This review was published in the Spring 2011 edition of the Criswell Theological Review:
Encountering Theology of Mission is primarily the work of Craig Ott, professor of intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Ott’s other books include Globalizing Theology (co-edited with Harold Netland, 2006) and the forthcoming work, Global Church Planting (2011). Parts of the present work were written by Stephen Strauss, who served as the U.S. director for Serving in Mission (SIM) prior to assuming a post in intercultural studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in 2010. In addition to the present work, Strauss contributed a chapter in Ott and Netland’s, Globalizing Theology. Finally, one chapter was written by Timothy Tennent, who presently serves as president of Asbury Theological Seminary and has written a number of key works in missiology, including Invitation to World Missions (2010), Theology in the Context of World Christianity (2007), and Christianity at the Religious Roundtable (2002).
This work is nicely organized into three main sections. In the first, “Biblical Foundations of Mission,” the author discusses mission in the Old and New Testaments (chaps. 1-2), the notion of missio Dei (chap. 3), and finally the purpose, nature, and task of missions (chaps. 4-6). In part 2, “Motives and Means for Mission,” the authors treat the general motivations for missions (chap. 7), the role of the church in mission (chap. 8), the missionary “call” (chap. 9), and spiritual warfare in mission (chap. 10). Finally, in part 3, “Mission in Local and Global Context,” the authors deal with contextualization (chap. 11), Christianity’s encounter with other religions (chap. 12), and finally three moral questions related to mission—is Christ the only way? Is there really a hell? What about those who have never heard the Gospel? (chap. 13).
Encountering Theology of Mission shares some common aims with some other recent works. In terms of the biblical foundation for missions, it resembles Glasser’s Announcing the Kingdom (2003) and Wright’s The Mission of God (2006). In fact, the present authors seem to especially rely upon Wright in the initial chapters of the work. As the book also addresses the role of the church in mission, it is also similar to Wright’s recently published The Mission of God’s People (2010). Finally, Ott, Strauss, and Tennent’s book resembles Tennent’s Invitation to World Missions (2010). Though Tennent’s work is framed by a Trinitarian missiology and is more theologically oriented than the present book, the chapter that Tennent contributed (chap. 12) is essentially the same as chapter 7 in his own work. In short, as it is intended to be a survey text, Encountering Theology of Mission serves as a helpful introductory text in relation to these more comprehensive works.
Overall, I found this book to be a wonderful introductory work on mission theology and will probably use it as a textbook in a future theology of mission course. A number of strengths are noteworthy. First, in terms of methodology, I like how the authors rely largely on the thought of biblical scholars as opposed to that of missiologists when laying out the biblical foundations for mission in chapters 1-2. Also, throughout the work, they incorporate the scholarship of European and majority world theologians. Finally, though the work is written by evangelicals for an evangelical audience, they make the reader aware of some key elements of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology of mission (i.e., see pp. 115-16).
Second, my favorite chapter was on the nature and purpose of mission (chap. 4) as the authors lay out seven aspects of the nature of mission that are both winsome and accessible and thus worth repeating here:
· Doxology as the purpose of mission.
· Redemption as the foundation of mission.
· The Kingdom of God as the center of mission.
· Eschatology as the hope of mission.
· The nations as the scope of mission.
· Reconciliation as the fruit of mission.
· Incarnation as the character of mission.
Succinct chapters such as this one are one of the reasons why this book would be a great resource for college and seminary students.
Third, as they begin to discuss the task of missions (chap. 5-6) and the subsequent chapters on the motivations and means of mission, etc., the authors do an excellent job of interacting with the history of missions efforts. That is, they evaluate the historical development of theology of mission prior to laying out their own thought. This dialogue between history and theology is a useful and necessary one in articulating theology of mission.
While I am generally pleased with Encountering Theology of Mission, I do have two critiques. First, I am a bit perplexed as to why Tennent’s chapter was recycled from his own work—a book that appeared earlier in the same year. Certainly, the authors could have used the space in that chapter to address another important aspect of theology, while referring the reader to the Tennent book. Second, though I have praised the authors for interacting well with missions history in the midst of their theologizing, their historical discussions are purposefully limited to the period since the Protestant Reformation (i.e, see p. 106). While scope and space are certainly issues in an introductory work, it seems that there is still much to glean from the history of missions and theology of mission prior to the 16th century.
In summary, the authors have offered a fresh, well-written theology of mission for our times. In addition to college and seminary students, I think that pastors, missions pastors, and lay people will also benefit from this fine book.
This review was published in the summer of 2010 in the Great Commission Research Journal 2:1, pp. 142-45.
Invitation to World Missions is the latest work from Timothy Tennent, who was recently appointed president at Asbury Theological Seminary. Tennent’s other books—helpfully referred to at times in the present work—include Christianity at the Religious Roundtable (2002) and Theology in the Context of World Christianity (2007). The author’s aim in this new book is to lay out a coherent theology of mission framed by the missio Dei (mission of God). That is, the mission of the church on earth and the activities of missionaries (missions) find their meaning and direction in the collective work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in mission. Thus, Tennent argues, “mission is far more about God and who He is than about us and what we do” (p. 55).
On one hand Tennent’s book is an introduction to missiology and includes chapters on theology, history, culture, and the current status of global Christianity. On the other, it is a book on Trinitarian theology of mission from beginning to end. In fact, his distinguishing claim is that most introductory mission texts include a biblical foundations of mission section that is fragmented from the other noted aspects of missiology (p. 9). While his approach is indeed fresh and innovative, Tennent is not the only voice calling for renewed theological reflection for mission. In The Mission of God (2006), Chris Wright argues for a missional hermeneutic to frame our reading of Scripture. In his forthcoming The Mission of God’s People (2010), Wright lays out a theology of mission specifically for the church. Also, Tennent joins Craig Ott and Stephen Strauss in authoring Encountering Theology of Mission (2010), a newly released book that proposes a more up to date theology of mission. While Tennent’s Invitation to World Missions is not the only recent work concerned with theology of mission, his emphasis on a Trinitarian missiology is rather unique. Nevertheless, he interacts with and builds upon the works of Lesslie Newbigin (pp. 66-68) and Kwame Bediako(pp. 69-73) to make his case.
In Part One, Tennent discusses seven megatrends in missions and global Christianity, a context that should prompt the church to take a Selah moment and reconsider its perspective on mission (chap. 1). After reviewing scholarship on theology of mission (chap. 2), Tennent lays out his Trinitarian missiology in which the Father initiates mission and acts as sender, the Son is the embodiment of the missio Dei, and the Holy Spirit is the continual empowering presence in mission (chap. 3). In Part Two, Tennent unpacks further the Father’s initiating work in mission as revealed in the Scriptures (chaps. 4-5) and how the Father’s rule relates to culture and to other religions (chaps. 6-7). In this section, he also introduces his New Creation motif—the present and future kingdom realities of God’s ways being known by the redeemed. In Part Three, the author offers an interpretation of missions history based on the Son’s redemptive work (chaps. 8-10). In light of the incarnation, Tennent discusses the translatable nature of the Gospel and Scriptures, the personal access to people groups, and how holistic mission is an expression of the incarnation (chaps. 11-13). In Part Four, Tennent unpacks his Holy Spirit theology for mission by reflecting on the Book of Acts, by discussing the ongoing mission of the church, as well as the role of the suffering church (chaps. 14-16). In his conclusion (pp. 485-506), he summarizes the main portions of the book in light of the overall thesis, enabling the reader to see the overarching argument once again.
What are the strengths of Tennent’s work? First, the general Trinitarian theological framework for understanding missiology—including missions history, culture, practices, and issues—is quite refreshing. Indeed, through his compelling interaction with the Trinity in Scripture, Tennent reminds the reader that God (or the Godhead) is a missionary God. The Father initiates mission, the Son accomplishes it, and the Holy Spirit is the empowering presence. These realities ought to bring renewed perspective and humility for cultural anthropologists, mission strategists, and organizational leaders.
Second, and related, Tennent has helpfully reminded us of the vital role of the Holy Spirit in mission (pp. 92-101, 409-431). Throughout history, reflection on the person, work, and theology of the Holy Spirit has often been unnecessarily delayed. As discussions on the relationship between pneumatology and mission have also been neglected, Tennent’s work here is especially important. In addition to working exegetically through the Book of Acts, Tennent reminds the reader of the Holy Spirit’s important work in mission by appealing to the theology of Pentecostal scholars as well as the experiences of Pentecostal Christians in the Majority World church. As an evangelical from the United Methodist tradition, Tennent seems especially positioned to help evangelical non-Pentecostals appreciate the role of the Holy Spirit in mission.
Third, Tennent’s discussion of the New Creation motif is also quite refreshing. Challenging the Western paradigm of salvation in which an individual is merely justified (i.e., “I got saved”), Tennent reminds the reader of the eschatological implications of Trinitarian mission. That is, individuals are redeemed and brought into community of fellowship with other believers (the church) who will enjoy relationship with the Godhead for eternity in the fulfillment of the New Creation (pp. 159-90). Interacting with Piper’s famous statement, “missions exists because worship does not,” Tennent adds the nuance that “missions exists because the New Creation has not yet been consummated” (p. 493).
A final strength of the book is that Tennent acknowledges the role of the Majority World church throughout his work. His fourth and fifth megatrends of chapter 1 (pp. 33-42) relate to the growth of the church in the non-Western world. However, more than simply recognizing this part of the global church, Tennent consistently interacts with the work of Majority World theologians and missiologists (Bediako, Escobar, Mbiti, Tienou among others) in finding support for his arguments. In fact, at the end of the work, one of his criteria for evaluating missions practice (i.e., insider movements in the Muslim world) is to invite the input of Majority World church leaders (pp. 504-506). Indeed, Tennent’s humble posture in this work serves as an inspiring model to every Western missiologist.
What are the limitations of the book? First, the historical section (chaps. 8-10) represents a rather awkward shift in the flow of the book. From the title, preface, and first seven chapters, it seems that this was to be primarily a book on theology of mission. However, in chapter 8, Tennent abruptly transitions into what appears to be a customary history of missions section of an introductory missions text. Though he organizes these chapters as the outcome of the Son’s work in accomplishing salvation, this shift from theology to history still feels awkward. Also, as an historian, I am a bit leery of an overly theological reading of history. Perhaps, the historical section could have been more strategically included in another volume.
Second, in his chapter on culture and the New Creation (pp. 171-90), the author could have discussed more thoroughly the impact of the Fall on culture—the resulting sinful aspects that exist within culture. While he does acknowledge the effect of sin on culture (p. 171), he spends much more space outlining the outcomes of the New Creation on culture—realities that are largely future (pp. 186-90). The Lausanne Covenant states, “The gospel . . . evaluates all cultures according to its own criteria of truth and righteousness, and insists on moral absolutes in every culture” (paragraph 10). In light of these “between the times” shortcomings of culture, a model for engaging, confronting, and calling culture to be transformed to the Lordship of Christ is lacking in Tennent’s discussion.
A final limitation of the work is in Tennent’s incomplete treatment of the prescriptive or descriptive nature of the Book of Acts (pp. 414-31). While this very large question is clearly posed and is apparently set up a discussion (pp. 414-15), Tennent seems to address the question by narrating the story of global Pentecostalism. That is, he answers the prescriptive/descriptive question by offering more descriptions!
To sum up, the strengths of Tennent’s work far outweigh any weaknesses. It is a well-written, theologically robust invitation to consider mission in light of the missionary heart and ways of the Triune God. While it should be refreshing to missiologists, this book will also be stimulating to students as they train to be practitioners and theologians of mission. Specifically, I could envision using it for courses in Introduction to Missions and Theology of Mission.