Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours

Written by Robert L. Plummer and John Mark Terry, eds Reviewed By Don Dent

This collection of fourteen essays about various aspects of Paul’s mission was prepared for the centennial of the publication of Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Considering the number and quality of recent books related to this subject, this book addresses a question in the mind of many readers today with regard to why does the Apostle Paul’s mission paradigm deserve so much attention?

When I first read Roland Allen as a young missionary, I experienced an awakening. Several basic convictions were set in my heart that have only deepened since that day: (1) God’s mission must be fulfilled under the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit; (2) the outcome of mission efforts is greatly impacted by the methods we use; and (3) the NT provides an effective model of missions, especially in the ministry of Paul.

As a missionary church planter, field leader, and missionary trainer for thirty years, I saw the most fruitful missionaries making a conscious effort to emulate the Apostle Paul’s ministry. I rejoice that sending agencies and models of self-support are multiplying. However, many lack knowledge or interest in this NT model of missions. Any resource that points mission efforts toward Paul’s model is of critical importance for impacting the nations.

Each of the fourteen authors is either a NT scholar, missiologist, or both; the group includes some of the most eminent missions thinkers of our day. Each chapter analyzes an aspect of Paul’s mission approach, and several use Allen as a starting point. The overall impression is that, although it was written 100 years ago, Allen’s Missionary Methods is still highly relevant. Yet there is certainly room for bringing in additional missiological insights from this past century to update our understanding of these topics as well as for adding topics that Allen hardly dealt with in his short work.

The book has fourteen chapters:

  1. “Paul’s Religious and Historical Milieu” by Michael Bird
  2. “Paul the Missionary” by Eckhard Schnabel
  3. “Paul’s Gospel” by Robert Plummer
  4. “Paul’s Ecclesiology” by Benjamin Merkle
  5. “Paul’s Mission as the Mission of the Church” by Christoph Stenschke
  6. “Paul’s Theology of Suffering” by Don Howell
  7. “Paul and Spiritual Warfare” by Craig Keener
  8. “Paul’s Missions Strategy” by David Hesselgrave
  9. “Paul’s Strategy: Determinative for Today?” by Michael Pocock
  10. “Paul and Indigenous Missions” by John Mark Terry
  11. “Paul and Church Planting” by Ed Stetzer and Lizette Beard
  12. “Paul and Contextualization” by David Sills
  13. “Paul and Leadership Development” by Chuck Lawless
  14. “Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods at One Hundred” by J. D. Payne

David Hesselgrave’s discussion of the necessity for each generation to reexamine its traditions in light of Scripture and the Spirit is insightful and challenging. Rob Plummer analyzes Paul’s gospel, a timely topic when even “missions-minded” people are increasingly unsure about the nature of gospel proclamation. Don Howell’s description of Paul’s view of suffering as a necessary part of his calling is a clear challenge that we (especially North Americans) will have to overcome our culturally-ingrained aversion to risk in order to fulfill the Great Commission. Mark Terry reminds us that indigeneity, although a bit out of vogue these days, should be foundational in our missiology. David Sills provides an excellent summary of contextualization, including its importance, the appropriate process for its outworking, and potential dangers of various forms, practices, and problematic efforts of contextualization.

Michael Bird describes the Jewish, Roman, and Hellenistic context of Paul’s ministry. He rightly points out that Allen lacked the sophistication of Harnack in describing Paul’s world. However, Bird states, “I want to describe those features of . . . contexts that explain the success of the Pauline mission.” On this point, I agree with Allen that the stumbling blocks and stepping stones Paul faced were in no sense “causes” of Paul’s success. God works around and sometimes through the most surprising factors. Who could imagine that God would work around and through the Cultural Revolution in China or the rise of Islamic fundamentalism to bring about two extraordinary advances in global mission? Allen was correct to note that the major obstacles for mission are within ourselves.

Ben Merkle’s discussion of Paul’s ecclesiology is helpful, especially since this is such a critical foundation for church planting. For example, Merkle argues well for a multiplicity of elders as a pattern in the early church. However, he does not discuss how multiple elders functioned in each metro-church that was composed of and functioned primarily as a network of house congregations. For instance, we know that there were five elders in Antioch, but were they leading a common metro-meeting each Sunday morning? Was each elder leading a house church or leading a network of house churches? Merkle gives us a good starting point in his short chapter, but more work on an ecclesiology for pioneer house church settings needs to be done.

Although each contributor provides new insights, the book would be much stronger if it included a chapter or two written by Chinese scholars. Roland Allen had no idea how God would do it, but he was right that the Chinese church had to be freed from western control and live in dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Overall, this is a very helpful book. As I have recommended Missionary Methods to hundreds of aspiring missionaries and mission leaders, I will now also recommend Paul’s Missionary Methods as a companion volume.

Don Dent

Don Dent
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary
Mill Valley, California, USA

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