Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 6, no. 2 (August 2015)

playlist_add_check Review Article

Craig Ott and J. D. Payne, eds. Missionary Methods: Research, Reflections, and Realities. Evangelical Missiological Society 21. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2013. 256 pp. Paperback. $13.48.

This volume, edited by Ott and Payne, is number twenty-one in the Evangelical Missiological Society Series. It is divided into two parts: “Biblical Understandings of Missionary Methods” and “Praxis and Case Studies of Missionary Methods.” The editors provide an introduction and conclusion while ten distinct scholars supply the chapters of the book written and compiled in honor of the centennial of the publication of Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?

With a book written on missionary methods, one would expect to find an emphasis on praxis. It would be surprising to find anyone reading this review who would disagree that praxis must be grounded in thoughtfully developed “Biblical Understandings.” The three contributors to part one were challenged by the twin objectives of elucidating a theology for missionary methods while also critiquing the relevance of Roland Allen’s landmark book for current mission realities. As a result, the title for part one could just have easily been “Innovations in Missiological Understandings since Roland Allen.”

In chapter one, Robert Gallagher views the theology of Roland Allen through the lens of spiritual warfare, power encounters, exorcisms, and satanic activity. He concludes that Allen manifested “an exegetical praxis hindered by [his] theological convention” (20). Gallagher’s thesis is that Allen had an underdeveloped pneumatology (demonology?) vis-à-vis the Luke-Acts narrative. In fairness to Allen, we should note that the American Christian interest in spiritual warfare has been contained within limited circles originating at about the time of the publication of Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? and only popularized much more recently.

Rob Hughes surveys “Roland Allen’s Understanding of the Spirit’s Centrality in Mission” and notes Allen’s concern, expressed in his book Missionary Principles (1926), about missionary activity obscuring the role and work of the Holy Spirit. A related concern was “the failure of the command to preach the Gospel to all nations” (30). Allen concludes that the Holy Spirit is the author of missionary zeal but that the Spirit has been obscured by the prominence of missionary “activity” (i.e., “schools for the education of people, clubs for the welfare of young men and women, institutions for the improvement of social conditions, . . . hospitals, . . . improvement of agriculture;” 27). Holistic missions is, of course, the “innovation” that drives this particular mining of Allen’s body of work.

The third and final chapter in part one deals with the discussion on the incarnational model of missions. John Cheong ably lays out views from John Stott, David Hesselgrave, and Andreas Köstenberger, with the bulk of the chapter outlining Köstenberger’s understandings of the continuities and discontinuities of Jesus’ mission and our own.

While the efforts to provide both a link to Allen’s landmark book and the theological underpinnings that inform praxis should be lauded, part one of the book is eclipsed by the following chapters comprising part two, which are more to the point of “Missionary Methods.”

Chapter four: “From Roland Allen to Rick Warren: Sources of Inspiration Guiding North American Evangelical Missions Methodology 1912–2012.” Gary Corwin provides an extremely helpful schema for understanding the “inspirational paradigm streams” that have influenced missions from North America over the last century.

Chapter five: “A Prolegomena to Contextualized Preaching concerning the Wrath of God and the Judgment of Man: What Did Roland Allen Know that We Sometimes Forget and at Other Times Never Learn?” A review of Allen’s critique of Pauline preaching results in David Hesselgrave’s lament over the demise of “stern doctrines” and “dire warnings” of judgment in modern pulpits.

Chapter six: “The Rise of Orality in Modern Mission Practice,” by Anthony Casey. Here are the facts: Two-thirds of the world’s population are oral communicators currently. Ninety percent of missionaries still present the gospel using a highly literate communication style. Casey provides practical ways to address the need in a must-read chapter!

Chapter seven: “Missionaries in Our Own Backyard: The Canadian Context,” by Joel Thiessen, describes a situation that, while it may differ from the US context by some degree, is essentially of the same kind.

Chapter eight: “Islands of the Gods: Productive and Unproductive Missionary Methods in Animistic Societies—Roland Allen’s Examination of Saint Paul’s Use of Miracles.” The “islands” in question are Haiti and Madagascar. Here Robert Bennett provides a touch point to the earlier discussion on spiritual warfare and exorcism and reminds us of Paul Hiebert’s “Flaw of the Excluded Middle.” He notes: “While denial of the spiritual world leads to syncretism, acceptance of the spiritual world on its own terms leads to despair and bondage” (146).

Chapter nine: “Leaders Reproducing Churches: Research from Japan,” by John Mehn. This is a fascinating study of a Western ecclesiology that refuses to adapt to cultural realities. The ordained pastor-centered model has hindered the growth of the church in Japan, considered the world’s second largest unreached population by the Joshua Project. A new generation of leaders provide cautious optimism as Roland Allen’s principles are applied.

Chapter ten: “Paul’s or Theirs?—A Case Analysis of Missionary Methods among Muslims of the Philippines.” Mark Williams provides important background history of Muslim-Christian relations in the Philippines. Efforts to evangelize Muslims provide an interesting case study of the C1–C6 Spectrum as the old question is posed once more: how far is too far? Roland Allen had much to say about Paul’s resistance to syncretism while making every effort to contextualize.

The conclusion provided by co-editor Craig Ott addresses the “Questions that Still Dog Us,” including that of pragmatism in our methods, the use of the social sciences in the theory and practice of missions, and that of New Testament precedence in describing and authorizing the norms for missionary practice.

In sum, the book provides a helpful and interesting review of Roland Allen’s century-old thinking that engages our modern realities in surprisingly relevant ways.

Bill Richardson

Professor of Bible and Missions

Harding University

Searcy, Arkansas, USA