The State of Missiology Today: Global Innovations in Christian Witness

Written by Charles E. Van Engen, ed. Reviewed By Richard L. Haney

Bearing an ambitious title, The State of Missiology Today: Global Innovations in Christian Witness presents a series of essays based on Fuller Seminary’s 2015 Missiology Lectures, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the School of Intercultural Studies (SIS). Most of the essays are edited versions of lectures presented at the anniversary event in Pasadena in October of 2015. Charles Van Engen, retired SIS professor who taught at Fuller for more than 25 years, edited the collection. SIS is the newer name of the original School of World Mission (SWM) founded by Donald McGavran in 1965.

Part 1 is titled “The Diffusion of Innovation: Looking Backward to Look Ahead” and features seven essays. The editor’s introduction and Gary McIntosh’s chapter on Donald McGavran both highlight the seminal work of McGavran in founding the SWM at Fuller. I found these two chapters among the best of the of the book’s fourteen essays.

McGavran was a true innovator. In several ways, he inspired his colleague, Ralph Winter, whose pioneering work on unreached people groups remains one of the outstanding missiological innovations of the 20th century. McGavran’s work in India gave birth to both the “homogenous unit principle” and church growth missiology. These insights plus an analysis of vertical segmentation among Indian castes paved the way for Ralph Winter’s conceptualization of “hidden” or “unreached” peoples. According to McIntosh, McGavran’s book, The Bridges of God (New York: Friendship, 1955), offers an insight still crucial for mission workers: “Christianity travels best over the natural bridges of family, tribe and kinship” (p. 36).

The third chapter of Part 1 describes indigenous church movements in mission praxis. Sarita Gallagher’s essay connects the church growth theory of McGavran and SWM colleague Alan Tippett with examples of missionary activities in Papua New Guinea. I found this chapter the most helpful of the entire corpus. Indigenous church movements continue to be outstanding bearers of the gospel in Africa, Southeast Asia and north India. Tippett’s six central characteristics of an indigenous church are well worth our attention (pp. 74–76). I also appreciated Pascal Bazzell’s creative contribution, “Who Is Our Cornelius? Learning from Fruitful Encounters at the Boundaries of Mission (pp. 107–24).

Part 2 contains seven more essays and is called, “The Implications of Innovation: Back to the Future (Looking Forward).” Several contributions travel the globe to cover developments from Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Other chapters explore interfaith issues, Roman Catholic contributions, and interactions with Islam. Whereas most of the essays in part one explicitly connect to Fuller Seminary or Donald McGavran, the chapters of Part Two seem to stand alone.

They are less compelling for failing to connect with the larger history of Fuller’s school of missiologists. Anne-Marie Kool’s chapter, “Revisiting Mission in, to and from Europe Through Contemporary Image Formation,” seems particularly incongruous to this reviewer. Most of her essay simply critiques the Atlas of Global Christianity (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), mostly in reference to Europe. The notable exception in Part 2 is Jayakumar Christian’s essay “Innovation at the Margins” (pp. 165–77). Christian lists what he deems Fuller’s contributions to innovation: McGavran on church growth, Ralph Winter and theological education by extension, Ralph Winter and unreached people groups, Luis Bush and AD 2000, plus Bryant Myers and development missions. Christian goes on to refer to his own research about a missiology for the poor and marginalized. He argues for a missiology that highlights four themes: identity, anger, the Holy Spirit, and truth. He seeks to apply the church’s understanding of the imago Dei to healing the oppressed (pp. 168–77).

Collections of essays by multiple authors often run the risk of being uneven in content. This volume on missiology is no exception but does contain many valuable contributions. The missiology reflected in this volume highlights Fuller Seminary’s historical and current appreciation of church growth and church planting as mission themes. Students also should know the work of other Fuller faculty members that goes beyond the chapters in this book. For example, Bryant Myers reflects an expertise about holistic mission and development, and Evelyne Reischauer is an expert on dialogue and witness among Muslims.

The introduction and the conclusion are brief but memorable. Retired professor Charles Van Engen’s introduction sets the work of McGavran and Fuller’s SWM in historical context. Van Engen believes McGavran to be the most influential missiologist of the twentieth century after John R. Mott. He lists ten innovations associated with Fuller’s SWM/SIS.

Fuller’s current Dean of the SIS, Scott Sunquist, delivers the conclusion. He goes out on a limb to identify eight future trends in mission. I was intrigued where Van Engen’s list of past innovations aligned with Sunquist’s future trends. Spiritual issues (introduction) matched the Holy Spirit (conclusion). Indigeneity and contextualization (introduction) foreshadow insider movements (conclusion). Finally, social sciences employed in missiological analysis (introduction) give way to technology (conclusion).

Only historical hindsight will tell us for sure where and when innovations in missiology occur and stand the test of time. For example, students of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course developed by Ralph Winter know that Paul’s apostolic band paved the way for missionaries working in teams. Benedict and others invented monastic orders and the Jesuits turned their order into a kind of missionary army. William Carey and Protestant missionary societies followed and gave way to modern mission agencies and today’s non-government organizations. Ralph Winter, McGavran’s colleague at Fuller, grasped the importance of this innovation and identified these missionary entities as “sodalities” serving alongside churches at large termed “modalities.” The State of Missiology Today persuasively argues that the cumulative creativity of Fuller Seminary’s SIS faculty has uniquely contributed both to conceiving and comprehending innovations in missiology.

Richard L. Haney

Richard L. Haney
Frontier Fellowship
Richmond, Virginia, USA

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