The Church & the World: Understanding the Relevance of Mission

by J. Andrew Kirk


Reviewed by J. Rupert Morgan, strategic initiatives and research coordinator, ABWE

The Church’s mission in the world is not always well understood. Towards this end, J. Andrew Kirk synthesizes biblical foundations, historical patterns, and contemporary concerns in a systematic and biblical theology of mission. He approaches the topic with a religious, philosophical, and historical breadth, using perspectives from within and without the walls of the Church—hence, the bibliography containing 397 entries. Kirk argues for the validity of the Church’s message and mission while dealing with objections to the Christian faith and mission, but he remains objective in his evaluations by outlining its historical failures and contemporary challenges as well.  

The volume is divided into three sections. Part One deals with the biblical foundation of mission.  This must be the starting point for any legitimate presentation on the relevance of the Church’s mission in the world. Kirk begins by developing a biblical cosmology demonstrating how the ministry and kingdom of Jesus Christ fulfills the purpose of the cosmos and contests with the kingdoms of men. Chapter two presents an Old Testament biblical theology of mission focusing on the covenants and Israel’s missional role to the nations. Chapter three develops a New Testament biblical theology of mission found in the life and work of Christ and his kingdom and the commission given to the Church. The final chapter in this section maps the ethical witness of God’s people through both testaments with application for the disciple today. 

Part Two is a very selective discussion of historical development of the Church in mission. The advocacy of Catholic priests for the indigenous populations during the Spanish conquest of Latin America receives special attention. The Anabaptist dissension in Reformation Europe parallels the events in Latin America. The Anabaptists seem to be minor players in Reformation history, but were selected because of the unique contributions they make to understanding the mission of the Church in the world. This section concludes with the bellwether event of the 1910 Edinburgh conference. Kirk provides a concise summary of the historical significance of this conference, along with the positive and negative ramifications it produced for mission in the twentieth century, some of which remain with us today.

Part Three focuses on four contemporary challenges faced by the Church in mission. Liberation theology became a leading force in mission during the 1970s by assimilating Marxist theory in response to political oppression and marginalization. A second challenge relates to the Church’s response to war in a nuclear age in which ethnic cleansing, religious schisms, and Islamic radicalism are global concerns. The final two chapters, “Religious Worlds” and “Secular Worlds” provide an excellent summary of the debate regarding the legitimacy of Christian faith and the relevance of the Church’s mission.

It would require several volumes to adequately cover the multiple dimensions of the Church and the world. Everyone may not agree with what Kirk has included or omitted in this work.  However, he has done an admirable job by helping us to understand the relevance of mission in contemporary settings. 

Check these titles:

Hiebert, Paul. 2009. The Gospel in Human Contexts: Anthropological Explorations for Contemporary Mission. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Publishing Co.

Tennent, Timothy. 2010. Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-First Century. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications.


EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 2 pp. 239-240. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

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