Advanced Missiology: How to Study Missions in Credible and Useful Ways

Written by Kenneth Nehrbass Reviewed By C. Tim Chang

Nehrbass’s Advanced Missiology is packed with information on how to pursue Great Commission faithfulness and make cross-cultural disciples. Using the metaphor of a river with tributaries and distributaries, Nehrbass builds a “meta-theoretical framework” of missiology (p. 12). In order to make this argument, the book is divided into two main parts with “The Tributaries of Missiology” and “The Distributaries of Missiology.”

When defining and discussing the tributaries of missiology, Nehrbass explores the missiological value of the academic disciplines of theology, history, anthropology, intercultural studies, development theory, and education. He writes about how these tributaries pour into the fulfillment of the Great Commission and its primary task of making cross-cultural disciples (p. 14). While each of these tributaries is critical, Nehrbass contends that the most important discipline is theology conducted from a biblical perspective (p. 37–42).

In the second part of the book, Nehrbass defines what he refers to as the distributaries as he articulates his understanding of cross-cultural discipleship. In so doing, he differentiates between missiological theories and missiological models by noting that a theory is a “descriptive explanation of the ways the world works” whereas models are “prescriptive ways for doing things” (p. 5).

Following this distinction, Nehrbass discusses theories of cross-cultural discipleship, by highlighting the indigenizing and pilgrim principles, the C1–C6 spectrum, the concept of unreached people groups, the 10/40 window, the homogenous unit principle, the flaw of the excluded middle, and the idea of redemptive analogies. And then, discussing the models of cross-cultural discipleship, he focuses on the three-selves church model, the principle of contextualization, narrative-driven methods of multiplication, church planting movement methodologies, Bible translation, business as mission, and the growing short-term missions movement.

Overall, Nehrbass’s analysis of missiological theories and models seems to be fair and balanced. For instance, when addressing contextualization, he affirms its role in the strategy, practice, and theology of missions. Still, he also recognizes that it can be misappropriated and abused by local Christians and missionaries. Beyond mere critical reflection, however, he offers a constructive approach that mitigates the dangers and capitalizes on the advantages as he argues for contextualization that is ethno-theological. For Nehrbass, such ethno-theological contextualization includes such things as “missions history, denominational influences, views of Scripture, plus the traditional culture and traditional religion” (p. 238).

For some, Nehrbass’s approach of contextualization with “traditional culture and traditional religion” may appear unbiblical or ill-advised, but I would differ. If it does not compromise the meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ and holds to the central teaching of the Great Commission, there is much freedom to integrate various local cultural forms. It is important to keep in mind that if contextualization in not done in this way, there is a good chance that the gospel will be misunderstand and misappropriated. During Paul’s second missionary journey, he engaged in “ethno-theological” contextualization while sharing the gospel with unbelievers in Athens, as he referenced “the unknown god” and quoted from one of their “own poets” (Acts 17:22–34) as an entry way into gospel proclamation. Throughout church history, unlike the Apostle Paul, Christian leaders have struggled to understand the difference of meaning and form and to practice good biblical contextualization.

In the final chapter Nehrbass addresses the issue of Finishing the Task and the 3 billion individuals who are classified as living among unreached and un-evangelized people groups (UUPGs). Nehrbass highlights Dana Roberts’s observation that those in attendance at the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburg “complained” that only one-third of the world was Christ-followers, while today Christians “rejoice” that one-third of the world is Christ-followers (p. 292). Actually, it is not either/or, but both/and. God’s people should rejoice upon hearing the reports of the many growing Christian populations today, especially those in Africa, Asia, and South America. But also, it is also appropriate to mourn because 3 billion people are still lost and have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Especially due to his focus on cross-cultural discipleship, Nehrbass’s Advanced Missiology is to be applauded. As Christians concerned to faithfully respond to the Great Commission attempt to think critically and carefully about missions, this book offers a fine contribution to the contemporary discussion.

C. Tim Chang

C. Tim Chang
Liberty University School of Divinity
Lynchburg, Virginia, USA

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