Christians “who risk their lives and sacrifice for the poor and the disadvantaged” to feel like their work only matters if it results in conversion (22). As we say again at the end of the book, “Any book that comes across as suggesting that loving our neighbors is somehow sub-Christian is a very poor book indeed” (231). We believe we are being misunderstood in this regard. Perhaps we were unclear. Perhaps some reviewers are assuming a position we don’t espouse. Perhaps we are misreading our critics’ critiques. In any event, please know that we believe in the indispensability of good deeds and the essential requirement to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But the point of What Is the Mission of the Church? was never to question whether love and good deeds are necessary for Christian obedience or even to question whether they confirm and extol the gospel we preach, and are therefore vitally connected to the mission of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.  Clearly they are.  Good works of every kind—personal, social, economic, artistic, athletic, cultural—do that kind of work.  That’s not in question for a moment.

The question we are addressing in the book is whether the mission of the church—the thing it is organized and sent into the world to do—is to do those good deeds to the end of making the world a better place.  Is it the church’s mission to do city renewal, to do neighborhood revitalization, to eradicate poverty, to eliminate hunger, to raise the global standard of living?  Of course, we all want to see this happen. But should we always expect to see this happen? Is this why God gathers weak and weary sinners into churches? Is the presence of social problems in a community a sign that the church has been unfaithful to its mission? That’s the direction this discussion of mission often runs. We’ve seen well-meaning evangelical Christians explain church planting initiatives with the language of pulling “the whole community together [to] make a measurable difference.” The expressed desire is to be “agents in improving graduation rates, increasing literacy or lowering unemployment.” They ask, “What if together we could provide tutoring in every school, support services for every fire station, or orientation for every immigrant?” (We’re not making up these quotes.) Obviously, these are fine causes, ones Christians may pursue—and some will be called to pursue—out of love for others. But then again, is this the sort of work we see Jesus engaged in during his ministry? Is it the ministry we see pursued in the book of Acts? It sounds good to say mission is “both-and,” that the church should do these things while still making the gospel central. But churches do not have infinite resources, people, or time. The church cannot do every good thing that could be done. There must be priorities. We argue that the church’s priority—and the grid through which mission endeavors should be evaluated—is teaching others about Christ to the end that they may worship him now and forever.

Just to reiterate, our book is not about whether good deeds commend the preaching of the gospel, and whether therefore they are vitally important to the mission.  It’s a question of whether it’s the church’s mission—its Christ-given orders—to improve the world and make it more livable.  That’s what large numbers of evangelicals seem to think these days.  They talk as if Jesus expects them to improve housing options and sanitation in their cities.  They adopt church slogans that call their people to “Change the City and Change the World.”  They publish brochures that say that their churches exist to make their cities livable for all people, that their Sunday morning services happen so that all people—Christian or not—can share their Christ-given gifts with the city, and they invite all people, regardless of faith, to join them in the great work of revitalizing the downtown area.  That’s what too many young Christians today think the church is about. And therefore that’s the main thing we are questioning in What Is the Mission of the Church? and pleading with people to reconsider.

Other Areas of Disagreement

That’s the biggest issue we are trying to address and the biggest disagreement we have with Stetzer’s review. But there are a number of smaller issues too.

Christopher Wright and Humanity and Creation

Stetzer takes issue with our critique of Christopher Wright, arguing that we “misread” Wright when we say that “Wright’s view is that humanity derives our value from being a part of creation” (Stetzer’s words). Wright may have written less than precisely on page 399 of his book, but he says quite clearly that “our own value as human beings begins from the fact that we ourselves are part of the whole creation that God already values and declares to be good. We will have more to say about human life in a moment, but the starting point is that we take our value from the creation of which we are part, not vice versa” [emphasis ours].  As he promises there, Wright does go on to affirm strongly that humanity has unique value in God’s good creation.  But surely it’s not illegitimate to raise concern about the idea that our value as human beings derives from the whole creation of which we are a part. Some Christians talk as if individual human redemption is a smaller subset of larger cosmic renewal, when in fact Scripture teaches that the whole creation longs to obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:21). Salvation is universal only because it is first personal.

Is it Our Job or Jesus’ to Do What Adam Failed to Do?

We also disagree with Stetzer’s charge that “creation for [DeYoung and Gilbert] does not serve as a theological starting place for understanding the telos for all of history.”  The basis for that statement seems to be that we don’t connect the creation mandate with the great commission.  In other words, “we do not consider” that “Jesus sends the church to accomplish what Adam, Noah, and Israel failed to do . . .” But it’s not that we don’t consider that connection, or “miss” it.  It’s that we disagree with it.  We don’t think the church is sent to accomplish what Adam failed to accomplish.  We think Jesus did that, and will do it fully and finally at the last day.  Fulfilling Adam’s failed task is not our mission; it’s the mission given and accomplished by Jesus.  We won’t rehash that argument here; we detail it in chapter 8 of our book.

Distilling Theological Building Blocks and Clarifying Categories

At the end of his review, Stetzer dings us for doing missiology in the wrong way. He argues that missiology can’t be done by “distilling theological building blocks,” but is best served by “theological vision.”  We’re not sure what “distilling theological building blocks” means, but we assume it means something like “clarifying theological categories” (as Stetzer puts it). It’s not clear to us how this is much different from Stetzer’s desired approach: a “theological vision of how and why God sends his people into the world on mission for his glory and the good of people of the earth.” This is precisely what we were trying to accomplish in the book. We believe, from our biblical-theological analysis, that God sends his people into the world to be ambassadors of reconciliation that the nations may be called out of darkness into his marvelous light. As a philosophy of missions, this may an incomplete theological vision for Stetzer, but it is a vision nonetheless.

Social Justice and Economics

At the beginning of his review Stetzer offers this assessment of our work: “Nearly every conclusion they draw is based on exegesis, except for their treatment of social justice, where after defining justice biblically, they depend on certain economic theories and the practical principle of ‘moral proximity’ to construct how we should think about this topic.” We are thankful for his initial conclusion, but would like to quibble with a couple other points. For starters, we believe the principle of “moral proximity” is a biblical principle. According to the New Testament we must do good “especially” to the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). We have an even higher responsibility to care for members of our own household (1 Tim. 5:8). In the Old Testament it was never the case that God’s people were equally responsible to meet the needs of everyone.

Regarding “certain economic theories” we do not mean to suggest that Christianity demands support for free market principles, let alone specific views on free trade coffee, socialized medicine, or international aid. In fact, that’s just the point we were trying to make. Many missional Christians passionate about social justice assume that genuine Christian compassion means we ought to favor higher taxes on the rich, government engineered redistribution, and a general disdain for democratic capitalism. We merely wanted to suggest other alternatives that are not incompatible with Christian principles and care for the poor.

Can Ordinary Pastors Do Missiology?

At the risk of sounding defensive, we can’t help but express our disappointment that Stetzer sounded so dismissive of our arguments at times; indeed, even dismissive of our right to make them. For example, Stetzer says that Chris Wright is “one of the few people that they cite, along with Stott and Lyons.”  We’re not sure whether he’s talking there about that one particular chapter on the Bible’s storyline or about our whole book.  If it’s that chapter, we don’t cite Stott in it at all.  If he’s talking about the whole book, we don’t want the impression to be left that we cite a total of three people in the entire thing. A quick check of the General Index shows that we cite dozens of writers, including David Bosch, Victor Hamilton, James Davison Hunter, Tim Keller, Andreas Kӧstenberger, Christopher Little, Reggie McNeal, Peter O’Brien, Eckhard Schnabel, David Sills. We reference many more in the footnotes.

One of the recurring themes in criticism of our book is that we don’t really engage missional thinking. It’s been suggested that we are insular, only talking with and listening to people who think just like us. We set up straw men, are ignorant of what missional Christians think, and may even demonize those who disagree with us. We readily admit it’s possible we have misread the authors we cite. It’s possible we may not have our pulse on the best of missional thinking. But we hope anyone who reads the book carefully will be able to see that we honestly try to interact with people like McNeal, Wright, Bosch, and Stott. We certainly read from many more and, contrary to the assumption of some, we have talked with many people who do not see things the way we do. It’s also worth pointing out that we explicitly state in the introduction that we are not anti-missional, let alone are we trying to condemn what everyone means by the term missional. Our concern is not with a term, but with determining a biblical view of the church’s mission.

If it turns out that we are tilting against windmills and no one believes the things we are arguing against, no one will be happier than the two of us. Whatever embarrassment may come from finding out that no holds the positions we combat will be overcome by delight in discovering that more people agree with us than we thought. But we do not think our concerns are phantom concerns. There are voices calling for the church to work for the redemption of creation, for the shalom of the world, and for the restoration of the cosmos, to the end that we may “[turn] back the hands of time to give the world a glimpse of what the world looked like before sin entered the picture” (The Next Christians, 59).

At times, especially toward the end, Stetzer suggests that we may be out of our depth in tackling this subject. He claims we are going against “the prevailing approach in evangelical missiology” and that “the truth is the reins of the missiological conversation and that task of mission will not be pulled back by the arguments in this book.” He chides us elsewhere with the assertion that “reading a couple dozen books is simply not adequate (or appropriate) to prepare themselves to stand against the careful theological thinking that has contributed to the widening of our understanding of mission.” In his final paragraph Stetzer concludes that our book “will not succeed at its task” because those inclined to like the book will be “the theologically minded who think deeply but engage weakly” and those on the other end of the spectrum “who could benefit from the book will not read it because the authors lack the background and engagement to make the case to the missional and missiological community.”

We’re not sure what to make of this last sentence (the final one of the review). We are both pastors, and both our churches meet right next to university campuses. We talk to real people—on both sides—for whom the matters in our book are seriously important. Perhaps our thinking on the mission of the church has been “not adequate,” and perhaps it is even “not appropriate” for us to think that we as non-scholars are prepared to make a contribution to this discussion. But we would hope that kind of judgment would be handed down on the basis of showing our arguments from the Bible to be wrong, rather than on the basis of pointing out that we are pastors and not missiologists or by implying that we don’t have street cred in missional circles. We pastor churches that engage in significant “missional” efforts in the community from supporting crisis pregnancy centers to providing ESL classes to working with the local Rescue Mission. While we may understand this work differently than some in the missional conversation and we may vet the opportunities through a different grid, our congregations also care about the poor and are devoted to good deeds as Scripture commands.

Conclusion

In the end, we want to thank Ed Stetzer again for honoring our work by providing a lengthy review of our arguments. We have learned from him in the past and we expect to benefit from his expertise for years to come. We actually agree with many of his critiques, because we think they do not fully describe our concerns or positions. Where we disagree on exegetical conclusions or theological distinctions we look forward to continuing to search the Scriptures together. Our hope is that our friends and foes, our sympathizers and those suspicious about us, our associations, or our missional credentials, will still give the book a careful reading and test everything against the pattern and prescriptions laid down in the word of God. We remain convinced that the Great Commission–with its call to proclamation and discple-making–is and must remain the task for which Jesus sends his church into the world.

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Comments:


63 thoughts on “A Response to Ed Stetzer’s Review of “What Is the Mission of the Church?””

  1. scott price says:

    I sincerely desire that someone establish exigetically the premise of the whole discussion and of the book in that the “church” is an organisation or institution. I honestly don’t see that in Scripture ( anywhere ). And at the onset, I don’t believe having elder leadership to be proof of the establishment of an organization. A small group may have an elder leader but that does not make the small group an “organization” and, especially, it does not make that group an “institution” in the sense Mssrs. DeYoung and Gilbert use those terms . It is at this place that the arguments between the mission of the “church” and the mission of the “saints” diverge for Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert. If I’m not mistaken, apostolic succession, if it exists, was from the apostles to the saints and not from the apostles to the elders. If the latter, then the Catholic Church has a better claim to such succession than do non-catholic pastor leaders.

  2. Timothy says:

    Scott Price makes an interesting challenge, one that I think is also implied by John Thompson. Should we discuss things in terms of the institution of the church?
    The other bone of contentin seems to centre around whether the Stetzer review was arrogant and/or elitist.
    He does criticise the book for failing to interact adequately with the vast literature churned out in recent decades by the ‘missional movement’. He clearly sees the book as an attempt to refute this avalanche. Now this criticism could be wrong in one of two ways. First, it might be that the book was not endeavouring to refute the avalanche. Thus to criticise them for failing to do so is utterly unfair, not to say foolish. Secondly, the book may have been an attempt to refute the avalanche but was a reasonable attempt to do so but this has not been recognised by Stetzer. I am unclear which of these two reasons Kevin and Greg would offer, or which of them their various advocates would offer. But a simple accusation of arrogance does not seem adequate to me.
    If the reason is the former, then the review draws attention to a consderable weight of good work that the book attempts and succeeds in achieving. And Stetzer’s criticism can be deflected by simply saying that this was not quite what was being attempted. And we can all be happy.
    If the reason is the latter, then Kevin and Greg have a duty to have read the relevant literature, which they may have done but which clearly Stetzer feels has not been done adequately. But it is not arrogant to challenge them on this as this would be a declared aim of the book.
    Perhaps the most scathing criticism that I have seen of the book is from Tim Gombis. Leaving aside the point by point arguments that he makes, which would merely be to inflame matters, he does raise this issue of what is the book designed to achieve, who is the book speaking to.
    He argues, abrasively, that the book was written to appeal to those already committed to what Kevin and Greg believe (the YRR group) and is not intended for consumption by those not already convinced. Thus the book is intended to save the YRR the trouble of reading and attempting to understand the ‘missional’ crowd rather than really attempting to inform anyone. Is this fair? Well I have read many books, have chosen many books to read, in precisely that way. I have sought books to bolster my opinions rather than to educate me. It may be wholly unfair on Kevin and Greg to think with Tim that this is what they intend but it would be good to ask if those who read it do so in that spirit, or that those who avoid it do so in the mirror image of that spirit rejecting the book unread because one disagrees with it.

  3. scott price says:

    Another comment I would have is that “moral proximity” is not a Scriptural position. Also, Mr. DeYoung has made an argument in his book in this regard that the institutional church does not have the resources or the time to engage in meeting all the physical needs that exist. He is at his most right here. The church coffers or appointment book aren’t, however, the right place to look and therefore don’t determine the scope or limitations of our love. God has the resources, not the “institution” of the church.
    Anytime I see expressed a concern over resources or time to meet the deep and profound expression of God’s love to those in need, I can turn to multiple verses to ease my anxiety and concern. I hope Mr. DeYoung will do the same in all humility and dependence.

    Further, Jesus and his apostles had a grand and single eyed mission that was inherited by the apostles and the church after Jesus left. While on earth my distinct impression from Scripture is that the monetary resources of this early church ( Jesus and his followers ), which were supplied mostly from the women followers, was regularly used by Jesus to meet poverty and physical need of the people of Israel. The expressions of Judas in the story of Mary and the perfume in this regard as well as the expression of the apostles when Judas left the passover meal attest to this as do Jesus’ own multiple expressions of a missing and vital concern in those who pursue eternal life without a heart for the poor.

    The purpose of the “church is to display the glory of God ( his divine power and his divine nature; Romans 1, 1Peter1, and so many other Scriptures attest to this) . One vehicle for this purpose is the Gospel mission wherein the testimony of Christ displays the righteousness of God (divine nature and His divine power. A second less important but not thereby unimportant vehicle for displaying God’s divine nature and power is the sacrificial love of the faithful children of God (whether gathered or scattered ) as expressed in Gospel driven and Gospel empowered meeting of physical need. The church exists to be a vessel of salvific and common grace to those in need; both of which are amazing because both of which were purchased by His blood and both of which display His profound nature and power.

    The main failings of the book are that the authors wrongfully merge and equate the “purpose of the church” with the “greatest commission” of the church. This is why the “great commission” can so easily be turned into the “Great Commandment” in a tautology that isn’t accurate. The Great Commision issues forth from the Great Commandment but the reverse would not be true. The law of love, even for the leadership of the church, includes the Great Commission, but isn’t restricted thereby.

  4. scott price says:

    BTW, I say tongue in cheek but with the greatest admonistion, I’m glad that Hudson Taylor, John Patton, Jim Elliot, etc., etc. didn’t read those Scripture verses on “moral proximity”.

  5. Ann Metcalf says:

    I can understand the critique in regards to “making disciples” and evangelism. However, I don’t think your explanation of them confuses readers or dumbs down the point.

  6. Lois H Westerlund says:

    The Stetzer review demonstrates why this book is so needed. Ed Stetzer reveals his agenda in this review, and it is precisely this current agenda that so needs Biblical correction. This sentence is telling: “The mission strictly speaking is proclaiming the gospel (necessary because kingdom work cannot take place unless it is done by people who have heard and responded to the gospel), but broadly speaking leads to discipleship evidenced in all areas of life” So, the proclamation of the Gospel is only necessary because we need those “who have heard and responded to the gospel” to do Kingdom work? I am assuming, that in the context of the review, “Kingdom work” means mercy ministries such as working to alleviate the suffering of the poor and oppressed. To me, this one sentence reveals an emphasizing of this world over eternity, of the visible over the invisible, of the physical over the spiritual, that is characteristic of the current theological climate. When I turn to the Word of God, I find the opposite: this life if a vapor, and “we look not at the things which are seen but things which are unseen.”. Biblically, the proclamation of the Gospel is not in order to facilitate something labeled “kingdom work” because now we have Christians to do it, but to add souls to the Kingdom of God! For eternity. As Vos has pointed out, the Kingdom of God is the Church, the body of Christ. The Gospel is the good news that God has made a way to deliver us from His just, eternal wrath and account us righteous in His Son. When we respond and receive new life and are born of the Spirit, that Spirit will lead us into a life of love, which may, or may not, be shaped by socially significant mercy ministries. But it will be love, whether to family member, neighbor, or global community, because the fruit of the Spirit is love.

    Secondly, history has shown that whenever the Gospel becomes “the Gospel and….”, it is only a matter of time until the distinctive message of God’s delivering up His Son to save lost sinners, becomes a footnote.

    Thirdly, as to the qualifications of the authors that Stetzer strongly criticizes: is it not a matter of intended audience? Stetzer assumes the audience is the missiological experts, those who have thought long and hard, discussed endlessly, and published, spoken and blogged. His point that you cannot hope to reach this audience without evidencing that you have immersed yourself in all their thinking is a valid one. (But if you did that, would they be more likely to hear you?) But I don’t think that is the intended audience. Ordinary Christians, who want to think Biblically about the mission of the church, appreciate the clarity brought to this crucial matter. Exegesis of significant passages that are being misapplied in the current social gospel is helpful. These, of whom I am one, find this book encouraging, as we go forth to our daily battles, wanting to please God by speaking the truth in love and sometimes, just loving those whom God brings into ourlives. I am thankful for this winsome, well-written, Biblically sound book.

  7. Nathan Brown says:

    Are we reading each other?

    You seem to sluff off Stetzer’s critique re: building blocks and theological framework.

    His review is pretty clear:

    He says,

    “But DeYoung and Gilbert address these concerns by seeking to distill theological building blocks and clarifying categories in order to “correct the missiological correction” of the past sixty years. Missiology is not a discipline that is served by distilling theological building blocks. It is best served by theological vision of how and why God sends his people into the world on mission for his glory and the good of people of the earth. A biblical-theological argument for the mission of the church requires a framework rooted in the narrative of Scripture that can connect creation, kingdom, redemption, and new creation to develop a robust vision for the mission of disciples in making disciples among all peoples.”

    His point is that biblical-theological vision of mission requires a “framework rooted in the narrative of Scripture that can connect creation, kingdom, redemption, and new creation to develop a robust vision for the mission of disciples in making disciples among all peoples.”

    He is suggesting (convincingly) that you don’t provide this. Rather the consistent refrain is about “laying down building blocks.”

  8. Matt says:

    very helpful response. I have not read the book but I am more convinced of K&G’s perspective than Stetzers and other critics. Still, it is a helpful discussion. All good works in this life are secondary to eternal life. As Piper put it, “we seek to alleviate all suffering, especially eternal suffering.”
    One thing that some of the critical comments on here miss I think is the fact that leaders in the church need to decide, as K and G say, what they will spend their own time and the Lord’s money on primarily. If Elders are all teachers, then I believe our primary task is teaching and shepherding the body, including teaching and shepherding them into good works prepared for them as the “scattered church,” or the “organic church” or whatever you want to call it. That focuses the mission of the “gathered” or “institutional,” or whatever term you like, into doing what it is made to do. I think this is the point that is being missed and that K&G did well.

  9. Paul says:

    Many local assemblies and missions organizations have lost their focus on what Jesus commissioned the church to do. “What is the Mission of the Church” is a book that is greatly needed and is well done.

    I am all for good scholars and theologians but Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors as Apostles. Peter and John would not qualify to address the subject of missions according to what Ed Stetzer has written in his review.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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