Skip to main content

Contemporary Mission Theology: Engaging the Nations

Robert L. Gallagher and Paul Hertig, eds.
Published by Orbis in 2017

Contemporary Mission Theology: Engaging the Nations is a fascinating book composed of various chapters from well-known scholars with diverse theological backgrounds. It is offered in honor of Charles E. Van Engen, Arthur F. Glasser Professor Emeritus of Biblical Theology of Mission and Senior Professor of Biblical Theology of Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary, vice-president of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America (RCA), and founder of Latin American Christian Ministries. Van Engen’s research on the importance of missions in every context throughout Scripture suggests Christians should be engaging every culture. Owning this book is a must for any Christian scholar of missiology regardless of denominational background. The volume contains an Introduction plus two framing chapters, followed by twenty-four additional chapters (arranged in eight parts) and a Conclusion.

Jan A. B. Jongeneel’s framing chapter, “The Emergence of Mission Theology,” provides a wonderful introduction to the book. Jongeneel begins by discussing how having limited knowledge of mission theology can limit one’s ability to understand what should and should not be done in a mission context. He discusses the discovery of mission theology and how it has been represented in different settings. This chapter also traces the development of mission theology over time, which serves as a great precursor to the rest of the book. Jongeneel states: “All the different types of doing missions and mission theology are very helpful as long as they serve the ultimate goal of bringing the human community to its final destination: the goal of the glorification of the triune God, and a full life for all in harmony, peace, hope, and love.” As a community serving the one true God, we must make sure that we align our mission theology with the Bible, to the glory of God.

Gerald H. Anderson’s excellent second framing chapter, “A New Missionary Age,” begins by giving a background of Christianity in terms of growth. He explains how the growth of the Christian church has drastically decreased. While he does clearly communicate his point, Anderson’s focus on numbers should not be as prominent as he makes it. While over two billion people may claim to be Christian, we ultimately cannot see their hearts. Scripture instead points to it being more important to bring the Gospel to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Anderson continues by providing an overview of today’s mission field, theology of religions, and interreligious dialogue.

These introductory chapters are followed by Part 1, “Mission Theology and the Bible,” consisting of three chapters. The first is “The Biblical Story of Narrative Theology” by Michael W. Goheen. He begins by pronouncing Charles E. Van Engen as one of the earliest pioneers in narrative theology in relation to missions, as Van Engen views the Bible as one large restoration narrative. Goheen suggests that if we look at our mission field today in the narrative outlined in Scripture, we will be properly prepared for mission. He states, “It is the only way we can understand the authority of Scripture; it roots mission in the mission of God; it reveals that mission flows from a missional ecclesiology; and it equips the church for its missionary encounter with culture.” Goheen goes on to give four points of rationale for his thesis, including how the narrative is applicable to the authority of Scripture, the mission of God, the missional church, and a missionary encounter.

Chapters 2 and 3 complete Part 1 and likewise support Van Engen’s findings. Chapter 2, David Hartono’s “Contextual Christology: Carrying the Great Commission with Joy,” is supported with excellent biblical examples throughout. Hartono clearly communicates how one’s view of Christ in Scripture reflects their perspectives on mission. In chapter 3, “Mission Theology in the City: Sowing Urban Seeds of Shalom,” Stephen E. Burris discusses the importance of studying the Gospel of Luke in order to understand how Jesus conducted missions; that is, by helping the poor, sick, blind, and oppressed, to name a few examples.

Parts 2 through 5 address mission theology in various contexts and in the church, includ- ing roles the church’s history and beliefs have played in the discourse of missiology. These parts both highlight the church in Acts and how the first Christians conducted the spread of the Gospel and significantly include global voices and perspectives on mission theology. These four sections are vital for understanding the missional responsibility Scripture outlines for our local fellowships. One specific biblical fundamental that many local churches today are forgetting is that church is not just a place where like-minded believers come together to worship. Church should be the foundational element for how believers further the Gospel. As Van Engen states, “The Congregation is a place that prepares and sends forth its people to be missionaries in the world.” When one looks at the early church, it is clear through Paul and others that creating disciples is fundamental. The great commission calls the church to take part in this, so it is imperative that each church make it a primary focus.

Making mission a primary focus clearly relies on church leadership making it a priority. However, each leader has different personality traits, skills, and abilities. This portion of the book is very helpful for leaders that struggle in the area of sending believers. Leaders will learn that simply delegating responsibilities is not the answer. Instead, Van Engen states, “the people must be shown a model that presses them to want to achieve those intentionally missionary goals of the congregation.” Furthermore, this section puts a strong emphasis on missions being guided by the Holy Spirit. In Acts, Luke makes it imperative that the same Holy Spirit that filled Jesus is the same one that birthed the church (Acts 2:1-4). The Holy Spirit is not only the guiding force, but also the catalyst, for church missions. Chapters 13 through 15, “Mission Theology and Church History,” cover the historical perspectives of Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal mission theology, providing the reader an insightful view on missiology from a historical perspective. Through this, one can see the changes that occurred due to different belief systems and their relation to a biblical missiology.

Part 6 then addresses missions in relation to religious pluralism. This section is well constructed, with three essays supporting the importance of educating believers on how to share the Gospel with persons of other religions. Sarita D. Gallagher states, “Participation in interfaith conversation challenges and strengthens theological understanding.” Part 7 addresses modernity and postmodernity in relation to mission theology. Young Lee Hertig’s “Mission Theology and Stewardship of the Earth” draws the reader’s attention to the fact of theological education being put in front of experiential learning. It is one thing to understand missions from an academic side and another to experience it. And Shawn B. Redford also addresses in Part 7 the relationship between postmodern social networks and mission theology. Redford states,

Social networks can release human potential while diminishing levels of control, structure, resources, empowerment, and personal glory, allowing those engaged in God’s mission to demonstrate human frailty, trust, and solidarity with the Holy Spirit’s missional leadership, leading to innovative, resourceful, and God-directed mission practices.

Finally, mission theology is discussed in reference to ministry formation in Part 8. Jude Tiersma Watson’s chapter, “Engaging the Nations in Los Angeles: A Spirituality of Accompaniment,” opens this section. In it, Watson argues that there is a need for global mission within each major city in the United States, as different people groups have migrated from around the world to the U.S. Next, Mary Thiessen Nation’s “Carrying Heavy Stories: Discerning What the Body Carries” focuses on what burdens individuals and the church carry. Nation emphasizes the healing power of the Gospel, stating, “Belonging, shared stories, biblical lament, forgiveness, and reconciliation are just a few of the practices that equip the body to carry the traumas of its members and neighbors.” After a chapter by Christina Tellechea Accornero on mission recruitment, the book concludes with Charles E. Van Engen’s “Conclusion: Seeking Ways Forward in Mission Theology.” Van Engen discusses the future of mission theology, emphasizing God’s faithfulness even as we cannot predict what the future holds.

Contemporary Mission Theology: Engaging the Nations is a wonderful resource for studying mission theology in relation to scholarship. Seminary professors should evaluate the contents of this book for their classroom missional instruction. In addition to biblical scholarship, this book would be very helpful to all church leaders. The great commission that Jesus set forth is the same now as it was then. However, the world around us is continually changing. This is what sets this book apart from others focused on missions. The material found in this volume covers topics that will be relevant for a very long time. Gallagher & Hertig did a fantastic job providing us with a much-needed resource in mission theology.

Cite this article
Matthew Page, “Contemporary Mission Theology: Engaging the Nations”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 48:4 , 412–413

Matthew Page

Nova Southeastern University
Matthew Page is an Assistant Director at Nova Southeastern University.