by Wilbert R. Shenk, ed.
Most of the chapters in this work were delivered in two consultations of the North Atlantic Missiology Project, which took place at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1997 and Fuller Theological Seminary in 1998.
William B. Eerdmans, 255 Jefferson Ave. S.E., Grand Rapids, MI, 49503, 2004, 349 pages, $45.00.
—Reviewed by Paul E. Pierson, senior professor of mission history and Latin American studies, Fuller Theological Seminary.
Most of the chapters in this work were delivered in two consultations of the North Atlantic Missiology Project, which took place at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1997 and Fuller Theological Seminary in 1998. The Project’s concern was to investigate the relationship between theology, theory and practice in British and American Protestant foreign missions up to 1914.
Mission movements have typically been launched out of profound spiritual experiences, but have been without adequate theoretical or even theological foundations. Hence the usefulness of this volume. The first five chapters deal with aspects of the history of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the first American mission society. Chapter One depicts how the long shadow of Jonathan Edwards and the “New Divinity” provided the theological and ethical motivation for mission. The rise of “Manifest Destiny” and the voice of Josiah Strong in the latter third of the century altered the impetus for missionary work. The chapter on Rufus Anderson, the dominant voice in the American missions movement during most of the century, indicates the complexity of putting his “Three-self” theory into practice. The ideal was clear, but how was it to be implemented when pastors who were trained in Western-style institutions served churches among impoverished people in the non-Western world? And what should be the relationship of the missionaries to the national pastors?
Two chapters on the role of women describe varying approaches in different cultures. They ranged from Baptist women in Burma, who often worked as evangelists among the hill tribes, to Congregationalists in Hawaii, who wanted to shelter their children from the native culture, to Canadian women, who refused to be confined to “women’s work for women.”
The relationship between social and theological issues at home and abroad can be seen in two chapters. One chapter deals with relationships between African-American and Anglo-American Presbyterian missionaries in Liberia and the issue of slavery before the American civil war. Another chapter describes the relationship between the Social Gospel and missions.
Two chapters on individual persons bear mentioning. Robert E. Speer was the most influential American mission leader in the first half of the twentieth century. We can still learn from him today as he was a powerful exponent of the missionary call. The chapter on Madam Gao (Martha Foster Crawford) describes the shift in worldview of a Southern belle who initially identified the Christian life-style with ante-bellum Southern culture, only to change radically as she adopted Chinese ways.
As one who was nurtured spiritually by biographies of J. Hudson Taylor, I found the last chapter of keen interest as it describes a number of the theological and ecclesiastical currents swirling through the early days of the China Inland Mission during the fundamentalist era.
This is a fascinating work covering various facets of mission in the “Great Century.” It is by no means complete, but very helpful, as many of the issues in nineteenth-century missions are still with us today.
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