Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 5, no. 2 (August 2014)

playlist_add_check Review Article

ZANE PRATT, M. DAVID SILLS, AND JEFF K. WALTERS. Introduction to Global Missions. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014. 280 pp. $34.99.

Zane Pratt, M. David Sills, and Jeff Walters offer a new introductory text for undergraduate and seminary students on the nature and challenges of global missions. Introduction to Global Missions contains minimal footnotes and concise definitions of important nomenclature as it builds a cumulative case for missions, especially to underserved and unreached people groups. Divided into four sections, the book explores biblical and theological foundations of missions, the history of global missions, reflections on culture and contextualization, and missions practices, particularly emphasizing church planting and discipleship.

The volume initially appears to be a welcome contribution for the conundrum of many introductory courses in missions: the choice between the standard, highly technical works (few of which garner even a mention in this book) or texts so basic, so introductory, that they serve students little, if at all. Written by three experienced practitioner-scholars with previously published material in the field, this volume looked to fill the gap in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, Introduction to Global Missions ultimately disappoints with its narrow theological vision, often dated and clunky syntax, and unnecessary caricatures of those outside the evangelical fold.

From the outset it is an echo chamber of mutual affirmation. The book is written by three men who currently or previously were colleagues at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, published by B&H Academic (an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lifeway Christian Resources), and endorsed almost exclusively by Southern Baptists. A more forthcoming title would have been Introduction to Southern Baptist Global Missions. The text becomes increasingly narrow in its perspective and application as it progresses. It is not only lacking in the use of gender-inclusive language, due undoubtedly to the explicit complementarian perspective of the book, but there is no mention of women serving in any form of missions outside of the preface (vii) and a brief nod to Lottie Moon and Amy Carmichael (124). Throughout the volume, when the authors say “Christian” what they really mean is evangelical Christian. This form of “orthodox evangelical theology” consists of specific theological particularities including: Adam and Eve were historical persons (71), a calvinistic orientation on the sovereignty of God (73–74), biblical inerrancy (75, 211), original sin (76), eternal conscious torment in hell which will include the unreached (77, 83–88), strictly complementarian roles in regard to the office of pastor/elder/overseer (211), and yet a deafening silence and openness on specific eschatological interpretations (90–91) and other theological positions not central to the SBC tribe. This is most clearly seen in the description of an “unreached” people group as a population “in which less than 2% of the population is Evangelical Christians” (29, emphasis added).

Written in language like a popular-level work, this title would be inappropriate as a seminary-level textbook. This is made clear by the explicit identification of recent high school graduates as the readers of the text (149). Ironically, one of the most succinct and insightful sections of the volume, which discusses the challenges of culture shock and language acquisition, was excerpted from another work by M. David Sills (224–31). This unit merely serves to highlight the quality with which this entire text could have been written but was ultimately unable to accomplish.

Introduction to Global Missions also employs caricature to distinguish itself from other parts of the Christian tradition with which it has sometimes significant difference. This includes assumptions about issues like hermeneutics:

The fact that unregenerate men and women are capable of reading contradictory messages into the text of Scripture is no reason to despair of the ability of believers, with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to discern the meaning of the Scripture clearly. Many methods of popular Bible study do indeed lead to wildly divergent interpretations of the text, but such methods often have little to do with what the text actually says in its context, and responsible exegesis leads to remarkably consistent results. (75)

There is also an immense minimization (less than a page covering the first five centuries after the New Testament) and caricaturing of Roman Catholic missions history:

Whether in the new world or in Asia, the lasting legacy of Roman Catholic missions was often a syncretistic mix of Catholic Christianity and animistic religions. Forced conversions, cultural differences, and poor methods of contextualization left many “converts” continuing to worship their old gods but with different names. Churches replaced shrines and saints replaced pagan gods, but only on the outside. Roman Catholic missions opened the world to Christianity, but later missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, faced great difficulty in unraveling the mix left behind by the early conquering churches. (106)

This prejudice is heightened by the entirety of the sixth chapter, which reflects only the positive contributions of “healthy missions,” a designation used numerous times in surveying the expansion of the Christian faith in “the Great Century and beyond” (115).

Lacking in overall depth and scope, Introduction to Global Mission fails to engage the contributions of many important scholars and practitioners or the larger Christian tradition generally. It provides the reader with no acknowledgement of any positive developments in missiology outside of Protestantism and recognizes no developments or documents to be as important as the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board and the Baptist Faith and Message, with an occasional nod to other evangelical organizations like the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.

Ultimately, this text will be helpful to those wishing to create an introductory course in missions for conservative evangelical undergraduate students who theologically resemble the Southern Baptist Convention. Those looking for an introductory text outside of this slice of evangelicalism would do well to look elsewhere.

Michael Hanegan

Writer/Blogger

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma