Ed Stetzer’s critical review of the book What Is the Mission of the Church? has now been published by Themelios. In addition to this review, Ed took the unusual step yesterday of compiling and quoting critical quotations from all the online reviews of the book.
Kevin and Greg have now posted a response to Ed’s review. If you want the “upshot” of their rejoinder, here it is: “We actually agree with many of [Ed’s] 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.”
In my opinion Kevin and Greg effectively demonstrate that they are being misrepresented (or at least misunderstood) when Ed says in his review that they “equate ‘making disciples’ with evangelism” and “do not adequately acknowledge the role of love and good deeds in commending the gospel to unbelievers.” I’d encourage you to read their rebuttal.
What surprised me the most about Ed’s review was the clear sense that Kevin and Greg are out of their depth in this project, think they are qualified to write on this just because they read a few books, lack person “engagement” in missional endeavors, and are not going to convince anyone but the choir with this work. Kevin and Greg respond:
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. . . .
At times, especially toward the end, Stetzer hints that we may be out of our depth in tackling this subject. He asserts that we are out of step with “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 by suggesting 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 who will like the book will be “the theologically minded who think deeply but engage weekly” 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.
In his critical round-up post Ed chose to highlight the especially biting perspective of Tim Gombis, who writes:
[DeYoung and Gilbert] equate a missional outlook with the view that Christians are responsible to return creation to its pre-fall, edenic state (p. 75). [JT: Actually, they are simply talking about the function of the cultural mandate for Adam in this point in the biblical storyline.] This is unfair and simply wrong. I know of no missional Christian who talks or writes this way, and no one even comes close. It seems that they know this, since they don’t cite anyone who holds the views they so vigorously and roundly critique. . . .
Think “The Village.” This book functions for the YRR crowd much like the fear-mongering that goes on in that film. The village’s leaders spread word of monsters in the woods so that no one will venture beyond the borders of the village, discovering that they’re walled off from the outside world. . . .
In light of this, I’m glad Kevin and Greg included this in their response:
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. 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).