Review of “Controversies in Mission: Theology, People, and Practice in the 21st Century”

192397561The Evangelical Missiological Society’s 2016 volume, Controversies in Mission, edited by Rochelle Cathcart Scheuerman and Edward L. Smithers contains papers from the 2015 Regional Meetings and National Conference.

The book is divided into four parts:

  • Part One, Biblical Perspectives and the Theology of Mission
  • Part Two, The People of Mission
  • Part Three, The Practice of Mission
  • Part Four, Historical and Future Perspectives.

Part One leads off with a chapter titled, “Controversies on Paul’s First Missionary Journey.” Robert J. Priest points to the inherent controversies Paul experienced in taking the gospel into a Gentile context. There are many helpful insights here but some speculation as well. There is no contextual evidence that John Mark left the first missionary journey because he was unhappy with Paul’s cultural accommodation (9).

“The Case for Prioritism” is made in chapter 2 by Christopher R. Little. The debate between Prioritism and Holism has been going on for more than a century. Little does not settle for a dichotomy, “What is being stipulated here is not a dichotomy between word and deed but rather a hierarchy of word over deed.” (28)

Chapter three examines “Carl F. H. Henry’s Regenerational Model of Evangelism and Social Concern and the Promise of Evangelical Consensus.” Jerry M. Ireland demonstrates that “Henry’s position emphasizes the priority of evangelism and the necessity of social concern.” (55) The author also points out that,

At the heart of Henry’s approach is the idea that God’s own gracious self-revelation constitutes the central feature of Judeo-Christian heritage, and that there exists a fundamental connection between the doctrine of revelation and the church’s proclamation task. Specifically, the doctrine of revelation necessitates prioritism and renders social concern as necessary. (56,7)

I found this chapter very stimulating. In my opinion, Henry’s writings, especially his 6-volume God, Revelation and Authority, should be read by all who would think biblically in the 21st century.

Chapter 4 challenges the pragmatic bent of contemporary missions by “Reconsidering the Formative Role of Ethics within Missiological Practice.” Greg Mathias builds on “Virtue Ethics”, giving priority to character development over number of converts:

This connection allows for the Great Commission to move from the realm of mere task completion to the realm of worship. … seeing the Great Commission as a worshipful response, transforms the focus from strategy and means in accomplishing a task into a focus on being the kind of people from whom the Great Commission naturally flows. (94)

Part Two, “The People of Mission,” begins with a chapter dealing with intergenerational power struggles in the Korean American Church. This is followed by a chapter on conflict management in mission organization. The controversial image of US American missionaries is the subject of chapter 7. A chapter on the continuing role of western Bible translators and a chapter on ministering in the context of immigration and deportation round out Part 2.

The Practice of Mission, Part 3, centers on the terminology for God (particularly “Son of God”) in Bible translation. These are certainly complex issues that we must carefully consider. I was somewhat surprised that the final chapter in this part considered “Bible interpretation using only the Bible” so rare. My own education and 35 years of teaching in a Bible College made this a prerequisite to consulting commentaries and other secondary sources.

Part 4 consists of a single chapter, “Saving the Future of Evangelical Missions” by David J. Hesselgrave. After an overview of conciliar and conservative missions in the twentieth century, he points to the dangers facing evangelical missions today. Hesselgrave expresses concerns that evangelical missions might be following the same drift as the conciliar movement:

At its very beginning, the conciliar ecumenical movement refused to consider even the most fundamental of the Christian faith in order to enhance fellowship and unity. In their very beginnings, conservative evangelical associations, on the other hand, based both faith and fellowship on an authoritative Bible and orthodox doctrine. As made apparent from a reading of The Changing Face 0f World Missions (Pocock, Van Rheenen and McConnell 2005) and much else, changes there have been and changes there will be. But the future [of] evangelical missions – and the evangelical movement as a whole – will depend more on changes that are not made than changes that are made. (303)

Hesselgrave points to the quintessential relationship between vision statements and doctrine:

Mission/vision statements grow out of faith/creedal statements – or, at least, they should. Faith/creedal statements do not grow out of mission/vision statements – or, at least, they should not. (305,6)

Evangelicals must respond to global changes by aligning (or realigning) missiology with sound theology. (311)

As previous volumes in the Evangelical Missiological Society Series do, this volume provides missiologists and practitioners food for thought.


 

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