Archives For Ed Stetzer

With the changing cultural landscape regarding homosexuality and same-sex “marriage,” many mainline denominations have progressively (defined by culture) followed suit and approved same-sex “marriages” and homosexual and same-sex “married” persons. Evangelicals have remained tethered to the Text and affirmed the notion of “welcoming but not affirming.”

Is this a throw-back to tradition and only a matter of time before Evangelicals, too, wake up to the “right” interpretation of Scripture? Or can Evangelicals allow a third way, and simply co-exist by agreeing to disagree? Is this a moral matter that allows that?

To state this at the outset, I do not believe the Evangelical belief and response is based only in tradition or that it is a moral matter in which we can agree to disagree. It is a biblical matter that will require much convictional kindness and pastoral wisdom and sensitively to stand firmly and to walk toward others lovingly.

Ed Stetzer recently interviewed Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for Religion News Service, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, national correspondent at Religion News Service, and Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, about evangelicalism, the culture and issues impacting the church. One of those issues raised was same-sex “marriage.” During the conversation Ed asked this question:

Will evangelicals eventually agree to disagree on the legitimacy of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, much like evangelicals have agreed to disagree on women’s ordination, the exercise of spiritual gifts, how to handle divorce, and other contentious issues?

 Though it might be weighted since he was personally involved, Wax summarized each person’s approach to this question like this:

 Sarah comes at this question with her reporter’s hat on (although her infamous hats are conspicuously absent in this video!). She analyzes it from a journalistic perspective.

 Jonathan comes at this question by drawing on his own experience and his relationships with evangelical leaders. He sees this issue as far from settled and wonders out loud about how evangelicals will address the issue.

 I come at this question by putting it in context of global evangelicalism, the authority of Scripture, and the history of church controversy throughout the centuries.

As Merritt thinks out loud of this possible future (at about minute 38 of the interview), he wonders if once the dust settles Evangelicals will eventually respond to gay “marriage” in a similar what they have responded to divorce. Though theologically it will be considered a sin, pragmatically it will not be a moral matter to which members will be held accountable.

Three important questions for us:

  • How do you think, ponder and process the biblical teaching of divorce and then develop policy in the church that reflects that teaching, and how do you, then, pastorally apply it in lives of people?
  • How do you think, ponder and process the biblical teaching of homosexuality and same-sex “marriage and then develop policy in the church that reflects that teaching, and how do you, then, pastorally apply it in lives of people?
  • How would you answer this question posed by Stetzer?


Our spiritual lives originate in the gospel. Our EFCA movement exists because of and for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Statement of Faith is framed around God’s gospel.

The gospel is being talked about today. That is always a good thing. It is the central message of Jesus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mk. 1:15).

But, challenges also arise with the numerous references to the gospel in our speech and writing: there is an understanding of a small gospel – it equals being born again; there is an understanding of a large gospel – it equals everything in the Christian life.

The call is to affirm and reaffirm the doctrinal and functional centrality of the biblical gospel – doctrinal centrality in belief and proclamation, and functional centrality in life and ministry, implications of the gospel.

This was the theme of a couple of our plenary sessions at our EFCA One Conference last summer which were moderated by Ed Stetzer. During the course of the past couple of months Stetzer has made these messages a series on The Exchange. Here is Ed’s brief statement about this series.

Last summer, I was at the Evangelical Free Church national meeting, doing some speaking and leading a couple of panel discussions. One of those panels involved multicultural ministry. After the panel, I asked the participants if they’d join me on a blog series, one per person, following up on their topics. Ruth Arnold, Ryan Kwon, Greg Strand, Philip Abode, Arloa Sutter, Bill Taylor, David Park, Noel Castellanos all spoke at the EFCA national meeting will feature guest blogs here over the next few weeks.

Below is the complete series in the order in which Stetzer posted them. I encourage you to read them all, as each affirms the doctrinal centrality of the gospel and works out the functional centrality of the gospel in each of the respective ministries.

As you read them, here is my assignment: think, ponder and then discuss these questions among other leaders:

  • How do you affirm the doctrinal centrality of the gospel? Do your leaders and God’s people in the local church know that and can they affirm it?
  • In each of these various ministries, do you live out the functional centrality of the gospel and how would or should you?

Ruth Arnold: “Gospel Diversity

David Park: “Why We Need to Do Our Own Math

Arloa Sutter: “What Your Church Can Do to Care for the Poor

Bill Taylor: “Mission and Ministry after Losing the Culture Wars

Greg Strand: “The Centrality of the Gospel in Ministry

Ryan Kwon: “How the Gospel Abolishes the Fear of Church Planting

Philip Abode: “The Gospel and Pastoral Ministry

Noel Castellanos: “The Passion of Christ and the Plight of our Undocumented Neighbors

Ed Stetzer writes that every pastor, every church planter and every missionary must use a theological grid and a missiological grid, noting that “church leaders must think both theologically and missiologically.”

Stetzer concludes his first article in the following way, emphasizing the truth that theology matters:

When leading a church through pastoring, planting, or being a missionary, theology matters. What we believe has implications for how we behave. If the gospel is not properly understood, it cannot be persistently proclaimed. If the teachers of the church are not well-engaged, a biblical church will not be present.

Pastors, planters, and missionaries need to be grounded in the theology of the gospel. There is no long-term relevance outside of the eternal things of God. Furthermore, they need to worth from a theological grid as to what church is, what evangelism is, how discipleship matters, and more.

However . . . the right theology must be communicated in a way that makes sense to those we are trying to reach. We need a theological grid, but being a church leader also requires a missiological grid as well.

But theology must also be communicated with and into a certain context. Biblical truth does not change, but its application to contexts does. And it is not necessarily a balance of part of one and part of another. The order is also important. What this means is that the priority is with doctrine/theology which is then applied in various contexts. Stetzer summarizes by stating that theology and missiology

should not be pitted against each other, as if theology and missiology were in conflict with one another. Theology drives missiology and missiology directs theology.

Our theology should serve as the foundation and motivating factor for our missiology, while our missiology should serve to guide how our theology is relayed to the world around us.

A few questions to ponder:

  • How do you understand theology and its importance?
  • How do you understand missiology and its importance?
  • How do you understand the relation between the two?

In one of the plenary Hot Topic sessions we focused on the doctrinal and functional centrality of the gospel.  I presented a short introduction explaining the rationale and format of the session. Ed Stetzer emphasized the biblical gospel, and focused on some of the implications/entailments of the gospel. This gospel truth was then applied in a functional way specifically in four areas of ministry: pastoral ministry by Philip Abode; biblical diversity by Ruth Arnold; compassion and justice by Noel Castellanos; church planting by Ryan Kwon.

Since one of the immediate goals of TED Talks is to generate thoughtful interaction and reflection, speakers provided questions to enable participants to engage at a deeper and in a more profound manner with the messages. Being gospel people in the Free Church, the ultimate goal was to increase our commitment to the doctrinal centrality of the gospel in belief and proclamation, and the functional centrality, i.e. its implications or entailments, of the gospel in life and ministry.

Introduction: Greg Strand, “The Doctrinal and Functional Centrality of the Biblical Gospel”

In this evening’s hot topic session we address the doctrinal and functional centrality of the biblical gospel – doctrinal centrality in belief and proclamation, and functional centrality in life and ministry.

We will follow a “TED talk” format, which is described as giving “the talk of your life.” And we have asked our speakers to do that in 12 minutes! All the speakers tonight believe so deeply in this foundational message that they would be willing to die for it, and even more so, to live for it! And since an end-goal of a TED talk is to generate discussion, promote deeper, and at times different, thought, questions of implication, application and engagement will accompany their presentations.

The call is to affirm and reaffirm the doctrinal and functional centrality of the biblical gospel – doctrinal centrality in belief and proclamation, and functional centrality in life and ministry, implications of the gospel. This is what our five speakers will do this evening.

TED Talk Questions


Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research: “The Biblical Gospel”

  • Why are so many dissatisfied with our current understanding of the gospel (not big enough, too diluted, has a “hole” in it, needs to be recovered, etc.)
  • Why does our view of gospel– and what it contains– really matter?
  • What does the gospel-centered movement offer and what are the concerns it might cause us?
  • How can we lead our churches to know, and have great confidence in, the gospel?
  • How do the gospel and the mission intersect?

Philip Abode, Lead Pastor, Crossover Bible Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma: “The Centrality of the Gospel and Pastoral Ministry”

  • In an article on the centrality of the gospel, Dr. Timothy Keller said, “The main problem in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not ‘used’ the gospel in and on all parts of our life.” What are your thoughts about this statement? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • What role do you think the gospel plays in a believer’s sanctification (the progressive growth toward Christlikeness)?
  • How does your preaching/teaching currently reflect the role that the gospel plays in the believer’s life beyond salvation (justification)?
  • How does the functional centrality of the gospel play itself out in your ministry (i.e. decision making, counseling, preaching, children’s ministry, youth ministry, outreach)?

Ruth Arnold, Executive Director, 2nd Mile Ministries: “The Centrality of the Gospel and Biblical Diversity”

  • What fears or apprehensions do you have related towards pursuing and leading others towards embracing diversity?
  • What are several easy examples of ways God has created diverse things to be gifts? (teams, body, flavors, etc…?)
  • How have you seen people who are already in your life who are different from you enrich your life, character, and witness? (Spouse, family members, co-workers, friends)
  • What sinful blind spots do you have that are accepted normal behaviors of the social and cultural groups you identify with?
  • In what ways have you been able to see God in richer ways as a result of a relationship with someone who is different than you?
  • As you live in the Christian community you are part of – in what ways are you less effective in the world around you because of a lack of diversity? Or how has being part of a diverse community strengthened your effectiveness in the world around you?

Noel Castellanos, Chief Executive Officer of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA): “The Centrality of the Gospel and Compassion and Justice”

  • How does the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth as a Galilean Jew inform our understanding of God’s concern for the poor?
  • Why does the church in the west seem to miss the centrality of God’s concern for the poor?
  • If God identifies so closely with the vulnerable and the marginalized in the world, how do we prioritize ministry to the rich in society?
  • How does Noel’s message impact your perspective on the current immigration debate?

Ryan Kwon, Lead Pastor, Resonate Church, Freemont, California: “The Centrality of the Gospel and Church Planting”

  • Tim Keller says, “The only way to significantly increase the number of Christians in a city is by significantly increasing the number of new churches.” Do you agree or disagree?
  • If someone is feeling territorial, what facets of the gospel are they not believing? How does the gospel address turf wars?
  • Why is it important to seek faithfulness over success? What role has a fear of failure played in your life and ministry? How can the gospel address those fears?
  • The primary barriers to church planting are:

o lack of resources
o need for control
o fear of loss.

  • Which of these three areas presents your current ministry with the greatest barrier to supporting or planting churches?
  • What would it look like if your current ministry took the next steps toward supporting the work of church planting in your city?
  • How can established churches find renewal through new church plants in the area?

EFCA One, our bi-annual national conference, was held the first week of July in New Orleans. It was a great conference with excellent plenary speakers/sessions and teaching/training tracks.

There were two types of plenary sessions this year: three expository messages from the Word, preached by Kevin DeYoung and Gordon MacDonald, and two hot topic sessions, given oversight by Ed Stetzer.

Expository Preaching

  • Kevin DeYoung (Monday PM):“The Pleasure of God and the Possibility of Holiness” (Romans 12:1-2) Application: Where will you focus your imperfect yet possible obedience this week?
  • Kevin DeYoung (Tuesday AM): “What is the Mission of the Church?” (Matthew 28:18-20). Application: What value do you place on preaching the “unpopular, impractical message” of the gospel?
  • Gordon MacDonald (Wednesday AM):  “Jesus’ Call: hear it again….for the first time!” (Matthew 5:13-16). Application: Who are the 10-12 people you’re intentionally discipling?

Hot Topic Panels

  • Hot Topic (Monday night): “The Doctrinal and Functional Centrality of the Biblical Gospel”: Application: How are you bringing the gospel to bear on various areas of ministry in your local church?
  • Hot Topic (Tuesday night): “Ministry As the Scattered Church”: Application: How does your church or ministry respond to a post-modern culture?

Tomorrow I will include a separate post on the Hot Topic plenary session focused on “The Doctrinal and Functional Centrality of the Biblical Gospel.” Later in the week I will also be posting recordings and notes from the Forum on Expository Preaching (“Preaching Laments and Imprecatory Psalms”) and the Teaching Track (“The Reformation of the Pastoral Office”).