Soul, Self, and Society: A Postmodern Anthropology for Mission in a Postcolonial World

by Michael Rynkiewich

Cascade Books, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401, 2011, 280 pages (including bibliography and index), $33.00.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Korver-Glenn, Sociology Department, Rice University, Houston, Texas.

In his self-proclaimed life’s work (Preface, xv), Michael Rynkiewich presents a wonderful introduction to the complex anthropological task missionaries around the world are confronted with today. Beginning with a brief overview of anthropology, theology, and missiology, as well as how these disciplines have developed and overlapped over the years, Rynkiewich works systematically through various anthropological categories and how they are pertinent to the anthropologist-as-missionary (or missionary-as-anthropologist).

The strength of Rynkiewich’s book can be found in two interlocking characteristics. First, he provides a brief, yet nuanced, historical perspective of each topic in its respective chapter. For example, in the chapter on “Culture, Ethnocentrism, and Contextualization,” he first defines cognition, perception and emotion, then traces the development of anthropology as a discipline and, within anthropology, the development of the culture concept. Carrying the historical perspective through every chapter, even those as complex as “Colonialism, Neocolonialism, and Postcolonialism,” is one of the most rewarding aspects of the book, particularly for missionaries not yet familiar with anthropological perspectives.

Second, Rynkiewich gives a multitude of rich, real-life examples to illustrate both major and minor concepts throughout his work. Many of these come from his own experiences working with the Marshallese or on the island of Papua New Guinea; many are from a lifetime of research. One particular example is found in the chapter on “Self, Society, and Behavior,” when he recounts a story about the effects of missionaries who persisted in using the guilt/sin framework to proclaim the gospel in a shame/honor-based culture. Locals were spending quite a bit of time focusing on how bad they were; however, when an argument occurred, they tried to resolve it in a traditional shame-based way by exchanging equivalent goods. In the end, the mixed-up locals were left morally confused by the whole affair.

Although Rynkiewich’s book is a worthwhile read, there are a couple of areas for improvement. First, the connection of each anthropological topic with postmodernism is not always clear, and within chapters, subheadings can come across as disconnected to the overall purpose of the book. Second, the end of each chapter is generally reserved for the topic’s relevance to the mission task; however, the author does not devote adequate space for the reader to wrestle epistemologically and practically with the missiological implications of presented anthropological concepts.

Overall, the author has accomplished what he set out to do in Soul, Self, and Society. Indeed, he leverages his extensive education and experience to give voice to several topics that remain largely unknown and/or ignored in the American evangelical culture (e.g., theology of the city, Western-centric global economic systems, etc.). His book will hopefully be used extensively to begin challenging current and future missionaries to grapple with the complex realities faced by billions on our planet every single day.

Check these titles:
Jenkins, Philip. 2002. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press.
Suarez-Orozco, Marcelo M. and Desiree Baolian Qin-Hilliard, eds. 2004. Globalization: Culture and Education in the New Millennium. London: University of California Press.
Walls, Andrew F. 1996. The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.


EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 4, pp. 509-510. Copyright  © 2012 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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