Place Matters first caught my attention because it is written by two guys who love the city I love. They have ministered in the city of Philadelphia, in the case of Bill Krispin, longer than I have been alive. While I have not had the chance to met them yet, I greatly respect the consistency and faithfulness of their ministries.
With that said, Place Matters is a bit of a mixed bag. Your reception and perspective on the book will most likely be shaped in accord with your exposure to other books like Tim Keller’s Church Planting Manual and his remarkable Center Church or Maria Garriott’s poignant A Thousand Resurrections. Place Matters, with no disrespect intended, feels a bit like “Center Church for Dummies.” This doesn’t mean that Place Matters isn’t a valuable book. It’s just that if you’ve read something like Center Church you will find very little new in Place Matters. Might I add, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The clear strength of Place Matters lies in its mid-section. The first section is a basic introduction to discipleship and doing church in community. The last section is a basic introduction to carrying out the ministry of discipleship in the context of the local church. Both of these sections are very basic and a bit generic. That’s not meant as a harsh criticism. Again, for someone who has read a bit in this area it can’t but help as coming off a bit basic. But if this is your first exposure to urban church planting then Place Matters will serve as a wonderful introduction.
The second part (Knowing Our Communities) offers some very practical and helpful advice on how to know and exegete the community you minister in. Here’s the strength of the book. We need to know the physical and psychological boundaries in our neighborhood. People are the ones who define those boundaries. We also must see where God is already working. It is a very valid criticism of church planting today for planters to come into a neighborhood thinking they are God’s gift to the community without taking the time or energy to see how God has already been working in their neighborhood. This level of arrogance and cluelessness is clearly shot down in Place Matters. Thank you! The best way to know and exegete a neighborhood is to be a neighbor. Become a part of the neighborhood. Live where you minister. Shop where you minister. Play where you minister. Engage where you minister. I greatly appreciate their focus here. Faithfully living in your community is essential for gospel witness today. This cannot be said enough.
There are two issues I had a bit of difficulty with. First, they seemed to accept what I believe is a false dichotomy between an attraction and incarnational method of church witness. They spoke often against the more traditional “attactional” model of church where people are attracted to a church, it’s programs, etc. The are clear proponents of a more incarnational model where the church lives out our Christian lives in the world. To me this is a false dichotomy that far too many have bought into recently. It’s not an either/or but a both/and. The church is to both attract and also incarnate. Why can’t we have it both ways? God has certainly used both throughout history and one could also argue throughout Scripture.
Second, I had a hard time swallowing some of their push toward what I will call generous ecumenism. Let me be clear: I long to see a more unified church. My heart often echoes the prayer of Christ in John 17 that the world would see the church unified like the Father and the Son are unified. Our unity in Christ is directly tied to our witness to the world. With that said, I worry that they may have overstated things a bit.
They write, “But wherever His name is confessed, Jesus is at work. He may be doing things a little differently in one place than He is in another” (155). I get what they are writing against. Disunity, not unity, is what rules the church today. It is heartbreaking and I long for deeper unity to seize the church. But it’s too much of an overstatement to say that wherever Christ’s name is confessed he is at work. Jesus himself said that many will call him Lord, Lord and not enter into the Kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). And again, “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (Matt 24:5).
The sad reality is that many churches in our neighborhoods are no longer true churches. They may still sing about, shout about, and talk about Jesus, but it is not the Jesus of Scripture. Are these still true churches that are just weak in the faith or are they false churches that are whether intentionally or not leading people astray? I think that’s a question that we must seriously consider.
In talking about how we have divided up the church in terrible ways they write, “That [being partners in gospel work] doesn’t minimize our differences. But the differences we have are minor compared to the work of Christ in the world. And all of them are surmountable as we come together in humility before the Lord…” (156). I agree completely that the church is sinfully divided today, but on the other hand I also believe in many cases the church is rightly (righteously) divided as well. There are truly minor differences that churches have sinfully separated over, but there are also major differences which churches must separate over. It’s a bit naive to say that all of our differences are surmountable if we just come to the Lord humbly with open Bibles asking for him to teach us. It’s a bit more complex than that.
As shepherds of the flock of God we are to both care for and feed the sheep, but we are also to protect them from the wolves that are all around (Acts 20:28-29). The job of a shepherd is to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). In short, strive for unity and truth. Hold them together. That is a lot more difficult than flattening out significant differences (unity at the expense of truth). Boundaries are needed as we work together. If not, where do we stop? In our cooperation are we accidentally condoning or even unintentionally accepting the ministry of a false church? Our partnerships (or lack thereof) are sending a message to the watching world. Are we clear on that message? Would we minister with churches that have completely bought into the prosperity health and wealth gospel? Would we minister with Roman Catholics? Would we minister with mormons or muslims? We have to draw the line somewhere, right?
I completely agree that we have been divided over far too little for far too long. But at the same time we must not seek unity at the expense of God’s truth. There’s a very tricky balance here. But it’s a balance that we must strive to keep no matter the cost. We must work to hold together unity and truth. It would be a sin for us to not partner with some churches just as it would be a sin for us to partner with other churches. Where that line is… well that’s up for debate.
To be fair, I think one of the overriding weaknesses of Place Matters is the authors tendency to overstate. The above two concerns clearly arise because of what may just be overstatements on the part of Crosscombe and Krispin. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. To that end I sincerely appreciate the generous ecumenism found in Place Matters. I would just like to see some of the wording a bit more tempered.
Let me end positively. Place Matters challenged me once again to do the hard work of seeking to engage other area churches for the sake of the Gospel. It’s been one of the most difficult things to do because the majority of existing churches are heavily commuter based while their leadership lives in Jersey. I am trying, not always successfully, to reach out to my fellow pastors, but Place Matters was a solid kick in the rear to not give up in trying to develop relationships with other godly men and women who long for Jesus Christ to be lifted up in our little corner of Philadelphia.
It’s worth ending where Crosscombe and Krispin end: “Where we live is no accident. God has placed each of us in our communities and called us to lie the gospel there – befriending our neighbors, doing life together with members of our local churches, partnering with other bodies of believers in our areas. May we embrace the unity of the Spirit toggedher and bring jubilee to our neighborhoods just as Jesus did, bringing the gospel of hope and deliverance to the poor, the broken, and the lonely in our midst. Place Matters” (229).
May God use Place Matters to foster a deeper commitment to unity and truth for the sake of our beautiful and wonderful Savior!