Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader and Study Guide, 4th edition

by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds.

As expected, this book is infused with Winter’s own optimistic, activist, upbeat understanding of Christian mission.

William Carey Library, 1605 Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 2009, 768 pages, $31.99 (Reader) and $14.39 (Study Guide).

Reviewed by Dave Broucek, international ministries director, South America Mission, Fort Mill, South Carolina.

Among the myriad of ideas and projects conceived by the late Ralph Winter, the creation of the Perspectives Reader and the Perspectives course rank among the most influential in disseminating missiological understanding to the public. Although the Perspectives Reader is familiar to most, if not all, of EMQ’s constituency and certainly to the 100,000 people who have taken the Perspectives course, new material in the fourth edition justifies a review. Half of the 136 chapters are new or are updated versions of chapters in previous editions. A list of all the new chapters can be found at    

I sat down with the book over several days and spent delightful hours perusing the new material. As expected, the book is infused with Winter’s own optimistic, activist, upbeat understanding of Christian mission. Like earlier editions, this edition is organized into biblical, historical, cultural, and strategic sections. Some of the new material is drawn from other published works that have appeared since the previous edition. For example, in the biblical section you’ll find short selections from Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God (2006); N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008 ); and Lesslie Newbigin’s Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History (2003). These selections are two to seven pages long and should whet one’s appetite for the authors’ longer works.    

Other new material makes its first appearance in the Perspectives Reader. An example is Sarita Gallagher and Steven Hawthorne’s chapter, “Blessing as Transformation.” They point to the Abrahamic blessing as part of that body of biblical truth “that supports a robust and strategic holism.” For me, the emphasis on blessing not only rescued a solid biblical term from its dowdy aura, but served as a welcome counterweight to a pervasive public perception of the missionary enterprise as an ethnocentric imposition on unwelcoming and unwilling people. Drawing on statistical, sociological research rather than biblical exegesis, Robert D. Woodberry’s “The Social Impact of Christian Missions” demonstrates the public benefit of the Christian faith. Today’s readers, unfamiliar with the three volumes of James Dennis’ 1897-1906 Christian Missions and Social Progress, will here find evidence to show that the message of Jesus serves adherents well in time as well as in eternity. Not that human progress is the sole, much less the supreme motivation for mission. David Bryant’s chapter, “Beyond Loving the World: Serving the Son for His Surpassing Glory,” provide, like the earlier chapter by John Piper, a theocentric motivation for doing what we do.

One theme that runs through the book is Winter’s well-known advocacy of new Christ-followers retaining their former cultural and even religious identity. Harley Talman’s “Become Like, Remain Like” and David Anthony’s “A New Creation” provide a biblical/theological rationale for such ideas as Rick Love’s “Identify with Integrity” and Rebecca Lewis’ “Insider Movements: Retaining Identity and Preserving Community.” New case studies provide narrative evidence of the efficacy of this approach. Other new chapters that caught my attention were Miriam Adeney’s “Is God Colorblind or Colorful? The Gospel, Globalization and Ethnicity” and Tim Keller’s “Cities and Salt: Counter-cultures for the Common Good.”

This edition will become a popular text in missionary training colleges and seminaries throughout the English-speaking world just as previous editions have been. It’s not a substitute for other texts such as those in the excellent Baker Encountering Mission series, but it is a convenient, informative, and inspiring collection of short, highly readable selections on the Christian mission. Outside the classroom, I urge field missionaries to keep the Perspectives Reader on hand for their own personal edification. We need—even as we go about our work—the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual stimuli that these authors provide. Read a few chapters at a time; read in the area of your interests; pursue common threads throughout the book; read topics you are not familiar with. Organize your own learning group using the 15-lesson Study Guide. Your investment will pay off in both head-level and heart-level reinvigoration.


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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