The Gospel among the Nations: A Documentary History of Inculturation
by Robert A. Hunt
Orbis Books, Price Bldg, Box 302, Maryknoll, NY 10545, 290 pages, 2010, $35.00.
—Reviewed by Dr. Allen Yeh, professor at Biola University.
This book serves two purposes. Part 1 (chapters 1-4) is an introduction to the necessity of contextualization, including mission in the first-century Jewish context; mission in imperial Rome and as Christendom; mission under colonialism; and mission after colonialism. However, the bulk of the book (chapters 5ff) is a compilation of resources to assist in the imperative set out by the first four chapters.
Robert Hunt makes the claim that contextualization serves not only a pragmatic purpose (i.e., as an aid to evangelism), but that it has an equally important kingdom function of making the gospel fully manifested in all its expressions; anything less is a truncated gospel and is more anthropocentric than theocentric.
Theologically, Hunt weaves an intricate tapestry of four crucial facets of mission: evangelism, social justice, worship, and making disciples. He does not simplistically distill it to one definition, but instead is able to show the rich interplay between all four.
Historically, Hunt seems to focus mainly on mission within and from the West, as he moves from Israel to Rome to European colonialism to world Christianity. The problem with such a view of history is that it seems as though Majority World expressions of Christianity did not arise until the latter part of the twentieth century. Although he does give a nod toward Eastern missionaries such as the Nestorians (referencing Moffett), that is a crucial half of the story which needs more attention.
Part 2 is a treasure trove of primary resources corresponding to the four chapters in Part 1, ranging from obligatory documents such as William Carey’s An Enquiry and The Lausanne Covenant to more unusual texts like The Heliand (a medieval attempt at contextualization for the Saxons on the outskirts of the Roman Empire) and letters regarding the Orthodox mission to Alaska. It often reads like a who’s-who of mission-related chroniclers, drawing on names such as Justin Martyr, The Venerable Bede, Bartolomé de las Casas, David Livingstone, John R. Mott, Lamin Sanneh, and Pope John Paul II.
Its ecumenical scope is impressive, as it includes Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic documents. However, non-traditional ecclesial structures are largely missing, such as African Independent Churches, Chinese house churches, and Latin American base ecclesial communities. This, perhaps, points to the deficiency of such an academic approach: by focusing on a documentary history of inculturation, it necessarily excludes cultures of orality or settings where academia is not held as a primary value. This is why many of the Majority World Christian voices are largely not represented (or at least relegated only to post-colonialism), as if world Christianity were a new phenomenon and not one which dominated half the history of the Church.
There are a few exceptions to this, notably the “Documents of the Eastern Church in China,” including the Xi’an stele and the Jesus Sutra, and the section, “The Critical Voice from Outside the Western Church,” which has selections from Black theology (both in the USA and South Africa), Asian theology (notably Kosuke Koyama), and Latin American theology (as represented by Samuel Escobar and Segundo Galilea).
That said, overall this book provides a wonderfully compact one-volume resource for the student or scholar of mission history.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 244-245. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.