Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues

by Craig Ott, Stephen J. Strauss, with Timothy C. Tennent

Baker Academic, P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287, 432 pages, 2010, $29.99.

Reviewed by Christopher Flanders, assistant professor of missions and director of the Halbert Institute for Missions, Abilene Christian University.

In Encountering Theology of Mission, professors of mission and intercultural studies Craig Ott and Stephen Strauss respond to the tremendous shifts in culture, mission, and theology of the twentieth century with a theological primer for Christian mission. The authors write recognizing that Christian mission is often given to slogans, trendy strategies, or the latest form of marketing analysis that reduces missions to a form of “pragmatism, enthusiasm, or even political correctness” (p. xiii). Such a de-theologizing of mission, common in some conservative and evangelical quarters, is a major target this work aims to counteract.

Ott and Strauss organize their work into three parts: (1) biblical foundations of mission, (2) motives and means for mission, and (3) mission in local and global contexts (where they discuss contextualization, the Church’s encounter with religions, and the questions of heaven and hell). They state outright that they are articulating an evangelical theology of mission, which takes as its “North Star” for navigation an evangelical notion of biblical authority. Throughout they offer a way of understanding mission that is grounded in the biblical story. Such a theology of mission is, they contend, the “starting point for defining the nature of mission and discerning the practice of mission” (p. xiii).

There is much to commend here. The authors demonstrate a strong Trinitarian emphasis and helpfully elaborate on the Trinitarian foundation of the Christian mission. Rather than a doctrinal litmus test, the doctrine of the Trinity is a functional doctrine that sets a pattern for the life and practice of the Church. This is a critical reminder for all engaged in witness and mission. The section on globalized theology, albeit brief, is quite encouraging. Ott and Straus note that we in the West do not hold a privileged position when it comes to interpreting the Christian Bible. Indeed, varied interpretations (within limits) can be a cause of joy and encouragement as different cultures help one another see things each might miss and provide a helpful corrective to the synchronizing forces inherent in each culture. One excellent feature that runs through the entire book is the inclusion of numerous sidebars and case studies for further reflection to assist in distilling the material.

There are some things to quibble with. Quite disappointing was a lack of discussion of a Trinitarian motive for mission. The discussion of the gospel mandate and creation mandate is quite helpful. Yet, a better way to heal the (unfortunate and unbiblical!) dichotomy they note is to bring both under the overarching rubric of gospel (i.e., the good news that God has undertaken in Christ to bring wholeness and shalom, both individual and structural, spiritual and material, to the entire world). The authors hint that this is the way forward, but a more explicit formulation and elaboration would be welcome.

Finally, the authors do little to work against the continual misuse in English of the terms “mission,” “missions,” and “missionary” as primarily designating that which occurs “over there.” I believe they undervalue the important contributions of the “missional church” discussion in this area, which offers helpful theological and ecclesiological resources necessary to recapture a more biblical notion of the entire Church as “sent” on mission.

Those who are looking for a solidly evangelical, informed, theological elaboration of mission need look no further than this volume.

Check these titles:
Bosch, David J. 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.

Kirk, J. Andrew. 2000. What Is Mission? Theological Explorations. Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Fortress Press.

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EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 117-118. Copyright  © 2011 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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