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

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Gailyn Van Rheenen. Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies. With Anthony Parker. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. 512 pp. Hardcover. $26.47.

In the new edition of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, Gailyn Van Rheenen, with Anthony Parker, significantly broadens Van Rheenen’s first edition. By examining the expansive theological underpinnings of missio Dei, as well as current strategic missionary methods, Van Rheenen allows the practice of mission to grow out of God’s call to missions, into a transformational knowledge of practical ministry.

The book is divided into nineteen chapters, beginning with the overarching metanarrative of missio Dei in the Bible. Since this is a massive undertaking, I expected only a cursory nod to the biblical perspective on missions. However, the writers do an excellent job of bringing the central theme of the missionary story of God into focus in the first few chapters. Van Rheenen and Parker have drawn upon their numerous years of both academic and field experience to present the biblical foundations of mission.

Following the historical section are three chapters that stress the motive or “heart allegiance” for being a missionary and various types of missionaries, followed by the cycle of being a missionary. These chapters’ practical nature makes them valuable to the reader interested in becoming a missionary. Pre-departure through reentry time periods are surveyed. Because preparation and in-depth training is so vital to the success of long-term service, even prefield educational classes are suggested.

Readers should appreciate Van Rheenen’s efforts to communicate the nature of mission in the history of the church. The God who made covenant with the people of Israel, making them a light to the nations, is the same God who inspires missionaries today to stand up to injustice and spread the faith around the globe. Human history—and mission history—is a story of “people in relationship to God.”

It’s all about relationships! Another theme of the book is the need for culturally sensitive eyes as we approach cross-cultural missions. Foci on cultural awareness, living incarnationally, entering a new culture, learning from those around you, and becoming multicultural place the emphasis right where it needs to be—on the cross-cultural missionary. Although Van Rheenen does not give the missionary recruit all the tools needed to be successful, he does provide tools to begin to work out how to cross cultural boundaries successfully.

Much has been written about strategies for missions. This book arguably boils strategy down to the essentials and gives models and examples for planting and nurturing churches. The question, “What do I do about the money?” is addressed in a chapter on using money in missions and just may eliminate some of the serious dilemmas that historically have resulted in “division, jealousy, and trauma” on the field. New missionaries, and some old ones too, have a tendency to be naïve about money in initial stages of ministry. This chapter is a great place to start the discussion for making plans prior to reaching the field.

Van Rheenen does not shy away from the controversy associated with short-term missions but instead embraces the debate in chapter eighteen, “The Benefits and Challenges of Short-Term Missions.” He states, “North Americans who minister in a Third World culture are spiritually touched and transformed and begin to see the world with new eyes. The recipients of the missions, however, are frequently impacted in negative, though unintentional, ways” (431). Van Rheenen acknowledges the challenges of short-term missions and encourages people facilitating missions in modern churches to see both short-term and long-term efforts as vital to reaching the whole world.

The book accomplishes its task by including case studies and examples from current scenarios around the world, taking the reader on a journey of discovery in the world of missions. “Jim and Julie” (fictive prospective missionaries) are used to engage the reader and better assist in seeing ourselves in the role of missionary. Each chapter concludes with a “Reflection and Application” section that asks questions related to the chapter’s material, allowing the reader to apply the newly gathered information to her own life and ministry. “The Personal Inventory” portion of this section requires the student to reflect personally on what God is calling her to do with the newly gleaned material.

Van Rheenen’s highly revised book makes a fresh contribution to the education and preparation of prospective missionaries and new believers alike. This book could easily serve as an excellent resource or textbook for an introductory college course on missions, or for a congregation considering mission and cross-cultural engagements. By forming the conceptual framework for missions in theology and practice, this book helps the reader see herself in God’s call.

Linda Whitmer

Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies

Johnson University

Knoxville, Tennessee