by David J. Hesselgrave
As one whose missionary ministry has spanned the entire second half of the twentieth century, Dr. David Hesselgrave has been an active and reflective practitioner in world evangelism during an amazing period of expansion in the world Christian movement.
Kregel Academic and Professional, P.O. Box 2607, Grand Rapids, MI 49501-2607, 2005, 368 pages, $20.99.
—Reviewed by Michael Pocock, senior professor and chair, world missions and intercultural studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.
As one whose missionary ministry has spanned the entire second half of the twentieth century, Dr. David Hesselgrave has been an active and reflective practitioner in world evangelism during an amazing period of expansion in the world Christian movement. Following some fourteen years of experience as a missionary in Japan, Hesselgrave founded the School of World Missions at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. As its founder and director for many years, he brought other missiologists together who have prepared hundreds of missionary workers worldwide. His students have been integral to the worldwide advance of the gospel.
Hesselgrave is in an excellent position to evaluate both the missional patterns of the past and those that have emerged in the still-young third millennium. He is a classical missiologist, always seeking to integrate sound biblical and theological study with insights from the social sciences and the history of the missionary enterprise. This is clearly evident in Paradigms in Conflict.
Hesselgrave puts his thesis this way: “Although changes there must and will be, the future of Christian missions will depend more on changes that are not made than it will on changes that are made.” By this he means to call his readers back to sound, biblically-based and proven principles of missions in the face of great pressure to adopt novel approaches.
The book examines ten pairs of conflicting paradigms that have the potential to either advance or obstruct the progress of ministry that is true to the Word of God. Chapters include a careful look at: the question of God’s sovereignty and humankind’s free will; restrictivism or inclusivism in regards to the eternal destiny of the lost; an exploration of the possibility of common ground or starting points as cross-cultural workers witness to those of other religions; and the distinction between holism and prioritism in the integration of social concern with gospel proclamation.
Hesselgrave revisits the issue of whether missionaries are called to incarnate Jesus Christ for and among unbelievers, or represent him by bearing witness to his life, death and resurrection through the ministry of proclamation and teaching. The author’s treatment of this issue calls to mind his earlier dialogue of the mid-1970s with John Stott. He concludes that while our manner should be Christ-like, the pattern of our ministry should be Pauline. Hesselgrave goes on to discuss “power encounter,” which emerged from the thinking of Alan Tippett, Charles Kraft, Peter Wagner and others, and draw his readers back to the priority of truth encounters as the life-changing dynamic for peoples of all cultures.
Hesselgrave has often spoken and written expressing his concern, shared by others such as Ralph Winter, that missions may be falling into the hands of amateurs. This happens when westerners, and particularly Americans, act out their proclivity to individualism, perceiving their own call, volunteering for missions and frequently jumping into cross-cultural work without adequate preparation and insufficient consultation with others in the body of Christ. The increasing use of amateurs is seen in the almost million and a half short-termers who now go overseas each year. Hesselgrave calls for an in-depth study of the short-term phenomenon to measure its true impact on the receiving and sending churches, and on the short-termers themselves. (A rigorous study of short-term missions is being conducted by Dr. Bob Priest at Trinity International University.)
While contextualization has been a hot topic for years, Hesselgrave goes back to the issue of form and meaning in scripture and their impact on translation and proclamation ministries. His chapter underlines a career-long concern for communicating cross-culturally. It is a call to return to propositionalism in the face of postmodern pressure in the opposite direction and to a re-examination of the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the text God has inspired.
The concluding chapters examine the value of managing missions by objective, specifically in terms of time, as it was in the AD 2000 Movement, and how this corresponds to expectations of the Lord’s return, and the relationship between the kingdom of God and the Church of Christ.
Paradigms in Conflict is for those who are about to embark on missionary careers, and it will help many veterans stay on track. It is intended to give new workers the historical, biblical and missiological perspective that will enable them to build on past successes, avoid the tragic mistakes and evaluate the challenges that will confront them in this era. The readers could not have a better teacher than my own mentor, David Hesselgrave.
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