Paradigm Shifts in Christian Witness: Insights from Anthropology, Communication, and Spiritual Power

by Charles Van Engen, Darrell Whiteman, and Dudley Wo

This book identifies three of the virtually revolutionary concepts that have been at the heart of this paradigmatic change in how we communicate the gospel.

Orbis Books, P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll, NY 10545, 2008, 159 pages, $25.00.

Reviewed by Douglas Hayward, School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University, La Mirada, California.

Several years ago, Time magazine headlined its lead article as “The New Missionary” replete with the cover picture of an American missionary preaching to a group of semi-naked natives sitting around in a circle. The article itself consisted of interviews of missionaries from around the globe describing how these “new” missionaries were committed to holistic ministries aimed at improving the quality of peoples’ lives. Well, Time magazine got it all wrong. The new missionaries who began to emerge in growing numbers during the final quarter of the twentieth century and continuing into the present are those who have experienced a major paradigm shift about the very philosophical and theoretical foundations of how we need to do missions. This book identifies three of the virtually revolutionary concepts that have been at the heart of this paradigmatic change in how we communicate the gospel.

As a festschrift in honor of Charles Kraft, this book consists of thirteen chapters written by some of missiology’s outstanding scholars and writers. Focusing on Kraft’s seminal contributions to missiology in the three fields of missiological anthropology, communication theory, and spiritual warfare, each of the writers addresses and further elaborates the manner in which these topics have impacted the very nature of how missions is carried out in our day.

In the first section on cultural anthropology, we come to understand how anthropology moved from becoming a hostile critic of missions and a detested enemy by Christians, to becoming a powerful tool for greater effectiveness in breaking down needless cultural barriers to the gospel. In the second section the reader is introduced to the manner in which an understanding of communication theory can enhance the effectiveness of the sharing of the gospel. When we come to the third section on spiritual warfare, we are reminded that the ministry of the gospel is not just about the appropriate use of technological skills, but about being able to address spiritual powers through a confident relationship with Jesus Christ. All together, each section points today’s new missionary toward a more biblically faithful and culturally responsible manner for engaging in the Great Commission.

A curious omission in the book is its failure to incorporate any mention of Kraft’s focus on contextualization, or the role that contextualization plays in the contemporary paradigm shift in missions. The reader will have to look elsewhere for that information.

Check these titles:

Bosch, David. 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.

Kraft, Charles, ed. 2005. Appropriate Christianity. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Kraft, Charles. 2001. Culture, Communication and Christianity. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Copyright © 2009 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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