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Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History, and Issues

by Michael W. Goheen

Intervarsity Press. 2014.

Reviewed by Allison Norton, PhD student, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary. 

In the past few years, the field of missiology has benefited from several introductory books that attempt to integrate theological reflection and history with contemporary contexts and challenges. Michael Goheen draws heavily from Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch, Harvie Conn, and others to produce an accessible and approachable survey that is primarily written for Western audiences. The book is written from a reformed-evangelical perspective, yet Goheen is hospitable and considerate in his approach towards other Christian traditions. 

The book is organized around three themes: (1) theology of mission and missional theology, (2) historical and contemporary reflection on mission, and (3) current issues in mission. Part one begins with the biblical story, a missional reading of scripture, before moving to theological reflection on mission. Part two presents a brief narrative of history based on four mission paradigms: early Church, Christendom, Enlightenment, and Ecumenical. It also reflects on the history and contemporary challenges of the Global Church, with particular attention to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The third section explores contemporary issues in mission, including holistic mission (evangelism and social action), contextualization, and missiology’s encounters with Western culture, world religions, the city, and the “unreached.” 

Amidst this landscape, Goheen’s gift to readers (following in the steps of Newbigin) is a continuing call to reimagine the missionary nature of the Church in the West. Twenty-five years after Newbigin’s Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Goheen rearticulates the need for the Western Church to recover its missional identity in a context where “the countercultural thrust of the gospel has been eclipsed, and the church has accommodated itself to the idols that permeate the West,” pointing toward ways the Church can embody good news in Western cultural contexts (p. 297). 

Although an introductory text, the book could be strengthened by a deeper missiological engagement with globalization and international migration theories. For example, the text conspicuously lacks a chapter on globalization in the “Current Issues” section, and the chapter on urban mission conceptualizes the city as largely “unreached” due to the flight of Christians to the suburbs (p. 377-378). However, the case can be made that many cities contain vibrant and thriving immigrant congregations with strong missional identities. Additionally, the use of regional categorizations (i.e. Africa, Asia, the West) limits understandings of historical and contemporary transnational networks.

The book is written for students and pastors, and each chapter includes discussion and essay questions. It is also an excellent resource for mission agencies as a well-written introduction on the missional nature of the Church, with focused exploration of the developments that have contributed to transformed understandings of mission over the last century.

Check these titles:

Skreslet, Stanley H. 2012, Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.

Sunquist, Scott. 2013. Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

Tennent, Timothy C. 2010.Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-First Century. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications.

. . . .

EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 3 pp. 345-346. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

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