World Mission: Theology, Strategy, and Current Issues

Written by Scott Callaham and Will Brooks, eds Reviewed By Kyle Faircloth

This book brings together nine biblical scholars to address current issues in mission theology and practice. Its theme is enigmatic: “We have written this book precisely because we believe that the contemporary practice of world mission has not adequately heeded the voice of the Holy Spirit through Scripture” (p. xii). Only after reading the book did I perceive it is meant to be a biblical-theological response to certain elements peculiar to evangelical missiology. Part 1 consists of three chapters and addresses the scriptural concern by highlighting the Bible’s grand narrative and demonstrates how a more robust biblical theology informs missiology. Parts 2 and 3 consist of four chapters each, touching on various issues of mission practice. Overall, the volume achieves its aim, but for two exceptions (chs. 1, 6). I’ll consider these chapters first, then simply comment on the chapters I enjoyed most (chs. 2, 3, 4, 10).

In chapter 1, Scott Callaham asserts that one should not neglect the Old Testament for understanding mission. Prioritizing the former is important as “submission to biblical authority requires first listening to the voice of God through Scripture and then forming theology” (pp. 3–4). However, without explanation the chapter “turns its attention primarily toward Old Testament theologies” concerning God’s plan for the gentile nations (p. 7). Callaham divides the rest of the chapter into two sections: the first surveys Old Testament theologies on the gentile question; the second considers the implications for mission practice. Put simply, it seems the first section is not so much a survey of Old Testament theologies as a theologized framework for supporting the author’s assertions in the second section. This is not to cast suspicion on Callaham’s motives, but simply point out an obvious disjunction between his stated intent and its execution. If nothing else, there is a conspicuous lack of careful source analysis (e.g., the discussion on the implications of the imago Dei, pp. 11–14, 23–25).

Chapter 6, cowritten by John Massey and Callaham, insists that true discipleship, and thus a true church, exists only where believers are baptized by immersion. Denouncing what they call “transdenominational evangelicalism” (p. 150), their argument runs as follows: (1) only a believer is a disciple and only a disciple can be baptized; (2) baptism by immersion is the only mode authorized by Scripture; and (3) a believer must be baptized to be a true disciple. Therefore, beware of (1) sacramental theology, i.e., “infant-baptizing churches” (p. 153); (2) those who delay baptism to ensure genuine conversion; and (3) those who abstain from baptism due to difficult or dangerous circumstances.

I might simply point out that the intended audience are teachers, students, and practitioners of mission from all evangelical traditions. Additionally, one contributor to this volume, Stephen Wright, is an Anglican (ch. 4). Thus, it seems counterintuitive to include a chapter that puts forward such a particular view on the subject and warns against “ecumenical engagement with non-Baptists” (p. 160). In contrast, Wright’s chapter on discipleship keenly observes that both Matthew and Mark underline “Jesus’ warning against exclusivism with the saying ‘Whoever is not against us is for us’” (pp. 117–18).

Having said this, I do not wish to rubbish the book. There are some brilliant chapters in this volume. My hope is that by indicating some of the possible pitfalls in advance, readers will better appreciate this book’s valuable contributions. To this purpose, I recommend starting with chapter 2 by Wendel Sun.

Sun’s chapter masterfully foregrounds the person and work of Jesus as a corollary of Old Testament figures and events. By the time Sun speaks to what it means to be “in Christ,” one realizes that faith in Christ is not merely a personal experience; it is the bestowal of an exalted heritage upon an unworthy people, enabling them to participate in the continuation of Jesus’s mission. For this reason, “Christ’s mission ought also to mark out our mission” (p. 56). Sun then carries this theological piece into chapter 3, carefully fitting it into the covenantal framework of the missio Dei.

Dovetailing nicely with Sun’s chapters, Wright (ch. 4) methodically works out the meaning of discipleship through a comparison of Matthew’s account with those of the other Gospels and Acts. This chapter is chock-full of implications for mission practice, each stemming from Wright’s observation that the evangelists do “not so much teach a concept of discipleship as tell a story of disciples of Jesus…. We cannot reduce it to schemes, formulae, or a syllabus of instruction” (p. 106). One important implication is that “no particular model of the church is implied by the concept of discipleship, and we should be wary of attempts to impose such a model” (p. 128).

Finally, I wish to highlight Jackson Wu’s chapter concerning biblical theology for oral cultures (ch. 10). Wu’s explanation for why biblical theology is necessary for discipleship among oral-preference peoples is well done, but it is his process for working out the Bible’s grand narrative according to the Bible itself that is most thought-provoking. While the popular schema of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation is not wrong, “such summaries largely skip over the vast majority of the Old Testament, perhaps referencing Israel in passing” (p. 281). But when the Bible itself retells its own story, it recounts many events and figures from the Old Testament that, we must assume, are essential for understanding Christ and the gospel. For those not familiar with Wu’s work, this chapter is a concise introduction to the kind of careful yet creative scholarship many have come to appreciate—myself included.

Notwithstanding a few perceived shortcomings, this book is an important contribution to the paradigm shift occurring today in US-based missions. Enough time has passed to give evidence to the fact that the social-scientific principles that have dominated evangelical missions since the 1970s have failed to usher in the promised final era of missions. Hence, the call to place “every aspect of the missional task under the authority—and thus the corrective critique—of biblical teaching” is growing (p. xi), and this book contains some excellent examples of how this critique should unfold.

Kyle Faircloth

Kyle Faircloth is the director of intercultural studies at Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary in Penang, Malaysia, and a PhD student at the University of Bristol, UK.

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