Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission

by Stanley H. Skreslet

Stanley Skreslet, professor of mission at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, argues in this book that the study of mission should be approached in terms of “images” that are based on the New Testament accounts.

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 255 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, 2006, 279 pages, $24.00.

Reviewed by William Dyrness, professor of theology and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

Stanley Skreslet, professor of mission at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, argues in this book that the study of mission should be approached in terms of “images” that are based on the New Testament accounts. He thinks that a focus on images of the disciples’ witness will overcome the overly rational approach to a Christian theology of mission and appeal to the affections as well as the mind.

To pursue this worthy aim, Skreslet chooses five images of mission found in the New Testament: Announcing the Good News; Sharing Christ with Friends; Interpreting the Gospel; Shepherding; and Building and Planting. In each chapter he engages in extensive exegetical work on the biblical material, develops the theological implications of the topic and finally includes several visual images (thirty-one in all) that illustrate and develop the focus of the chapter. The result is a book that provides interesting ways of thinking about mission. His exegetical and theological work is careful; his focus on the disciples in the actual practice of mission is helpful. The images of “announcing” and “sharing” provide very different ways of looking at mission; “interpreting” helps us see how the disciples began the process of cultural contextualization. “Shepherding” and “building” taken together give a holistic view of mission.

The author’s intent to suggest new ways of seeing mission is harder to assess. One problem lies with the use of “image.” He writes: “Images of mission are taken to be visual expressions of one or another understanding of Christian outreach”; by this he means both mental images and actual pictures. But in the book it can be hard to see the connections between the “images” discussed and the visuals discussed. (Readers may want to consult Smith, 2003, on integrating actual images into mission theology.) The “images” Skreslet discusses are not pictures but “practices.” Such practices, approached in the McIntyrian sense of communal habits developed over time, might well make an important contribution to thinking about mission, but they do not appeal to the imagination in the way the author intends.

It is certainly not the fault of Skreslet that the theological and biblical tradition that he uses tends to the rational and cognitive. There are resources outside the theological community; however, that might help us. See below for a list of these resources.

Check these titles:
Freedberg, David. 1989. The Power of Images. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

Morgan, David. 1998. Visual Piety. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

______. 2005. The Sacred Gaze. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Smith, David. 2003. Mission after Christendom. London: Ekklesia.

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Copyright © 2007 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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