by Jacques A. Blocher and Jacques Blandenier, translated by Michael Park.
William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth Street, Pasadena, CA 91104, 754 pages, 2013, $49.95.
—Reviewed by Ed Smither, associate professor of intercultural studies at Columbia International University.
Through the capable work of translator Michael Parker, English-speaking students of mission history now possess this thorough, yet readable volume by Jacques Blocher and Jacques Blandenier—two European professors who labored for many years in theological education in France and Switzerland. Originally a two-volume work in French, this book grew out of the authors’ courses on mission history and has been a resource in theological schools in Francophone Africa. As the scope of the work stretches from the first to the mid-twentieth century, it resembles Stephen Neill’s A History of Christian Missions. However, Blocher and Blandenier greatly limit their emphasis in the second part to evangelical Protestant missions, whereas Neill continues to present Orthodox and Catholic missions into the twentieth century.
What are the book’s strengths? First, the authors present a detailed history of missions, offering the reader a faithful account of the spread of Christianity, including attention to key missionaries and movements as well as theological developments. For instance, their treatment of mission theology from the Reformers to William Carey (pp. 197-262), which explained well the inaction of Protestants in missions, is insightful. Also, their fair and objective appraisal of William Carey’s family life (pp. 307-330), an area which has been exaggerated by some observers, is quite helpful. Third, they ably critique the historical narrative with keen missiological insight. For example, after an inspiring survey of Moravian mission work, the authors critically evaluate Moravian mission practice (pp. 275-279).
In terms of weaknesses, in the early Christian mission section there were a few interpretive shortcomings. For instance, Tertullian’s exaggerative statements about the growth of the church being taken uncritically (p. 28) and acceptance of the now discredited view that there was an actual edict of Milan (p. 42). Also, I found it a bit troubling that Ulfilas (pp. 46-47, 53) was presented in such a good light despite his clear Arian theology.
There were also a number of places in the book where quotations are not cited. While this is a normal scholarly expectation, students will be limited from digging deeper into primary sources because of these omissions. A final weakness is really about the scope of the publication itself. Although a translation of an existing work, I wonder if the publisher had considered having another author write an updated section on the Global South and Majority World Church. The reality is that a one-semester mission history survey course will need additional resources to cover this essential gap in chronology and global Christian development.
These critiques aside, this is a delightful book that could work as a primary mission history text at the undergraduate, graduate, or seminary level. Further, this work would be a great resource in the libraries of pastors and mission leaders as they engage with mission history in their teaching, reflection, and planning.
Check these titles:
Neill, Stephen. 1990. A History of Christian Missions. London: Penguin.
Pierson, Paul. 2009. The Dynamics of Christian Mission: History Through a Missiological Perspective. Pasadena,
Calif.: William Carey International University Press.
EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 134-135. Copyright © 2014 Billy Graham Center. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.