Missiology Book Review: God So Loves the City

Van Engen, Charles and Tiersma, Jude editors. God So Loves the City. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1994.

Charles Van Engen tells us the essence of this book: it is “to explore ways to integrate theology, urban studies, and contextualization in a theologically informed, holistic, and transformational theology of mission.” This book is a collection composed of the writings of a group of doctoral students in the School of World Mission at Fuller Seminary. In composing this book, the authors reflected upon their personal experiences. By doing this they were able to create a theology of mission for the city. Another thing that we should note is that out of the attempt to create an urban theology of mission, the authors espoused a particular methodology for doing theology of mission in the city.

One aspect of this book that was rather insightful was Charles Van Engen’s development of the method for doing theology of mission in the city. In chapter eleven he elaborates upon the methods which were used throughout the book. He outlines the following steps: 1-approach the city, 2-use a story, 3-examine the context in which the story occurs, 4-re-read the scriptures in light of what we now know, 5-re-examine mission in light of these discoveries, 6-integrate these insights into a practical method, 7-retell the story in light of all that has been done. I believe that this method enables us to create a truly contextualized theology of mission in whatever setting we might find ourselves.

One negative aspect of this book that stands out is that the book does not spend enough space developing an urban theology of mission. Rather the majority of the book consists of stories and contexts of ministry done in urban settings. I understand that this is part of the methodology espoused in the book; however for a book that claims that its aim is to create a theology for urban mission it comes short in accomplishing its goals. I believe this problem could have been solved by spending more time on the last three steps that Van Engen outlined in chapter eleven.

As someone who is interested in theology and contextualization I am seeing how important it is to be able to contextualize our theology while staying faithful to the scriptures. This book provides a practical and easy method for doing this. Since this book was read in a Biblical Theology of Mission course, seeing how scholars create a contextualized theology of mission is particularly helpful since I am learning to do this as well. This book provides a framework for theologizing in an academic setting and out on the mission field. The insights given by this book are easy to apply in urban settings, as well as any other setting in which a person doing mission might find themselves.

Overall this book was enjoyable and insightful. The inclusion of stories which come from the author’s lives and ministries added a personal element to the book. The stories prevented the book from becoming a pedantic academic exercise and allowed this book to become an interesting and applicable exploration of doing mission out in the real world. One chapter which stood out in my eyes was Mary Thiessen’s chapter “When we are dying in the city: Three sources of life.” In this chapter she tells the story of a ministry which is falling apart from the inside. In the section on context she examines the way these types of ministries end up dying. Her rereading of scripture shows us how the Holy Spirit brings vitality to those who are carrying out His mission. She then takes these insights and applies them to the story given in the beginning. It is chapters like these which are so practical and theologically informed that show that the method Charles Van Engen outlines in chapter eleven is a useful method for creating a theology of mission in the city.


Cool Christian Beards (pt. 2): John Calvin

This week’s beard is a good one, perhaps even my favorite one. Not because of how cool the beard is, although it is quite cool, but because of how cool the man behind the beard is. I’m not going to lie, I have reformed leanings so this dude holds a special place in my heart (and on my bookshelf.) This week I present to you Jehan Cauvin or as most of you know him John Calvin.

Born July 10, 1509 in Noyon, France, Jean Calvin was raised in a staunch Roman Catholic family. The local bishop employed Calvin’s father as an administrator in the town’s cathedral. The father, in turn, wanted John to become a priest. Because of close ties with the bishop and his noble family, John’s playmates and classmates in Noyon (and later in Paris) were aristocratic and culturally influential in his early life.

At the age of 14 Calvin went to Paris to study at the College de Marche in preparation for university study. His studies consisted of seven subjects: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Toward the end of 1523 Calvin transferred to the more famous College Montaigu. While in Paris he changed his name to its Latin form, Ioannis Calvinus, which in French became Jean Calvin. During this time, Calvin’s education was paid for in part by income from a couple of small parishes. So although the new theological teachings of individuals like Luther and Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples were spreading throughout Paris, Calvin was closely tied to the Roman Church. However, by 1527 Calvin had developed friendships with individuals who were reform-minded. These contacts set the stage for Calvin’s eventual switch to the Reformed faith. Also, at this time Calvin’s father advised him to study law rather than theology.

By 1528 Calvin moved to Orleans to study civil law. The following years found Calvin studying in various places and under various scholars, as he received a humanist education. By 1532 Calvin finished his law studies and also published his first book, a commentary on De Clementia by the Roman philosopher, Seneca. The following year Calvin fled Paris because of contacts with individuals who through lectures and writings opposed the Roman Catholic Church. It is thought that in 1533 Calvin experienced the sudden and unexpected conversion that he writes about in his foreword to his commentary on the Psalms.

For the next three years, Calvin lived in various places outside of France under various names. He studied on his own, preached, and began work on his first edition of the Institutes—an instant best seller. By 1536 Calvin had disengaged himself from the Roman Catholic Church and made plans to permanently leave France and go to Strasbourg. However, war had broken out between Francis I and Charles V, so Calvin decided to make a one-night detour to Geneva.

But Calvin’s fame in Geneva preceded him. Farel, a local reformer, invited him to stay in Geneva and threatened him with God’s anger if he did not. Thus began a long, difficult, yet ultimately fruitful relationship with that city. He began as a lecturer and preacher, but by 1538 was asked to leave because of theological conflicts. He went to Strasbourg until 1541. His stay there as a pastor to French refugees was so peaceful and happy that when in 1541 the Council of Geneva requested that he return to Geneva, he was emotionally torn. He wanted to stay in Strasbourg but felt a responsibility to return to Geneva. He did so and remained in Geneva until his death May 27, 1564. Those years were filled with lecturing, preaching, and the writing of commentaries, treatises, and various editions of the Institutes of the Christian Religion.

— Dr. Karin Maag, H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies


Missiology Book Review: Dynamics of Christian Mission

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.

Cool Christian Beards (pt. 1): Hudson Taylor

Joe Thorn (@joethorn) gave me the great idea of blogging about cool beards. At this moment, I am beardless, but its okay its coming back soon! So I thought it would be cool to put up a picture of some pastor/missionary/theologian that I admire for his beard and for his ministry. This week’s beard is Hudson Taylor.

James Hudson Taylor (Chinese: 戴德生) (21 May 1832 – 3 June 1905), was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China, and founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM) (now OMF International). Taylor spent 51 years in China. The society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who began 125 schools[1] and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.[2]

Taylor was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture and zeal for evangelism. He adopted wearing native Chinese clothing even though this was rare among missionaries of that time. Under his leadership, the CIM was singularly non-denominational in practice and accepted members from all Protestant groups, including individuals from the working class and single women as well as multinational recruits. Primarily because of the CIM’s campaign against the Opium trade, Taylor has been referred to as one of the most significant Europeans to visit China in the 19th Century.[3] Historian Ruth Tucker summarises the theme of his life:

“No other missionary in the nineteen centuries since the Apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematised plan of evangelising a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor. [4] ”

Taylor was able to preach in several varieties of Chinese, including Mandarin, Chaozhou, and the Wu dialects of Shanghai and Ningbo. The last of these he knew well enough to help prepare a colloquial edition of the New Testament written in it.[5] (Wikipedia)

Check out : http://www.joethorn.net/2012/02/27/bearded-gospel-men-hudson-taylor/

Missiology Book Review: Paradigm Shifts in Christian Witness

Van Engen, Charles and Darrel Whiteman, and Dudley Woodberry editors. Paradigm Shifts in Christian Witness. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008.

Paradigm shifts in Christian Witness consists of essays written about Charles Kraft’s contributions to missiology. Eighteen different authors contributed to this volume. These authors focused on three areas in which Charles Kraft made a significant contribution to missiology: cultural anthropology, communication theory, and spiritual power. Each of these areas of missiology is studied in an in depth manner by the different contributors. Three questions are asked about each of these areas: how did Kraft make this area an important part of missiology, how is Kraft’s contribution affecting missiology now, and how is missiology in the future going to be affected by this contribution? By asking these questions the reader discovers the gravity of Kraft’s influence which can only be described as a paradigm shift.

This book does a great job of bringing together a diverse group of scholars in order to present a well rounded account of Kraft’s contributions. With authors coming from different countries, schools, and denominations we are able to see that Kraft’s work has affected not only a small circle of scholars but the practice of missiology worldwide. The variety of perspectives that are represented serve to show that Kraft’s work has truly contributed to a “paradigm shift.”

This book might be improved by bridging the gaps between the three areas of study. The studies of cultural anthropology, communication theory, and spiritual power seemed a bit disconnected. How do these different areas of study affect each other? How are they related? These are the questions that might be asked by a reader. It would have been enlightening if some of the contributors tackled these kinds of questions.

Within the context of Biblical Theology of mission, this book fulfills the function of introducing the student to the different aspects of missiology. Since missiology is a multidisciplinary discipline which consists of disciplines like: leadership, sociology, statistics, urbanization, and psychology, it was helpful to see three disciplines tackled in light of the missiological task. One section of the book which was particularly enlightening for me was the section on spiritual power. In my own experience, this is an area which has often been overlooked. Through this book we see that Kraft has brought this area of study to a position of importance in missiology.

Overall this book was an enjoyable and informative read. The essays which describe the future effects of Kraft’s work in missiology were encouraging. These essays focused on how missiology affects the work of missionaries. As a student that plans to go out into the mission field it was these types of essays which spoke the loudest to me. They presented me with issues to think about as I fulfill God’s mission as well as information which will assist me in fulfilling God’s mission in a more effective manner. I hope that Kraft’s influence will extend far beyond the work of the contributors, that it will extend to those who are reading this work done in honor of Kraft. By reading this book, and taking what I have learned from it I can honestly say that Kraft’s influence will be felt wherever God’s mission takes me.