Volume 46 - Issue 2

A Tale of Two Stories: Amos Yong’s Mission after Pentecost and T’ien Ju-K’ang’s Peaks of Faith

By Robert P. Menzies


This article contrasts two books on missiology: Amos Yong’s Mission after Pentecost and T’ien Ju-K’ang’s Peaks of Faith. The author argues that Yong’s approach, shaped by a post-colonial hermeneutic, dismisses the urgency of verbal witness, the significance of eschatological judgment, and the need for conversion. Thus, Yong falsely asserts the modern missions movement is dead. However, in Peaks of Faith T’ien Ju-K’ang offers a well-documented account of the powerful impact of the gospel in Southwest China from 1880 to 1985. The story of missions that T’ien tells is radically different from the caricature produced by Yong’s post-colonial critique.

I recently read Amos Yong’s new biblical theology of missions, explicated through a focus on the work of the Holy Spirit. The title of the book reveals its approach: Mission after Pentecost: The Witness of the Spirit from Genesis to Revelation.1 I read this provocative and meticulously researched book (it reads like a bibliographic essay) shortly after re-reading T’ien Ju-K’ang’s Peaks of Faith: Protestant Mission in Revolutionary China.2 I first encountered Peaks of Faith about twenty-five years ago, not long after it was published. I was impressed with it then and, in my re-reading, was again deeply moved by its powerful description (again, meticulously researched) of the positive social impact made by Protestant missionaries serving among the minority groups in Southwest China prior to the communist revolution of 1949. These two books present two very different stories and they are based upon vastly different presuppositions. These stories, and the presuppositions that shape them, are worth considering.

Every good tale has a hero and a villain, and this tale of two stories is no exception. In this tale T’ien Ju-K’ang’s Peaks of Faith is the valiant hero. Yong’s Mission after Pentecost, although voluminously researched and not without its strengths, serves as the villain. In every gripping tale there is a problem or crisis, generally provoked by the villain, which the hero helps the heroine (I don’t mean to be sexist here) overcome. The problem in this tale is clear from the outset. Simply put, according to Yong, the modern missions movement is dead. We now live in a post-colonial, post-modern, and post-Christian era (pp. 2–22). There is no looking back and thus we should probably even abandon the term “Christian missions” altogether (pp. 2–5). Additionally, from Yong’s perspective, we need not wait for the door to slam shut before we exit the failed project that has been called “Christian missions.” It was tainted by all the negative aspects of colonialism and modernity, including arrogance, self-serving motives, and racist attitudes. So, we live in a post-Christian world, and we had better get used to it.

Yong’s uncritical acceptance of this exceedingly negative picture of the modern missions movement is fundamental to our tale’s problem. Perhaps it should not surprise us, for Yong’s perspective simply mirrors attitudes prevalent in contemporary American culture. Indeed, in this book Yong is incredibly “politically correct.” He doesn’t capitalize “spirit,” refers to the [S]pirit with feminine pronouns, “she” (p. 191) or “her” (p. 208), and constantly emphasizes the economic and political nature of the mission of Jesus and the early church (pp. 278–79). This socio-political emphasis can be traced throughout the book, but it is clearly articulated in his conclusion: “The church bears witness not just to … but in … society. Chiefly, I suggest that our post-Pentecost perspective foregrounds the socioeconomic domain…. [They] ‘had all things in common…’” And just so we don’t miss the point, he adds, “The socioeconomic and the political are intertwined; this means that there is no missio Dei that is not political in some respect” (p. 278).3 Unfortunately, the specific nature our political involvement is to take is never clarified. Rather, we are simply told that Christians are called to work for peace and justice through political means (p. 279). At the same time, verbal witness is relegated to the back of the bus. Missions, we are told, “is less the verbal proclamation to nations as such than the call to believing faithfulness amid a watching world” (p. 279). This theme is pervasive: verbal witness is unimportant; rather, living out political convictions that support peace and justice, this is the real stuff of missions (pp. 278–83). Finally, no contemporary diatribe would be complete without the charge of racism, and here again Yong does not disappoint. He speaks negatively about “whiteness” (p. 3), reading the Bible from a perspective of “white dominance” (p. 184), and “white normativity” (p. 226).4 He contrasts his own vision of the church’s mission with the former, flawed approach of the modern missions movement by declaring, “Gone are the pretensions of a modernized version of a ‘white’ gospel” (p. 283). It all adds up to a stinging indictment of the modern missions movement—an indictment that features contemporary leftist tropes articulated with a distinctively post-colonial accent.

Although Yong’s critique echoes themes ubiquitous in our culture, it is still surprising nonetheless. Since the past century has witnessed the emergence of the Pentecostal movement, which most would recognize as having its roots in the West and all would agree as having been enormously successful, one would anticipate that Yong, a self-described Pentecostal, might be more upbeat. Why embrace the tired, Marxist-inspired and anachronistic post-colonial lens for analyzing the past? This question becomes especially pertinent when we recognize the inherent contradictions in Yong’s critique. To begin with, this critique misses the fact that Pentecostals have rarely, if ever, been closely identified with people in positions of power, whether it be in Europe, America, or beyond. Furthermore, Pentecostals have never bought into the rationalism promoted by the Enlightenment; rather, they have embraced the worldview of the Bible that expects and delights in God’s powerful presence manifest in our midst. Finally, the dramatic growth of Pentecostal churches around the world during this past century—virtually all of which are solidly committed to the traditional concept of missions as centering on verbal witness—calls into question Yong’s fundamental presupposition. This fact alone suggests the modern mission movement is not dead; but rather, very much alive.

Although Yong’s acceptance of the “modern missions is dead” position may be at first glance surprising, it can be explained. In fact, Yong himself elucidates the reasons for his provocative stance. It all boils down to his hermeneutic. Yong explains, “I have moved from a Pentecostal interpretation of scripture to a theological but even more explicitly pneumatological and day of Pentecost approach to scriptural interpretation” (p. 12). This statement confirms my earlier judgment that Yong’s theology is better described as “pneumatological rather than Pentecostal” and has “more in common with mainline or ecumenical theologians than” his evangelical or Pentecostal colleagues.5

What is a theological approach to Scripture? Yong discusses his approach, which he terms, “theological interpretation of scripture,” in the early pages of the book (pp. 10–15). While this approach seeks to benefit from modernist approaches (historical, grammatical, and textual criticism), it also consciously draws from the reception history of the biblical text (how it was read by various theological traditions). This, of course, means that Yong’s hermeneutic is not really rooted in the historical meaning of the text—he no doubt would reject this notion as a product of the modernist mind—and thus the meaning of the text becomes, drawing from here or there, essentially whatever he wants to highlight. The pneumatological orientation that he describes adds yet another analytical lens that provides further room for his creative mind and imagination to work. There are really few constraints placed on the interpreter in this approach. Evangelicals in general and Pentecostals in particular will do well to emphasize, by way of contrast, historical meaning and focus on the early church as our model. Thus, we need to resist the siren voices calling for us to abandon reading Scripture from “a modern missions” point of view and to embrace a political or ethnic reading of the sacred text (p. 8). This is especially evident in this case, for, as we have noted, Yong also adopts a post-colonial hermeneutic and all of the negative assumptions about the past 200 years of missionary endeavor that come with it.

Yong’s adoption of a post-colonial reading of the modern (or post-1792)6 missions movement is not without precedent, even among Pentecostal scholars.7 Note, for example, how Allan Anderson, one of the leading Pentecostal historians, describes early Pentecostal missionaries in a recent lecture on “Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Renewal.”8 After correctly noting that the early Pentecostals “believed in the Bible literally” and were “premillennialists,” Anderson describes the perspective of early Pentecostal missionaries in negative and condescending tones. He ridicules their conviction that “the poor heathen in darkness had to be evangelized quickly before the soon return of Christ.” In Africa, Anderson states, the Pentecostal missionaries confronted “what they thought was devil worship” and in Latin America they mostly denounced Roman Catholic Christians and what they saw “as its dangerous images of the crucifix and the virgin Mary.” In Asia, Anderson declares, the missionaries “displayed general ignorance of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism” and “in most cases there was great prejudice.”

This same highly critical and distorted assessment of Pentecostal missionaries is also displayed in Anderson’s widely-influential book, An Introduction to Pentecostalism.9 Anderson points to missionary letters and writings, which often reflect a deep sense of urgency for their evangelistic efforts due to widespread spiritual “darkness” and the fact that so many they encounter are “lost,” as evidence of “religious intolerance” and “bigoted ignorance.”10 One wonders how Anderson would assess the apostle Paul? To the Colossians, Paul declares, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13 NIV). In a similar vein, to the Ephesians Paul states, “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8 NIV).11 We might also ask Anderson what he would make of the words of Jesus, who declares, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 ESV)?12 It is hard not to come away from reading portions of Anderson’s book and wonder if he truly believes that, apart from Christ, people are indeed “lost.” As for Pentecostals, we have always been clear on this matter.

Unfortunately, as we have noted, Yong follows in Anderson’s footsteps by adopting the same post-colonial hermeneutic and assumptions. This stance and its associated presuppositions are reflected in three themes that run throughout Mission after Pentecost.

1. The Call to Verbal Witness Diminished

First, Yong consistently diminishes the New Testament’s emphasis on the content of the gospel and verbal witness.13 One reason for this stance is Yong’s post-modern approach to the biblical text that questions any normative understanding or interpretation of it. For example, in a section on Paul’s letter to Titus, which contrasts the Cretan liars and passion-driven lifestyles with the life of God’s grace, Yong writes this:

Part of the contemporary challenge is that in a postcolonial context, truth claims are more often than not expressions of the will to power rather than the correspondence of speech with reality. Missional declarations are as likely to deploy sacred texts to underwrite and authorize so-called ‘mission’ practices that benefit missionaries rather than support those whom missionaries are serving…. If Christian mission is to be credible in the present age, those who bear witness must testify in their bodies and not just by their words ([Titus] 1:8, 16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 14). (p. 225)

Here we have a patently obvious truth (we need to walk the talk) stated in an incredibly cynical manner, one that buys into a post-modern view of language and the Marxist critique of the church.

This theme of denigrating or, at the very least, downplaying, verbal witness runs throughout the book, but two other examples will serve to illustrate Yong’s approach. On the basis of his summary of the Paraclete passages (esp. John 15:26–27 and 16:8–11), Yong concludes, “In sum, the Advocate or Comforter is sent both directly to the world and indirectly to that arena through the messianic followers as a holy and set-apart community of witnesses” (p. 257). It is important to note two phrases here, “directly to the world” and “indirectly … through a holy … community.” Both phrases serve to mute John’s real focus—the Paraclete’s inspiration of the disciples’ bold, verbal witness in the face of opposition: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26–27 NIV).

This assessment of Yong’s perspective is confirmed as we read further. On pages 258–59, Yong speaks of the mission of the church in somewhat cryptic terms as proclaiming forgiveness and loving others, both tasks embrace those in the church and those outside the church. What does Yong mean when he says that we are to proclaim forgiveness to non-Christians? I would suggest that the lack of clarity here is intentional. In other words, as we shall see, Yong does not feel that a response to the gospel is actually necessary for people to experience God’s saving grace. Yong’s ambiguous summary here misses the clarity of John’s declaration that belief in Christ is essential for eternal life (John 20:31) and that the proclamation of this message is the chief result of the Paraclete’s inspiration (John 15:26–27).14

Finally, in his conclusion, Yong predictably declares that the biblical call to mission “is less the verbal proclamation to nations as such than the call to believing faithfulness amid a watching world” (p. 279). This is a striking statement in a book about the mission of the church. Yong emphasizes “presence” evangelization and responding in a loving way to others, but he largely ignores the mandate to proclaim the gospel. No doubt, he sees the call to verbal witness as a central part of the outdated and discredited missions movement’s vision for the mission of the church. The problem for Yong, however, is that inspired verbal witness was also central to the mission of Jesus and that of the early church.

2. The Significance of Future Judgment Denied

If the proclamation and reception of a specific message (i.e., the gospel) is, in good post-modern fashion, devalued in Yong’s theology, this is largely related to the fact that the notion of a future, final judgment (especially eternal judgment) is largely rejected. This reluctance to speak forthrightly about this major biblical theme is the second significant theme that shapes Yong’s work.15

Yong rejects an emphasis on the imminent return of Christ and “missionary efforts [that] are motivated by the concern that those who have not heard have to be given a chance to turn to Christ before the parousia” (p. 242). There are actually two issues here and Yong, as is often the case, is (intentionally?) not clear concerning to which he objects: (1) the timing of Christ’s return; and (2) the reality of judgment for the lost.16 Yong here seems to scoff at this notion, but he does so in a more veiled way. For example, Yong references 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (italics his). He then explains that “the more exclusive you” in this text “opens up to the universal call of the gospel that extends to all” (p. 243, italics his). Does he simply mean that our mission involves proclaiming the gospel to all people, to the ends of the earth? Or does he mean that God will ultimately save all regardless of their hearing or even response to the gospel? The larger context of Yong’s book suggests he has the latter view in mind.

It should be noted that Yong offers a tepid rejection of universalism (p. 270). Nevertheless, the way Yong frames his discussion question on p. 248 (Question 3), points in this direction. Yong queries, “The modern missionary movement was based in part on preaching the gospel to those who had never heard it, so that they would be given the opportunity to repent and confess Jesus Christ before the parousia and the end would come. Does your reading of the general Epistles and Catholic Letters support such an eschatological approach to Christian witness?” For Yong, the obvious answer is “no.”17

The rejection of any sense of urgency with reference to final judgment is reiterated in his section on Revelation. Of the call to “come” (Rev 22:17), Yong cryptically asks: “Does this invitation only echo throughout the present dispensation, prior to the coming down of the new Jerusalem from heaven to earth (21:2), or does the missional summons persist throughout eternity?” (p. 267). Yong doesn’t provide an answer, which is telling. However, the New Testament does, and the answer is as clear elsewhere (Heb 9:25–28) as it is in Revelation. There is a decisive end to the opportunity to respond to God’s gracious invitation (cf. Rev 14:17–20; 15–16; 19–20). Yong’s question here implies the absence of final judgment, a theme that pervades his work.

3. The Importance of Conversion Dismissed

This leads us to the third theme that defines Mission after Pentecost. Yong consistently minimizes the need for conversion to the Christian faith and, as a result, he downplays the differences between Christians and non-Christians. Thus, he frequently refers to the Spirit’s work outside the Church, among non-Christians. This emphasis is seen in subtle ways, but it is also stated more forcefully.

In a more veiled reference, Yong declares, “Truly, the missio Dei in Christ and spirit have overcome the enmity between Jew and gentile, not erasing their differences but enabling gentiles to ‘become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” ([Eph] 3:6)” (p. 203). However, it should be noted that the Spirit does not just overcome alienation between groups of people, but fundamental to this unifying work of the Spirit is the fact that in Christ the Spirit enables us to overcome our alienation from God. This victory over alienation from God is not a theme that Yong emphasizes, at least not to the extent that he stresses the Spirit’s work in overcoming our alienation from others and other groups.

We might be encouraged to overlook these more ambiguous statements if it were not for the more overt ones. For example, speaking of Johannine pneumatology, Yong declares,

The pluralistic pneumatology also opens up to an expansive theology of missions across the Johannine materials. In fact, in few other places in the Bible is the world as a whole as much an object of divine concern as here. The missiological relevance of this point is obvious, but what may be less obvious from a modernist mission perspective is that John is relatively less concerned about the salvation of individual souls than about the redemption and renewal of all things. More pointedly, the world that God wishes to save is also a world opposed to God. (p. 250, italics his)

This appears to lead Yong to a radical form of inclusivism if not outright universalism: “The missiological implications of such an apocalyptic cosmology are profound and will require extensive and intensive engagement before a new theology of Christian witness plausible for a post-mission era will be born” (p. 251).

Yong concludes his section on 1 John in a similar vein:

For us who are sent on the path of apostolic mission two thousand years later, we can be grateful that faithful Christian witness involves both the spirit’s ongoing testimony to the life and death of Jesus and the spirit’s unceasing enablement of our forgiving sins—of those within the fellowship of the believing community, of those on its dynamic and fluid margins, and of those also in the world—in his name. (p. 263)

Does this not imply that a positive response to the gospel or identification with Christ is not necessary in order to receive forgiveness of sins? It would appear that for Yong missions becomes loving others and declaring God’s peace rather than calling for any kind of repentance or response. Repentance, at least for those outside the church, and the call to a life of discipleship seems to be missing here. One might ask, is this really the gospel and is this really the Christian mission? It sounds like we are back in the days of Adolf Harnack, the prominent advocate of liberal theology in the early twentieth century, who emphasized that Jesus taught nice ethical platitudes such as the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.18 Yong’s incredibly optimistic view (naïve?) of the human condition renders repentance and transformation through the Spirit unnecessary. Sin or alienation from God is really not a central concern. The horizontal dimensions of salvation seem to obliterate the vertical.

This raises an important question for Yong and all of his readers. The apostolic church’s message and mission centers on how people can have access to God. This access enables relationship that is described in familial, national, and religious language with metaphors like “children,” “fellow citizens,” and building blocks in God’s “temple” (cf. Eph 2:11–22). The New Testament declares that this marvelous access to God which enables filial relationship with him is now available, but that it is only available in a salvific and meaningful sense (as described with the metaphors above) to those who are “in Christ.” Can we not all agree with this basic understanding of the gospel?

Yong’s radical inclusivism appears to suggest otherwise. It is most clearly expressed in his conclusion: “The conversion of others happens, not in any unidirectional manner that makes ‘them’ to be ‘us,’ but in the sense of a mutual transformation that draws us into the presence and activity of the divine breath” (p. 282).

4. Concluding Comments on Mission after Pentecost

The three themes that characterize Mission after Pentecost outlined above, rooted as they are in a post-colonial view of recent missions history, in my opinion undermine one of Yong’s concluding exhortations. Yong admonishes, “The call to witness and the sending on mission are therefore not an initiation to comfortableness but an invitation to persecution and suffering” (p. 276). Yes, this is true, but what in Yong’s understanding of mission would motivate one to take up this call? After all, if mission is dialogical (we’re all simply fellow spiritual travelers, right?), largely based on our “presence,” and ultimately not decisive for the religious “other’s” eternal fate or their relationship with God, then why bother to go to difficult places, or anywhere beyond home for that matter? Why speak boldly when verbal witness isn’t really that important? People might get upset. In short, there is very little in Yong’s understanding of mission that instills confidence or inspires sacrifice. It rather seems to suggest that we should all sit tight, be nice to one another, and try to get along. Adolf Harnack would be very pleased.19

Yong’s appropriation of a post-colonial hermeneutic also undermines his ability to speak with credibility when he admonishes, “we must be cautious about demonizing human others: those of other ethnicities, languages, cultures, (dis)abilities, and even religious traditions and sexual orientations” (p. 274, italics mine). Although this is all very true and well said, it doesn’t seem to apply to those who have served as missionaries over the past two centuries. They can be unfairly castigated, defamed, and verbally abused. Their motives can be impugned and their actions assailed with anachronistic, sweeping, and unsubstantiated slander. This is especially true if they happen to be white and hail from Europe or America. Obviously, the absurdity of these sweeping criticisms of missionaries, past and present, strikes a nerve in me. Since I have served as a missionary for over 30 years, have parents who served as missionaries later in life, and my in-laws served as missionaries for over 45 years in Latin America, I am not entirely objective on this point. Nevertheless, I believe I can speak with considerable experience, first-hand knowledge, and thus confidence when I reject the post-colonial perspective on the modern missions movement and the missionaries associated with it as ignorant, biased, distorted, and largely false.

5. Peaks of Faith: Another Perspective

My tale is not yet finished. It is, after all, a tale of two stories. If Yong’s Mission after Pentecost presents the dilemma, a negative assessment of the modern missions movement, T’ien Ju-K’ang’s Peaks of Faith: Protestant Mission in Revolutionary China provides the remedy, a well-documented and positive appraisal of the impact of missionaries in the pre-communist era of Southwest China (roughly 1880–1949). The book also traces the on-going influence of the Christian faith, transmitted to the minority groups of Southwest China by missionaries, during the often difficult and challenging post-revolutionary years (roughly 1949–1985). This book is not hagiography but rather well-researched and sober history. Nevertheless, it is history that is not filtered through the lens of Marxist or anti-Christian ideology. The result is an amazing, often inspiring account of how the gospel was transmitted to, received by, and thus impacted seven minority groups in Southwest China: the Miao of Wuding; the Yi of Luquan; the Lahu of Langcang; the Wa of Cangyuan; the Lisu in the Salwin Valley; the Hani of Mojiang; and the Jingpo of Dehong. In this study T’ien seeks to answer two questions: “What were the historical and geographical factors that inclined these minority people to embrace Christianity?” (p. 1), and “How did these people … maintain their Christian faith during the catastrophic years, particularly during the Cultural Revolution?” (p. 2). T’ien traces the remarkable people movements that resulted in large swaths of these minority groups, especially among the Miao and the Lisu, coming to faith in Christ. He states the matter bluntly: “The rapid mass movement flourishing in the minority regions of Yunnan must be ascribed to the unflagging efforts of dedicated missionaries” (p. 28). T’ien records the sacrificial manner in which the missionaries lived, served, and loved the people, many whom had been treated with utter disdain by the dominant Han majority. The portrait of the missionaries that T’ien paints is quite different from the caricature offered by the post-colonial critique. In contrast to charges of arrogant and self-serving domination, T’ien writes,

The despairing minorities were greatly moved with high regard for the early missionaries’ faith and self-denial. It was through this kind of inspired and reciprocal affection that the congregations over the remote mountainous regions were bound together. The deeply felt love of these simple people for their missionaries was enduring. They would pray audibly for the missionaries whom they had not seen for many, many years. (pp. 37–38)

When the missionaries were forced by the government to leave the Miao of Sapushan (Wuding) in 1950, many of the Miao brothers and sisters “were grieved to tears and could not eat for several days. Tears displayed their gratitude for the uplifting of the down-trodden, obscure, and suffering masses on the remote mountains” (p. 38).

I have two special memories that support T’ien’s conclusions. Some years ago, in the northwest part of Yunnan Province, near the border with Myanmar, I visited a group of faculty members at a Lisu and Jingpo Bible School located there. We began to discuss the history of Christianity in their region and our conversation naturally turned to a discussion of the missionaries who brought them the gospel and served among them. I will never forget how the leading pastor, a fine Lisu brother, with tears in his eyes looked at me and declared with great emotion, “We have not forgotten one missionary that served here.”

The second memory was generated during my visit to a church near the city of Qujing in Yunnan Province. This church was established by Pentecostal missionaries, Max and Emily Bernheim, in the 1930s. The Bernheims, along with one son, were murdered by bandits in 1940. This tragic event left their five remaining children orphans. The bodies of Max, Emily, and their son, David, had not been found until late in 2015. The church discovered the site of their burial and moved their bones to the church’s current location in 2016. A Chinese Christian brother informed me of this more recent development and asked if I might somehow notify the family. So, along with a group of friends, I visited the burial site and found a beautiful memorial stone marking the Bernheim’s grave. More significantly, I found that the church they had planted—there were about 50 believers in 1940—is vibrant and thriving. The local Chinese believers repeatedly expressed their thankfulness for the Bernheim’s ministry and sacrifice. The church now numbers over 700 and the church leaders were deeply aware of their rich legacy. They noted with thankfulness the truth of Tertullian’s words, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” which they had engraved on the Bernheim’s memorial stone.

I share these recollections to emphasize that a very different assessment of the modern missions movement and its missionaries may be found through a careful and critical assessment of missions history. It is true that missionaries were not devoid of faults or weaknesses. As might be expected with people of strong character and convictions, they had their share of disagreements. Haven’t we all? It’s comforting, though, to consider that Paul and Barnabas also disagreed and parted ways. Nevertheless, for all of their foibles and humanness, these were (and are) by in large an amazing group, noted for their godliness, willingness to sacrifice, and love for people. If you are tempted to accept the post-colonial line, I challenge you to read books on the history of missions. Whether it be more inspirational works, such as Becky Croasmun’s Legacy of Faith, which chronicles Max and Emily Bernheim’s story, largely through their own notes and letters,20 or more academic works, like T’ien’s Peaks of Faith, I believe if one reads with an open mind, the power and impact of these lives dedicated to Christ will become evident, as will the fruit of their labor.21

6. Conclusion

So, my tale of two stories must come to an end. It is a tale, however, that can be read at two levels. At one level, it is a tale of two very different stories. One story, Mission after Pentecost, I fear, might divert a vital evangelical movement away from the theological commitments and values that have made it a powerful force for Christian mission. If Yong’s message is uncritically accepted by evangelical pastors and teachers, I do believe that, like the Pied Piper, it will lead the movement’s children on a journey to irrelevance. The road Yong calls us to travel is not new, but rather the old, well-worn route the mainline denominations have trod throughout this past century. Its destination, then, should not surprise us.

There is another, more hopeful story, illustrated by the work of Chinese scholar, T’ien Ju-K’ang. His Peaks of Faith offers a very different reading of the modern missions movement. It is a story that is rooted in a clear message and a divine call. It speaks of the transforming power of the gospel and its glorious impact on people without hope. This is a story that instills confidence in the biblical message and inspires faith in a God who delights to call, send, and empower missionaries. Increasingly, it is also a story that will be repudiated, denounced, and, if possible, silenced. In fact, my own recently purchased, “used” copy of Peaks of Faith was marked as “withdrawn” from the Vancouver School of Theology (VST) library. As far as I can tell, the VST library no longer carries this carefully researched and skillfully written book. Why would they discard it? I can only conjecture on this point, but I believe that the reason is clear. This book, unlike Mission after Pentecost, does not fit their own post-colonial interpretation of the missionary movement. It may not be too long before it will require real courage in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom to write a book like Peaks of Faith. It will take even more courage to follow in the footsteps of its subjects.

My tale can also be read at another level. At this second level, my tale, let us call it, “Missions after Pentecost,” is a glorious story, filled with suffering and joy, persecution and victory. It is not simply a story of missionaries sent out by missions societies and churches, but it is a story that includes this noble enterprise. It is a story that is patterned after the ministry of Jesus and which was given birth by the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 13:1–3). It is a story, you might say, about the best of times and the worst of times (Rev 11:1–10), but it is a story that continues and is destined to have a glorious end (Rev 11:11–12; cf. Rev 21–22).

[1] Amos Yong, Mission after Pentecost: The Witness of the Spirit from Genesis to Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), referenced throughout this article with in-text citations.

[2] T’ien Ju-K’ang, Peaks of Faith: Protestant Mission in Revolutionary China (Leiden: Brill, 1993).

[3] Yong also states that to engage in mission is to reshape the “history, society, and the present world economic order” (Mission after Pentecost, 240). For an alternative vision of the church’s mission, and one that in my opinion more faithfully reflects the biblical witness, see John Nugent, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2016).

[4] Yong asks, “If the postcolonial moment is in quest of the end of whiteness, does that not also mean that a mission paradigm facilitated by whiteness is coming to an end, if not already finished?” (Mission after Pentecost, 3).

[5] Robert P. Menzies, Christ-Centered: The Evangelical Nature of Pentecostal Theology (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020), 137.

[6] 30 May 1792 was the date William Carey, with his famous call, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God,” launched the Baptist Missionary Society. This date is widely cited as the beginning of the modern missions movement.

[7] I use the term “Pentecostal” here loosely. It is not always clear if a scholar actually identifies with the Pentecostal movement and shares its theology and values or if a scholar is simply studying the Pentecostal movement as an outside observer. For my understanding of Pentecostals as a subset of evangelicalism, see Menzies, Christ-Centered.

[8] Allan Anderson, “Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Renewal” (lecture in Baguio City, The Philippines, 24 August 2020),

[9] Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). Cf. Joseph L. Castleberry’s fine book review, “Pentecostal History from Below Should be Fair to Missionaries Also,” Pneuma 28 (2006): 271–74.

[10] Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism, 179.

[11] For “darkness” with reference to judgment: Matt 8:12: 22:13; 25:30; Jude 13. For references to spiritual “darkness”: Matt 6:23; Lk 1:79; 11:34; John 1:5; 3:9; 8:12; 12:35, 46; Acts 26:18; Rom 13:12; 2 Cor 6:14; Eph 5:8, 11; 6:12; Col 1:13; 1 Thess 5:4; 1 Pet 2:9; 1 John 2:8, 11.

[12] Cf. Matt 10:6; 15:24; Lk 15:4, 6, 24, 32; 19:10.

[13] See especially Mission after Pentecost, 178, 217, 225, 257–59, 264, 279.

[14] For a detailed defense of this understanding of John’s pneumatology, see Robert Menzies, “John’s Place in the Development of Early Christian Pneumatology,” in The Spirit and Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Russell P. Spittler, edited by Wonsuk Ma and Robert Menzies, JPTSS 24 (New York Continuum, 2004), 41–52.

[15] The fact that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:31) is frequently affirmed in the New Testament. Numerous texts refer to the final judgment, “the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom 2:5). See, for example, Matt 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36; 25:31–46; Rom 2:5–7; 1 Cor 4:5; Heb 6:2; 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; Rev 20:11–15.

[16] For careful discussion of the eschatological motivation for missions, see C. J. Moore, “Can We Hasten the Parousia? An Examination of Matt 24:14 and Its Implications for Missional Practice,” Themelios 44 (2019): 291–311.

[17] Can a book on the Spirit and missions that does not once refer to Acts 4:12 or Romans 10:14–15, and only tangentially to Acts 4:29–31 (once, and not with reference to “speaking the word boldly”), really be considered evangelical or Pentecostal?

[18] Although Yong clearly rejects the modernist assumptions of the liberal theology espoused by Harnack, there are striking similarities in several uniting themes: the rejection of Christianity’s claim to be the sole possessor of truth; the elevation of other religions as essentially equal to Christianity; and an emphasis on mission as benevolent action rather than proclamation of a message, especially future judgment. So, actually none of Yong’s emphases are new, although they are now dressed in post-modern garb. Note for example, Paul A. Varg’s description of the 1930 report issued by the Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry. The inquiry was commissioned by seven major denominations, chaired by William E. Hocking (a Harvard Professor), and its report was published in a book entitled, Re-Thinking Missions (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1932). Varg writes: “Re-Thinking Missions was the high watermark of Protestant liberalism. In the dynamic world of the past one hundred years, stated the report, science, historical studies, and philosophic activity had brought progress in concepts of religious experience. Stress on future punishment had given way to a stress on beneficence…. Christianity would no longer view itself as the sole possessor of truth; it must now accept the fact that it was only one among equals in the field of religions groping for higher concepts of the meaning of the universe…. [Christianity] must recognize that it had no especial claim to revelation and should join hands with those same religions for the purpose of strengthening spiritual values” (Varg, Missionaries, Chinese, and Diplomats [New York: Octagon, 1977], 167).

[19] Actually, Yong’s work may be aptly described as an attempt to blend the voices of Charles Parham and Harvey Cox. Unfortunately, the end result sounds more like Bishop K. H. Ting than William Seymour.

[20] Becky Croasmun, Legacy of Faith (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2011). Becky Croasmun is Max and Emily Bernheim’s granddaughter.

[21] With respect to the post-colonial critique, I believe Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s essay, “The Missionary Enterprise and Theories of Imperialism,” in The Missionary Enterprise in China and America, edited by John K. Fairbank (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), 336–73, is telling. Schlesinger examines the charge that Protestant missionaries in China were imperialists through three specific lenses (or theories of imperialism): economic; political; and cultural. He concludes that the missionaries were not economic or political imperialists: “the missionaries themselves remained a force independent of, and often at odds with, both the white trader and even more the white settler” (p. 346). After noting the apolitical stance of Rufus Anderson, the corresponding secretary of the American Board [of Missions] from 1832 to 1866, he quotes as representative the findings of the Hocking Commission in 1930, which concluded that the Protestant missionaries they studied were “‘in no sense apologists for, nor promoters of, any political or economic system, or interest’” (p. 360). Schlesinger then argues that the missionaries were, however, cultural imperialists, a charge which tells us more about Schlesinger’s theology than it does about the missionaries’ actual practice. Varg also refutes the imperialist charge, concluding that “there is no evidence to support any general thesis that the missionary enterprise was merely a tool of the middle class to prepare the way for the exploitation of China” (Varg, Missionaries, 85).

Robert P. Menzies

Robert Menzies is the director of Synergy, a rural service organization located in Southwest China, and an adjunct faculty member at the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio City, The Philippines.

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