Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory

by Scott W. Sunquist

Baker Academic, P.O. Box 6278, Grand Rapids, MI 49516, 464 pages, 2013, $34.99.

Reviewed by Brendan A. Ashley, MDiv student with a church planting emphasis, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

The main missional thread driving Scott Sunquist’s work, Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory, is that “missionary existence is life in Christ, and life in Christ is a call to be faithful unto death.” However, “The final word in mission is glory—not suffering. The final word is God’s glory that will be revealed through the church in this age and in the age to come” (p. 410).  Sunquist’s extensive work is born after many years of experience on the mission field. The main thread of participation in suffering and glory for God brings together the three parts of his mission history, and its implications for today’s Church.

Part one is an overview of where missions has come from. It gives witness to key time periods, figures, and people movements that have revealed the suffering of the Church, and those who were the recipients of the Church’s mission, for the glory of God.
Part two of the book formulates a missional theology that seeks to shift away from a Colonial perspective in order to make way for a Post-Colonial perspective. This shift saw the West move into the periphery of mission, while the Global South became the center. It also saw missions become more focused on the people rather than on one missionary hero. Sunquist’s missional theology is built on the theology of the Trinity, who is a relational God, and uses the word of God through scripture to reveal that God’s work is relational and through the medium of a story. He then goes on to discuss each person in relation to the other—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is important to establish a missional theology, because God is on mission (the missio Dei) and sending his Church in to the world.

The third and final part of this book seeks to express the missio Dei through “The Suffering and Glory of the Church in Mission Today.” This part stresses the importance of the missio Dei and how the Church itself views its mission. The two foci of the Church’s mission are worship and witness, and in a world that is becoming more urban and global, the need of the good news of the Triune God is in immediate demand. As poverty and injustice rise, the Church’s suffering and glory with God needs to cultivate communities in global, urban, and poor contexts. In that mission today, the strong and enduring love of God is carried by the weak and fragile host, the Church.
Although Sunquist periodically discusses eschatology throughout the book, a chapter on eschatology would be beneficial in developing a missional theology of suffering and glory that is firmly planted and pointing toward the reign of God.

Check these titles:
Newbigin, Lesslie. 1995. The Open Secret. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Schroeder, Stephen B. and Roger P. Bevans. 2013. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.

Tucker, Ruth A. 2004.  From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

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