Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions

by Alan R. Johnson

Alan R. Johnson seeks to respond to the increasingly fuzzy definitions of missions and missionary identity.

William Carey Library, 1605 East Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 258 pages, 2009, $17.99.

Reviewed by Dr. DeLonn Rance, an Assemblies of God missionary veteran of twenty-five years and the director of intercultural doctoral studies and associate professor of intercultural studies at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.

Who are the “real” missionaries? Am I a missionary if I spend two weeks in Jamaica on a mission trip? Who are the “reached” and the “unreached?” Are some people more “lost” than others? Alan R. Johnson seeks to respond to the increasingly fuzzy definitions of missions and missionary identity by proposing an integrative paradigm for missions that responds to the “where” of the missionary task by looking at “apostolic function.”

He begins by highlighting the growing lack of clarity in Evangelical and Pentecostal/Charismatic (EPC) missiology and praxis. Paradigmatic thinking, according to Johnson, provides a methodological means to bring clearer focus to the missionary enterprise. He identifies church planting/church growth, social concern, and unreached people/frontiers as three insightful but often competing paradigms in EPC streams of mission. He offers apostolic function as a fourth paradigm for missionary identity defined as a “focus on the apostolic task of preaching the gospel where it has not been heard, planting the church where it does not exist, and leading people to the obedience of faith so that they, too, will express Jesus Christ in their social worlds and participate in God’s global mission” (p. 102).

In reviewing contemporary mission paradigms, Johnson summarizes the insights of frontier missiology as originally proposed and developed by Ralph Winter. He then articulates the problems produced by this paradigm when pushed to an extreme in popular missiology. Despite these problems, the contributions of frontier/unreached people thinking as enumerated are significant. By integrating a comprehensive approach and utilizing the four paradigms as tools of spiritual discernment, missionary action and identity are defined, critiqued, and evaluated in light of scripture, thus bringing clarity to the missionary task. The book concludes by addressing issues related to the “where” of missions, including the placement of cross-cultural workers, the clarification of terminology, and the use of human constructs.  

Johnson prophetically calls the Church back to the very nature of the gospel and the work of the cross, advocating the planting of the Church among peoples where it does not exist. He underscores the truth that all human beings are in equal need of salvation in Jesus Christ, but not all have equal access to the good news. While critiquing and contributing to the frontiers paradigm, he introduces apostolic function as a heuristic that defines missionary identity and practice as guided by the Holy Spirit. All missionary calls are valued and affirmed, but obedience to the call must always include the priority of the apostolic function of making Christ known where he is not.

Johnson’s book is a must-read for those who prayerfully and strategically engage in the fulfillment of the biblical mandate to communicate the gospel to all peoples and to every person in the twenty-first century.

Check these titles:
Hesselgrave, David J. 2005. Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel.

Pocock, Michael, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and C. Douglas McConnell. 2005. The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

Winter, Ralph D. and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds. 2009. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader 4th ed. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.


EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 240-241. Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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