by Gary L. McIntosh
Church Leaders Insights, 2016
—Reviewed by Timothy D. Padgett, adjunct faculty, Trinity Christian College & Judson University
This book tells the immensely fascinating story of an interesting life. While there is an instructional nature to be found here, it is perhaps better seen for its inspirational contribution. Over the course of the book, the reader will gain a glimpse into the hardships of the mid-nineteenth century missionary pioneers, the changing world of their mid-twentieth century successors, and the advent of late-twentieth century concerns remaining with us to today. All this comes through the story of one remarkable man, Donald McGavran (1897-1990).
The book begins by giving the background to McGavran, starting with his ancestral homeland in the British Isles. In this first section we read of the conversion of his family to the ‘Restorationist’ movement and their subsequent involvement in missionary work in British-ruled India.
Moving on to its primary subject, we read of McGavran himself, beginning his life in India as an MK before moving to the United States for schooling, only to return to India as a missionary himself. The final section details McGavran’s professional contribution to the Church at large as he formulated his ideas on ‘church growth’ and worked unswervingly to get this message out through building the appropriate organizations.
Let me say upfront that there are a good number of editing issues and typos along the way. These are distracting, but it would take a hard heart not to be taken up in this tale. When we read of the ordeals endured by the British and American missionaries bringing the gospel to the India of the 1800s, we cannot but feel inspired, and more than a little bit humbled. Likewise, hearing of the work ethic of people like McGavran, striving to hammer out a better understanding of the Church for its leaders, we cannot but feel grateful for the labors of those pushing the bride of Christ to greater heights.
While this book is largely the story of missionaries and missiologists, it can work just as easily as part of a history of twentieth-century Evangelicalism. McGavran worked on the borderlands of the movement, seeking to call his more liberal co-workers to a more conversion focus while also challenging his more conservative fellows to a less individualistic approach.
While he may not be well-known outside seminaries today, throughout his long life, Donald McGavran interacted with many of the key ideas and individuals which shaped and continue to shape Global Evangelicalism today. This book is a very helpful tool for anyone wanting a better understanding of God’s Church and mission today.
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