by Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder
Steve Bevans and Roger Schroeder of the Catholic Theological Union have written a wonderful new overview of the history and theology of missions.
American Society of Missiology Series. Orbis Books, P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll, NY 10545, 2004, 488 pages, $30.00.
—Reviewed by Alan G. Padgett, professor of systematic theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Steve Bevans and Roger Schroeder of the Catholic Theological Union have written a wonderful new overview of the history and theology of missions. This book is a rich and readable survey of the field, just as good as—perhaps in some ways better than—David Bosch’s Transforming Mission. The authors combine both missional theology and the history of mission in a unique fashion, understanding both theology and the church to be missionary at the core. The result is a superb tour of the history of Christian global missionary expansion, and the various theologies of missions, past and present.
The work is divided into three parts. They start with an overview of the book of Acts, with special focus on its lessons for missional theology, concluding that “to the extent that the Jesus community responds to the Spirit’s call to continue Jesus’ mission in new and perhaps unthinkable ways, it becomes the church” (30).
Next the authors introduce the six themes and the three types of theology which provide an architecture for the rest of the book. Their six recurrent themes are: christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, salvation, anthropology and culture. These themes are well chosen, for they establish the core of any missional theology.
Their three main types of theology, first identified by the historical theologian Justo Gonzalez, correspond to three early figures in Christian thought: Type A (evangelical/orthodox) with Tertullian, type B (liberal Protestant and Catholic) with Origen and type C (liberation) with Irenaeus. Granted the typical limitations of an introductory work, these general types are okay; but will not always fit well with the more sophisticated theologies of mission which incorporate differing elements in a larger synthesis.
Part two covers the history of the global expansion of Christianity, looking particularly at areas that are too often excluded by a Euro-centric approach. They also include the theology of mission within each historical epoch. It is astonishing that in a mere two hundred pages they are able to introduce these vast and diverse fields in a cogent and readable style.
The third section is a study of missional theology in the late twentieth century. The final three chapters which cover Missio Dei, liberation and inter-religious dialogue, roughly correspond to their three theological types. The last chapter is their own suggestion for ways in which these contemporary themes could be combined in a “prophetic dialogue.”
I can recommend Constants in Context to anyone interested in the history and theology of mission, especially those with little background in the field. The authors are to be congratulated. Their work will be the starting place for future discussion and dialogue.
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