A few years ago, I had the privilege to travel to Iona, a tiny island located in the Inner Hebrides of western Scotland. For Christian history, it is important for being the place where sixth-century Celtic monks led by the Irish abbot Columba (521-597) established a monastery and also missionary base for evangelizing the Pictish people of the Scottish highlands. While preparing to go and study the mission history of the region, I asked my former doctoral supervisor about the best study resources on the island—things like libraries, study centers, and museums. Informing me that nothing quite that formal existed at Iona, he suggested that the most valuable study experience was to visit the island in December or January, stand outside and feel the cold North Atlantic air and wind, and imagine the sacrifice and service of the monks who went about their ministry in this environment. In many ways, that is what this book is about. We too want to stand in that cold place and walk in the shoes of Celtic and other missionary monks who sacrificed greatly to make the gospel known to the ends of the earth in their day. We want to grasp what it meant to pursue both a monastic and a missionary calling.
Why is a book on missionary monks relevant for Christians today, especially for students of mission history and mission practitioners? As we journey through the pages of mission history—especially from about AD 500 to 1500—it’s impossible to do so without stumbling over quite a few missionary monks. In fact, I would argue that if we don’t have monks in this period, then we really have little to talk about in the way of Christian mission. So grasping the story of mission requires getting to know missionary monks.
My intent in this work is to guide the reader through an introduction to the history of missionary monks and movements beginning in the fourth century and spanning to the middle of the seventeenth century. I want to tell the story of missionary monks—to meet them, learn about their contexts of service, consider their approaches to mission, discuss their challenges and victories, and grasp how they thought and theologized about mission. After narrating their stories, I will invite the reader to reflect on what can be learned from their experiences, including which of their strategies might be appropriated today in mission . . . In short, we will stand on the cold shores of Iona (and other places), consider what mission meant to them, and reflect on what their legacy means for us.
Learn more about Missionary Monks here.