Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian Industrial Complex

by Scott A. Bessenecker

Intervarsity Press, 2014.

Reviewed by Joel Rainey, PhD, strategist for engagement, Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network; professor of ministry, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In a book that will be a shock to the system of many Western mission agencies, Scott Bessenecker describes “the end of world missions as we know it” (p. 20) and seeks to prescribe a path forward that stands on the shoulders of the past while effectively engaging in God’s mission after modernity.

Bessenecker begins the book by contending that Western Protestant missions is too racially, culturally, generationally, and methodologically monolithic. As he unpacks this contention in the first part of the book, he unveils a mission delivery system that is overwhelmingly white, generally older, funded by a corporate structure dependent on large amounts of capital, and consequently, incompatible with the world it presumes it can reach. His conclusion is that “money should not be a key ingredient for getting all things done.…This should be true especially among those who preach the coming of a kingdom that is good news to the poor—those without capital” (p. 24).

Bessenecker builds his case via the history of Western missions—contrasting well-known agencies and personalities with those who conducted missions “under the radar.”  He then examines how Western Protestant missions became exclusively tied to a corporate mindset, and how that has bottlenecked the Church’s mission. His answer to this dilemma is a wholesale shift from a strategy dominated by commercial individualism “to the communal perspective” (p. 115).

The communal approach, he contends, allows for a more holistic approach to mission, and invites those in the Body of Christ who would be excluded by the corporate paradigm to be full participants in engaging the world Jesus died to save. Bessenecker believes that this will require intentionally moving away from partnerships that look like business arrangements in favor of success assessments that look beyond the “bottom line” of numbers alone. He concludes by challenging the reader to consider an approach more compatible with those most corporate structures would consider unfit outcasts—and to do so for the sake of mission, because our faith builds “a world where prisoners and prostitutes, outcasts and oppressed occupy the seats of honor.  These are Christianity’s new architects” (p. 185).

Bessenecker has provided the Body of Christ with a penetrating analysis of our current status, coupled with a keen understanding of how we have arrived at this place. There are a few places in the book where Bessenecker falls prey to the methodological myopia he laments, and this is most evident in his ardent defense of wealth redistribution that sometimes wanders outside the parameters of mission to address society as a whole. But the reader who is able to look past these ancillary perceptions toward the overall future Bessenecker commends will find both an accurate picture of our present, and some solid first steps toward the future we must embrace for the sake of the gospel.


EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 4 pp. 460-461. 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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