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.