Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church?

by Paul Borthwick

InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL, 209 pages, 2012, $15.00.

Reviewed by Paul W. Shea, associate professor of missions at Houghton College; formerly in discipleship and theological education with Global Partners in West Africa.

I had my first glance at Western Christians in Global Mission when it became available in December 2012, and immediately rush-ordered it as a supplemental text for a January 2013 undergraduate class in Contemporary Missions. On further study, it advanced to “required reading” for my local church mission committee colleagues and pastors. Then, after discussions with several missionary friends, it obviously qualified as a must-read for mission candidates—well, actually for veteran missionaries as well. Everyone involved in global mission ought to digest and discuss this timely book!

Many voices have been heard during the late twentieth-century shift in the center of gravity of global Christianity. Why should Paul Borthwick, a North American, demand attention? He knows the North American Church well and has witnessed and participated in mission outreach from the West for the past forty years. The truth is that mainstream attitudes and understanding in the Western Church have shifted little. For all the talk of partnership with the Majority Church and unity in the Body of Christ, many from the West still operate with superiority, power, surprising ignorance, and even arrogance. This book is good, fresh medicine for what ails us.

Western Christians in Global Mission opens in Part One with helpful updates on the state of the world, the North American Church, and the Majority World Church. This section could be vulnerable to a short lifespan, since things change so rapidly, but the series of “greats” (great transition, great divides, great commission, great compassion, and more…) are timely descriptions of theological, demographic, economic, and even environmental concerns that are very suitable for healthy debate and discussion. Additionally, each chapter of the book concludes with very useable questions and next steps.

Part Two focuses on the qualities and actions needed for North Americans to engage in effective global mission. We need theological grounding, and although brief, a biblical overview sharpens our possibly narrowed and dulled understanding of God’s viewpoint on mission. Then, with frankness, clarity, and balance, Borthwick reveals the heart of his message on humility, reciprocity, sacrifice, partnership, listening, and unity. The final two chapters offer extremely practical, specific, and personal suggestions and resources for engaging in mission.

Throughout the book, Borthwick’s strengths emerge: He offers a non-Western perspective, leaning heavily on Majority World voices, such as Nairobi pastor Oscar Muriu and others. He relates firsthand experiences from his years of global partnerships in ministry. He frequently refers to a broad array of late twentieth and twenty-first-century missiological writers with informative notes and a reading list at the conclusion. Professors and students of missions will find this a supportive companion to other readings. He remains frank, yet humble, and positive from start to finish. The wider this book circulates in schools, churches, and mission agencies, the better for the advancement of the good news in this century.

Check these titles:
Elmer, Duane. 2006. Cross-Cultural Servanthood. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Escobar, Samuel.  2003. The New Global Mission. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic.


EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 510-511. Copyright  © 2013 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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