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The Kingdom of Character: The Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, 1886-1926

by Michael Parker

Parker traces the history of the SVM by focusing on a variety of themes that shaped the movement’s birth and development.

William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 2008, 304 pages, $24.99.

Reviewed by Timothy R. Sisk, chair and professor, Department of World Missions & Evangelism, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois.

Youth movements have often been at the forefront in leading political, social, and even missiological revolutions. Michael Parker thoroughly captures the influential role that the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (SVM) played in the dramatic surge in the number of Protestant missionaries at the turn of the twentieth century. SVM was founded in 1886 at a student conference presided over by Dwight L. Moody and held at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts. At this conference, one hundred students pledged to become missionaries and thus launched the most geographically far-reaching and successful missionary recruitment organization in Protestant missions.

Built upon the watchword “the evangelization of the world in this generation,” and led by young and energetic leaders such as John Mott, Robert Speer, Robert Wilder, Sherwood Eddy, and Ruth Rouse, SVM sent mobilizers to college campuses across the United States seeking to promote “missionary intelligence” through the distribution of literature and the establishment of missionary prayer bands and challenging students to pledge their lives for missionary service.

Parker traces the history of the SVM by focusing on a variety of themes that shaped the movement’s birth and development. Examples of themes covered in the book include: the masculinization of Christianity, the role of women in the missions movement, the global growth of SVM, and the methods by which SVM recruited students to action.

One particularly relevant chapter, given the renewed debate today in evangelical missiology concerning the role of gospel proclamation (prioritism vs. holism), is Parker’s chapter entitled “The Social Gospel and the Great War.” This chapter is extremely helpful in giving one a historical perspective of how, following World War I, social concerns overwhelmed and eventually replaced gospel proclamation as the central thrust of missions.

A helpful feature that Parker has included at the end of each chapter is a two to three paragraph summary of the chapter. For those readers who do not necessarily want all of the historical details, these summaries are handy in providing one with enough of an overview of the chapter so that one can still follow the flow of the book. Parker’s coverage of the most influential years of The Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions is thorough and insightful, and its reading will benefit missionaries, missiologists, and local church leaders who, instead of ignoring history, desire to learn beneficial lessons from it.

Check these titles:
Fortunak, Laurie, ed. 2008. The Evangelization of the World in This Generation. Wheaton, Ill.: Evangelism and Missions Information Service.

Hopkins, C. Howard. 1980. John R. Mott. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Robert, Dana Lee. 2003. Occupy Until I Come: A. T. Pierson and the Evangelization of the World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Shaw, Ryan. 2006. Waking the Giant. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

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Copyright © 2008 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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