Mission in the Way of Paul: Biblical Mission for the Church in the 21st Century

by Christopher R. Little

Christopher Little is to be congratulated for writing a book on the second most significant missionary exemplar of all time, the peripatetic and harrowingly adventurous Apostle Paul.

Peter Lang, 275 Seventh Ave., 28th floor, NY, NY 10001, 2005, 345 pages. $76.95.

Reviewed by Jonathan Bonk, executive director, Overseas Ministries Study Center, and editor of International Bulletin of Missionary Research.

Christopher Little is to be congratulated for writing a book on the second most significant missionary exemplar of all time, the peripatetic and harrowingly adventurous Apostle Paul. Insofar as Paul urged his readers to imitate him (Acts 20:25-35; 1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Thess. 3:7-9), and given that he both referenced and commended Jesus Christ as examplar par excellence (Phil. 2), this book is no less than an invitation to missiological integrity—mission in the manner and spirit of Christ, the head of the Church.

The first five chapters of the book introduce the apostle himself—“who Paul was, what he did and why he did it” (p. 1)—by examining his personal socioeconomic status and contexts both before and after his conversion (chap. 2), by outlining the theological underpinnings and contextually-adapted methods characterizing his ministry (chap. 3) and by elaborating on the theoretical and pragmatic bases for his extraordinarily vital missiology and its attendant achievements (chap. 4). All of this lays the groundwork for the author’s underlying intention: to establish a biblical foundation for dealing with the perplexing, hydra-headed challenge of international resource sharing and partnership among members of a contemporary global Christian “community” that is sharply and increasingly divided along economic lines. After surveying “resource sharing among churches in the first-century world of Paul” in chapter 5, Little argues compellingly against the plausibility of prevailing “partnership in mission” paradigms in chapter 6, the book’s longest—and likely to prove most controversial—chapter.

While not everyone will be satisfied that the author has drawn either inevitable or compelling conclusions from his own data—given the larger biblical framework against which Christians must ever assess the appropriateness of their ethical behavior as followers of God—this book is nevertheless essential reading for church and mission leaders struggling with what it means to be a single global Christian family, sitting at a common Lord’s table on which most of the fare is apparently restricted for consumption by the few Laodiceans sitting at one end.

At the beginning of his book, Little declares his intention to “stimulate missiological reflection [using the Apostle Paul] in order to challenge, inform and guide the contemporary mission of the Church in the world” (p. 1). In my view, he has succeeded admirably! The 91-page bibliography and 14-page index enhance the usefulness of the book.

It is a pity, then, that this book—Vol. 80 in the Studies in Biblical Literature series under the general editorship of Hemchand Gossai—is so xpensive as to be unaffordable to the very people most likely to benefit from its contents. I know of few missionaries or Christian academics—even in North America, let alone in Latin America, Africa or Asia—who can afford to fork over $77 plus postage for a published doctoral dissertation. erhaps the author and his publisher will consider making it more accessible through a reciprocal arrangement with another publisher, so that the book can become readily available to missionaries, ecclesiastics and students around the world. If not, this book will sink without a trace. But if so, I predict that this fine work is destined to occupy a complementary place beside such seminal works as Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours (Roland Allen, 1912), On the Mission Field: The Indigenous Church (Melvin L. Hodges, 1953) and The Responsible Church and the Foreign Mission (Beyerhaus and Lefever, 1964).


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