Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods

by Eckhard J. Schnabel

There has always been a temptation, when considering biblical texts, to move too quickly from narrative description to normative prescription.

InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400. Downers Grove, Ill. 60515-1426, 2008, 480 pages, $32.00.

Reviewed by Richard Schultz, professor of Old Testament, biblical and theological studies department, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

For missionaries past and present, a frequent guiding question has been: WWPD? (What would Paul do?). Trailblazing, Spirit-directed, and obviously successful—it is only natural that the apostle’s strategies and methods would be a focus of modern-day missiological reflection. Unfortunately, such efforts have sometimes been based upon inadequate knowledge of the precise nature of Paul’s mission, that is, what he did and why he did it in light of first-century realities in the Mediterranean world. Furthermore, there has always been a temptation, when considering biblical texts, to move too quickly from narrative description to normative prescription.

Eckhard Schnabel, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, competently addresses both deficits in producing the new standard work for understanding Paul the missionary and what we can learn from him for our missionary efforts today. This information-filled book draws richly on the author’s exhaustive (nearly 2,000-page!) prior study of early Christian missions. Schnabel begins by considering all pertinent biblical data in order to describe Paul’s background and missionary journeys (ch.1), the nature of his missionary task (ch. 2), and the content of his message (ch. 3). On the basis of this comprehensive portrait of Paul’s mission, he then synthesizes the apostle’s goals and strategies (ch. 4), as well as his methods (ch. 5), before bridging the gap to the context of twenty-first century missionary activity (ch. 6).

The author presents his work with Roland Allen’s comparable (but much briefer) contribution (1st ed. 1912) in view. Whereas Allen focused on Paul for the purpose of promoting specific changes in the way the Church of his day approached missions, Schnabel’s aim is to encourage readers to take a closer look at Paul’s ministry and teaching and then reevaluate their own understanding of missions. Schnabel begins this reassessment by considering what answers his study suggests for questions like: What kind of training is needed for those engaging in missionary work? What should be the primary focus of the local church? and To what extent should the proclamation of the gospel be culturally contextualized and to what extent should it call for cultural transformation?

Writing as a mature biblical scholar and former OMF missionary in the Philippines, Schnabel honestly acknowledges the complexity of the hermeneutical and pragmatic task facing the contemporary practitioner. Perhaps that is why his concluding chapter contains so many judicious and valuable insights. In the future, no responsible missionary or missiologist can answer the “WWPD” question without first reading this book!

Check these titles:
Allen, Roland, 2001 (reprint). Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Barnett, Paul W. 2008. Paul: Missionary of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

O’Brien, Peter T. 1995. Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.


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