Pierson, Paul E. The Dynamics of Christian Mission: History through a Missiological Perspective. Pasadena, CA: William Carey International University Press. 2009.
Paul E. Pierson is Dean Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies. He is also Senior Professor of History of Mission and Latin American Studies. Before teaching at Fuller, he served as a missionary on the Brazilian-Bolivian border. He has also spent time teaching at seminaries in Brazil and Portugal. He specializes in the history of mission and evangelical renewal movements as well as in the study of new patterns in mission.
In this history book Pierson attempts to find a thread which runs through all of mission history. According to him there are several threads which run through the history of mission, however Pierson decides to focus on one of these threads, as is seen in his thesis statement: “My thesis is that both congregational structures and mission structures are essential to the completion of the mission of the Church to the end of history, and that both are equally the Church, the People of God.” Pierson notes that the completion of mission often occurs on the periphery of the broader church. Pierson develops his thesis as well as this secondary idea throughout his study of how God’s Mission has been done throughout the existence of the Church.
Pierson divides his book into six different sections. The first of these sections is titled “Early Expansion.” Here Pierson studies the early church as it is found in the New Testament as well as the early church’s expansion in the Roman world. In this section he expands upon the role of laypeople in evangelizing as well as the role of formal mission bands as two structures which carried out mission in this period.
The second section of this book is titled “Change and Attempts at Renewal.” The changes which Pierson refers to are the changes in the political structure of the world at this time. It was a time where the church was being battered down by barbarians, Vikings, and Muslims yet mission normally arises on the periphery of the broader Church, thus the church was growing even in these areas. This is partly due to a renewal movement which was occurring in lay and monastic structures.
The third Section covers the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. Pierson sees the reformation as a movement which re-contexutalized the Christian faith. Out of these reformations arose groups (mission structures) which focused on sharing their reformed faith.
Moving on from the reformation era, Pierson takes on the task of studying renewal movements and missionary movements within Protestantism. He studies several groups like the Moravians and Methodists which focused spreading the Gospel. He also studies William Carey’s influence in forming mission structures. He spends one chapter studying how these mission structures have furthered God’s mission.
In the section, “The ‘Great Centuries,’” Pierson examines a time period in which Global mission began moving at an extremely rapid pace. He covers how mission has been accomplished in all the continents, as well as how the ecumenical movement has furthered God’s mission. He concludes this section with a chapter on Pentecostalism and Mission, here he shows how the congregational structures within this strand of Christianity are conducive to accomplishing God’s mission.
The last section of this book covers the current state of mission as well as the future of mission. He shows how congregational structures are key to accomplishing God’s mission by studying new church structures that are emerging. He also studies how mission structures, like para-church ministries, will play a role in ministry within urban environments.
Pierson’s emphasis on the fact that mission structures are as much a part of the Church as congregational structures serves to heal the divide which can occur between both parts of the Church. By showing how both of these structures have played a role in fulfilling God’s mission he shows that both are indispensable to fulfilling mission. Pierson also does a good job in showing how God’s mission is fulfilled by the most unlikely people in the most unlikely places, for example Patrick among the Celtic people. This shows that renewal occurs in the periphery, where stagnation has not yet had a chance to set in.
One thing that Pierson could have done to improve upon his work in this book is to be more explicit with how mission and congregational structures interact. He does this well in the beginning and ending of the book however the book seems to lose sight of the thesis throughout the middle. Pierson could have also focused on the lives of laity in this book as well. As a part of congregational structures, laypeople play an important role in accomplishing God’s mission. Since local congregational structures are composed of laypeople it seems wrong to ignore the role of everyday people in God’s mission.
Overall, I believe that Pierson’s thesis is correct, and he does a fairly good job showing it. If there is something to take away from this book is that churches today must rethink how congregational structures are to interact with larger mission structures. This will be especially important in facing the challenges of the modern world. If the Church is going to accomplish God’s mission, it must discover creative ways to work together and disregard divisions between congregations and “para-church,” it must work together as one united Church.