The Missional Church in Context: Helping Congregations Develop Contextual Ministry

by Craig Van Gelder, ed.

The book is the first in a new series from Eerdmans entitled the “Missional Church series,” and is comprised of essays that come from a conference on the missional church hosted by Luther Seminary in December 2005.

Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2140 Oak Industrial Dr. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505, 2007, 253 pages, $20.00.

Reviewed by Lee Beach, director of ministry formation and lecturer in ministry studies, McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Contextualization is Missions 101. It addresses the question, “How can the church be the church in this particular place?” This volume speaks to that question and extends the discussion on the concept of the missional church, which is shaping the current discourse in the West regarding the nature of the Church. The book is the first in a new series from Eerdmans entitled the “Missional Church series,” and is comprised of essays that come from a conference on the missional church hosted by Luther Seminary in December 2005. The book is divided into two sections: the first dealing with a theology of contextualization and the second, case studies examining how a missional paradigm can be brought to bear on denominational and congregational life.

The first section of the book is particularly strong. Editor Craig Van Gelder opens with an essay that provides a superb overview of the modern history of missiological development. This overview is enough in itself to commend the book and would be useful information for helping missionary supporters understand the shifts in missions and their implications on the work of missions in the last one hundred years. The next three essays develop the dynamic link between Trinitarian theology and ecclesiology. This is an emerging field of study, and it posits highly suggestive images for the communal life and missionary movement of the Church in our day. Of particular note is Mark Lau Branson’s essay that places strong emphasis on community formation as the key to contextual missionary witness.

The second section of four essays leads readers to think missionally in particular contexts. Of special note is Terri Martinson Elton’s assertion that effective postmodern leaders are missionaries because they are constantly seeking ways to engage their particular contexts with the gospel. Also, Joon Ho Lee’s article, from the context of Korean Christianity, speaks directly to leaders on mission fields where the Church, which was established through evangelistic necessity, has lost momentum and has become an established entity. Lee’s article deals with what denominations can do when they have been “successful” in their mission and now have to discern their next move.

This book will be useful for denominational and church leaders who are seeking to deepen their theological rationale for missional ministry. The book provides a lot of theological insight, though application of the ideas offered in the book will require further reflection. That said, the book accomplishes the purpose of advancing the missional church discussion and provides further theological grounding for this important movement in the Western Church.

Check these titles:
Roxburgh, Alan J. and Fred Romanuk. 2006. The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey Bass.

Van Gelder, Craig. 2007. The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.


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