Missions in Context: a book review

Contextualization has long been a buzzword for Evangelical missiologists. It denotes the process by which the gospel (our timeless, Biblical message) is transmitted to a particular people group in a way which speaks into that culture. Yet when evangelical missionaries talk about ‘contextualizing the gospel, what practices and philosophical approach do they have in mind? In some of the foundational literature on contextualization, it was assumed that evangelicals simply labored at ‘translating the message’ for a culture but did little else. However this does not do justice to the variety of approaches which evangelicals have taken as they share their faith with the world.

Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models by A. Scott Moreau

A. Scott Moreau, professor of Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College has written a comprehensive resource which identifies and analyzes the landscape of evangelical contextualization. As someone who teaches Intercultural Studies at an evangelical institution, Moreau is no dispassionate academic. However the chief value of Contextualization in World Missions, is Moreau’s ability to describe what it is we evangelicals do on the mission field.

Moreau divides his book into two parts. In section one he discusses the foundations of evangelical contextualization. Evangelicals were not the first to use the term and have built on the work of other thinkers/practitioners. In chapter one, Moreau summarizes the work of Stephen Bevans and Robert Schreiter, both of who mapped various approaches to contextualization and evangelical missiologists have built on their work; however evangelical approaches differ from more mainline approaches in that evangelicals are committed to the necessity of conversion, activism, Biblicism and crucicentrism (Bebbington’s characteristics of evangelicals). In chapter two and three, Moreau further explores the constraints on evangelical approaches based on their understanding of revelation and interpretation.  Chapters four through six look closer at the good and bad in contextualization, conceptual frameworks and describe Moreau’s analytic approach.

In section two, Moreau sets about mapping the variety of evangelical contextual approaches. He maps six approaches to contextualization, drawn from his research into what 249 contextual initiators are doing (i.e missions organizations or ministries working on a multinational scale).  From his research, he uncovered six distinct approaches. That of facilitator, guide, herald, pathfinder, prophet and restorer. He closes this section by imagining future trajectories of evangelical mission and the work of contextualization. Additionally he includes several appendices which evaluate other evangelical attempts at mapping contextualization.

If you are looking for a book that provides a comprehensive overview of evangelical understandings of contextualization, this is really the best book. It is accessible and Moreau does a very good job of evaluated various approaches and summarizing the debates.Each chapter begins with a summary and outline and ends with a list of keywords from the chapter and questions for reflection.  This will be a helpful resource for the classroom, or for missions preparations.  Readers who are interested in the philosophical underpinning of various missional approaches will also find this worthwhile. I highly recommend it. I give it five stars. ★★★★★

I received this book from Kregel Academic through the Kregel Academic and Ministry Blog Program.

The Missional Apostle: a book review

When Robert Plummer and John Mark Terry started gathering contributors for Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours, two figures loomed large in their collective imagination. The first was Paul of Tarsus whose mission and writings helped shape the early Christian movement. The other figure was Roland Allen, the 20th Century Anglican missionary to China. One Hundred years ago Allen wrote  Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (1912). Allen had been a missionary to China and critiqued the missionary culture of his day for being too closely linked to imperialism. From a fresh reading of Paul’s mission, Allen emphasized church planting, indigenous leadership of national churches, and reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours edited by Robert L. Plummer & John Mark Terry

Published on the centennial of  Allen’s original publication,  Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours provides a detailed reading of Paul’s Missionary activity and build on Allen’s insights for a contemporary context. While various contributors critique Allen’s work in several respects,  generally they all see Allen’s book as justly influential and seek to carry some of his emphases forward.

The book divides into two sections: part one focuses on Paul’s message  while part two focuses on the implications of Paul’s mission for today. These sections were written by two complementary sets of scholars. Part one is written by Biblical scholars; part two is composed by missiologists, church planters and practitioners.  Thus while each author tries to suggest what the implications of their topic are  for today, the second section is more practical and the first section remains more theological.

In Part 1, Michael Bird sketches the cultural and historic milieu of Paul’s mission, placing it in context. Eckhard Schnabel examines what  we know of Paul’s missionary journeys. Robert Plummer discusses the nature of Pauls gospel (especially in reference to 1 Cor. 15:1-8). Benjamin Merkle ‘s and Christoph Stenschke‘s chapters explore Paul’s ecclesiology and the nature of his mission for the life of the church. Don Howell explores Paul’s theology of suffering while Craig Keener looks at Paul’s understanding of Spiritual warfare.  Each of these authors presents their topic in conversation with Allen’s work.

In Part 2, David Hesselgrave and Michael Pocock flesh out Paul’s missional strategy and discuss its value for today, John Mark Terry explore Allen’s reading of Paul’s mission and the implications for the indigenous church, Ed Stetzer and Lizette Beard write about Paul’s emphasis on church planting. M. David Sills  discusses contextualization and Chuck Lawless explores Paul’s ongoing  emphasis on leadership development in the churches he planted.

Finally J.D. Payne has a postscript on the legacy of Allen’s work and its abiding influence 100 years after its original publication.

This collection of essays provides a good introduction to Roland Allen and his influence on missiology.  Aspects of Allen’s work are critiqued in these pages (see especially Hesselgrave’s chapter), but each of the authors displays deep admiration for Allen and follow his summons to conduct missions in the Spirit of Paul’s mission.

As with all multi-author works, some essays are stronger than others and there is a certain amount of topical overlap between chapters. However each chapter stands on its own merit. Too much of the modern missional literature is rootless and lacks Biblical grounding. These authors (and Roland Allen) call us to see Paul’s mission as integral to proper missional theology and praxis. I am inclined to think they are right and would recommend this book to a broad range of pastors, church planters.

Thank you to IVP for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.