by Ross Langmead
This book was co-published with the American Society of Missiology dissertation series and has the mark of excellence of theological doctoral studies from the Melbourne College of Divinity.
University Press of America, Inc., 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706, 2004, 366 pages, $40.00.
—Reviewed by Robert L. Gallagher, assistant professor of intercultural studies, Wheaton College Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois.
This book was co-published with the American Society of Missiology dissertation series and has the mark of excellence of theological doctoral studies from the Melbourne College of Divinity. Ross O. Langmead is professor of missiology and director of the School of World Mission at Whitley College, a Baptist Union of Victoria pastoral training center affiliated with the University of Melbourne in Australia.
Most Christians from the full range of traditions would agree in principle with the idea of incarnational mission: living out the message that was proclaimed by the life and teaching of Christ.
However, what that looks like in contemporary settings is controversial and is seldom given serious examination. This study provides an in-depth analysis of this topic from a number of theological and missiological perspectives. It is a basic assumption of this book that missiology ought to be done within the Christian community from various traditions to provide a deeper understanding of the topic.
The author critically surveys the prominent understandings of the incarnational motif throughout the literature of mission theology. He concludes that there are several dimensions to incarnational mission that need to be kept in balance.
The study is structured in three parts. The first consists of two chapters which look at the various meanings of “incarnation.” It gives theological background for understanding the incarnation and its relevance to mission and raises some theological issues for incarnational Christology. Langmead argues that incarnational mission may have three meanings: Jesus as the pattern for mission, Christ’s risen presence as the enabling power for mission and God’s cosmic embodiment as the foundation for mission.
Six chapters form the second part, a critical survey of incarnational missiology from the dominant traditions in the literature. They are as follows: Anabaptist (John Howard Yoder and J. Denny Weaver), radical evangelicalism (Orlando E. Costas, Samuel Escobar, René Padilla, Vinay Samuel, Wilbert R. Shenk, Ronald J. Sider and Jim Wallis), Liberation theology (Leonardo Boff and Jon Sobrino), Jürgen Moltmann (four books by Richard Bauckham and eleven by Moltmann), Roman and Anglo-Catholicism (Avery Dulles, Karl Rahner and Robert J. Schreiter) and the ecumenical movement (Choan-Seng Song) with Eastern Orthodoxy (Nicholas Lossky). The survey shows that the incarnational mission motif is widely used in literature but with a variety of meanings. Most traditions emphasize one aspect of incarnational mission to the neglect of others, however, there are common themes throughout that bind the traditions together such as the integration of word and deed, mission as Christopraxis and Good News to the poor.
The third part of the book brings together the conclusions of the survey and the central argument of the study “that God’s embodiment in creation, pre-eminently in Jesus Christ, is the ultimate framework of Christian mission and also the central shaping and empowering factor” (9).
Langmead has done a great service to the missional church in this careful and thorough study. It is easy to read and follow his arguments through with an extensive bibliography and a helpful index. As an Australian it was gratifying for me to see academic reference made to practical missiologists such as Australian John Smith and New Zealander Viv Grigg, as well as the sociological tie of incarnational mission to contemporary Australian society.
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