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November 16, 2011

A Response to a Response to a Response: Talking More about Mission

I've been traveling to and from Eugene, Oregon to preach and encourage pastors so I've missed the dialogue after I posted my review of What Is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. The review was published Monday by Themelios, and I have tried to check in and read as the discussion has gone back and forth. The two most interesting responses were from Justin Taylor (VP of Editorial at Crossway), and from the authors themselves.

Since DeYoung and Gilbert wrote a critique of my critique of their critique I won't respond point by point and critique... well... you get the point. My review is out there for all to see. Their book is as well. I think it is an important dialogue and I appreciate the tone in which it is being undertaken.

However, there were two things that seemed to come up a couple of times, so I thought it might be a good idea to give some clarity and to apologize where I was not more clear on one point.

My Inclusion of Other Critiques

Justin Taylor does a good job defending the book at his blog. I like Justin and we have recently started a personal friendship that I trust will continue past this review. ;-) He works at Crossway and I am glad to see him standing with his authors and sharing his usual keen insights.

He wrote that I took the unusual step of including some critiques in a post the day before I ran my review. That actually seems pretty normal to me. The only other time this year I have written a traditional book review was a three-part blog series on Rob Bell's book Love Wins, and my first installment of that series was to give an overview of recent reviews and interviews (interestingly, one that I pointed to as quite helpful was by Kevin DeYoung). I did so to help readers who might benefit from an organized library of links to easily navigate through the discussion.

My blog audience has not interacted much with this book, so to tell them the issues and concerns seemed pretty straightforward to me. As Patrick Schreiner said,

First, I think it was helpful and not unusual for Stetzer to compile some of the critiques of the book. I suspect he was trying to provide clarity on the points of disagreement for everyone's benefit. Notice that he included many reviews which largely agreed with the books thesis (including my own).

So, in my preparatory post, I listed two concerns. These concerns were the concerns that have been voiced elsewhere. In other words, pointing out the two main issues that people are discussing seemed a reasonable course of action before addressing those concerns.

Not the Best People to Make the Case

It has been mentioned by several that I pointed out they were (using Kevin's term) "out of their depth" in writing this book. Looking at the comments people have made, it seems that some people were offended. To be fair and transparent, my view is that the book will not accomplish its stated purpose, which was to "help us get on the same page--united by a common cause--and launch us forward into the true mission of the church" (quoted from the back of the book). I believe that is at least in part because DeYoung and Gilbert (to quote my review) "lack the background and engagement to make the case to the missional and missiological community." But, most people, I think, understood the point. Yet, if several take my comments in a way I did not intend, then I was not clear.

To be honest, the Themelios editors and I discussed how best to state that in a way that was not dismissive but made the point. I assumed (wrongly, it appears) that EVERYONE would know that I want MORE pastors to write and speak on missiology. I'm endorsing books on the subject right and left--even one that was negatively reviewed in the same issue of Themelios. But, this is a different kind of book--DeYoung and Gilbert wrote a corrective book. Hence my comment that they "lack the background and engagement to make the case to the missional and missiological community" (who would appear to be the people who need to be persuaded).

I like people of courage, and DeYoung and Gilbert are that. They stood up and said that the evangelical consensus that has slowly formed over the last 6 decades (and has coalesced in the Lausanne Cape Town Commitment) was wrong. Yet, I think they lacked the background to make that case (that the Cape Town Declaration's approach and its primary author, Chris Wright, are wrong) in the broader missiological community.

They wrote a book in which they have indicated that "a fair amount of our work in these chapters will be a corrective" (20). That's different than writing a book on mission. In my opinion, reading a couple dozen books does not prepare you for that-- particularly when you say that the view issued at Cape Town (the most representative evangelical mission gathering ever) and later adopted by the movement as their roadmap for the next ten years, is wrong. They think Chris Wright and Lausanne got it wrong, but I think they did. I think they missed Chris Wright's point. They think I missed theirs.

Yet, I do not want anyone to think that I believe they (or any pastor) should not write on mission and missiology. More books on mission are welcome--but they have taken a bold stance. When you say that the consensus is wrong, you should not be surprised when someone responds that you may not have enough information to make that conclusion. To be honest, an academic book review would be incomplete without asking if the authors were adequately prepared to make their case. I think more preparation, experience, and conversations would have served them well. Simply put, I think the book's critiques would've been stronger if DeYoung and Gilbert's relationships with missional voices and interactions with them were stronger. Then the critique would be born out of the context of missional thinkers, which in my opinion makes for a better critique.

So, I critique them. Like they critique others in their book. It's not a bad thing, it's how we learn and challenge each other's ideas.

I apologize that I was not clear. I am thankful for the faithful service they render to their congregations and communities and believe that they are engaging in the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. I should have been more clear in my review.

What I was trying to be was expressed in one of the comments at the Themelios reviews. The person (RJPrice) wrote:

If one writes a book that claims to be academic in nature, one should do the necessary research. He [Ed] feels that [a relatively small number of] books on the subject is not enough research to get a clear picture of the whole scope of the careful Biblical exegesis and debate surrounding the mission of the church over the past several decades. I do not think he is trying to belittle the authors, nor men who serve God faithfully in the local church.

Let me give an example that may help, I am not in any position to write a book critiquing widely held views in biblical archaeology. If I did so after reading a relatively small number of books, I would expect someone in an academic book review to say that, perhaps, I did not have the background and experience to write that book. I had not prepared adequately, particularly if I took a position that most of what other people have said was incorrect.

DeYoung and Gilbert stated in their response:

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.

Respectfully, I think they BOTH tried to "honestly interact" and simultaneously "misread" some of the authors they cite. I do believe that they honestly tried to interact with these authors. I simply disagree about their degree of success. And, to be fair, that is the criticism that they have had to respond to more than once.

Final Thoughts

Critiquing the views of others is a vital part of academic discourse. It is one way we sharpen one another, and it is one way we learn.

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert had the courage to write a book that challenged and critiqued the status quo. I respect their willingness to do so and thought they had some strong arguments. I was asked to critique their critique by the editors of Themelios, and I did so to the best of my ability. Their response to me was excellent--firm and charitable. I think they will eventually conclude that they were not clear on some things, but right now their clarifications have been helpful--I wish they were in the book.

I value them as brothers and consider them worthy of a hearing. I trust that you will read their book--you should. It will make you think, and I hope that my review will help sell more copies of their book (not their goal, I know, but always a good thing).

So, we disagree. They've made their case and I've made mine. But, this is a disagreement between brothers of close theological kin. My hope is that there is not a rift growing as some have concluded (which I talked about here, a link I think is worth reading in the current debate).

I'm grateful that they've waded in and helped people talk more about God's mission--that's a good thing regardless of where you land on this book.

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