Ed Stetzer's Planting Missional Churches: Summary & Review

As an updated and renamed version of Stetzer’s 2003 text, Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age, Planting Missional Churches seeks to ride the wave of enthusiasm among evangelicals for all things “missional” and seemingly targets an audience of young conservative (male) would-be church planters.  As a result, the writing style is down-to-earth, pastoral and practical rather than deeply theological or academicly sophisticated.  With twenty nine chapters, there are few, if any, aspects of starting a new church that Stetzer doesn’t treat.  Given that each chapter can not be addressed, this summary will focus on the five “major messages” of the book which Stetzer identifies in chapter one.  He links each with a key word: missional, incarnational, theological, ecclesiological, and spiritual (2-3).

According to Stetzer, being missional means assuming the posture of a missionary—one sent—as Jesus was—to “seek and save the lost.”  Stetzer’s opening chapter seeks to establish church planting as the most appropriate missional response to what he portrays starkly as a North American church in decline and growing ranks of non-Christian Americans.  Being missional, for Stetzer, means taking action to reverse these trends, and he presents planting new churches as the proper remedy, touting it as both the “most effective method of evangelism” and the biblical response to the church’s “decline” (14).  Chapter two is devoted to “redeveloping a missional mind-set” and invokes classic quotes from Newbigin, Bosch and Kahler to present the church as the sent agent of a sending God, and as the instrument of the missio Dei, a popular term which Stetzer invokes but leaves disappointingly unspecified.    

Newbigin's Gospel in a Pluralist Society: Summary

A while back I was invited to speak to a group called Theology on Tap about "The Gospel in a Post-Christian World.  The topic, it seemed to me, begged two questions.  The first is “What is the gospel?” and the second is “Where are we? What is this post-Christian world in which we live?”  Of course, putting those two questions next to each other raises a third:  Does when and where you are affect what the gospel is?  Does context matter for an understanding of the gospel?  Is the gospel different now than it used to be?  If so, how?  Or is the gospel something fixed, maybe a permanent set of doctrinal propositions or a universal set of ethical norms?

I’m going to approach each of these important questions through the work of Lesslie Newbigin who spent decades thinking and writing about each of them.  For some background on Lesslie Newbigin--missionary, bishop, and ecumenist--check out this biography and legacy post

Several scholars, including his authoritative biographer, have suggested that Newbigin’s most important legacy was in his call for a true “missionary encounter with Western culture,” which brings us back to the three questions I began with.  What is the gospel?  Where are we? And does context matter for our understanding of the gospel?  Most of what I will share can be found in a book Newbigin published in 1989 titled, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.

Where are we?

We are going to begin where Newbigin does, with that second question: Where are we?  And by “we,” I mean those who live in the West--Europe, the U.S. Canada, Australia.  What kind of cultural context are we present-day Westerners in?