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Review of Kenneth Nehrbass, Advanced Missiology: How to Study Missions in Credible and Useful Ways

Author: Aaron Wheeler
Published: Summer-Fall 2021

MD 12.2

Article Type: Book Review

Kenneth Nehrbass. Advanced Missiology: How to Study Missions in Credible and Useful Ways. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2021. Paperback. 338 pp. $30.53.

In Advanced Missiology: How to Study Missions in Credible and Useful Ways, Kenneth Nehrbass (PhD, Biola University) attempts to create a resource in which the critical connection between theory and practice, between the work of the scholar and the work of the missionary, can come together to inform the thoughts and actions of cross-cultural disciple making. Not only does Nehrbass accomplish this goal but he is able to clarify the concepts behind the fuzzy world of missiology in a volume that should help inform graduate students of missiology and intercultural studies moving forward.

His stated purpose is to “help you integrate the multiple academic fields in order to increase your understanding of how Christianity spreads across cultures” (1). Put another way, Nehrbass is aiming to equip his readers with the foundational concepts and theories from a variety of fields that filter into the world of missiology with the express purpose of helping students and practitioners go about the work of global discipleship. It is my conclusion that this purpose is realized on three main pillars: an improved conceptual metaphor for missiology, a comprehensive scope of missiological scholarship, and helpful organization of the material.

First, Nehrbass offers a much needed critique of the “three-legged stool” analogy for missiology. This model argues that the foundation of missiology consists of theology, social sciences, and history. Nehrbass is correct that this metaphor misses the mark. Instead, he argues that missiology “is the use of an interdisciplinary approach for the sake of making disciples that describes how missiology is done” (12). Missions is a complex and sometimes ambiguous concept, and so the academic discipline born from it will have a hard time fitting into a simple box. Nehrbass states, “As the study of Christian mission advances, it incorporates countless disciplines, ranging from biblical exegesis to cultural anthropology, to computational linguistics, to the use of psychology in member care and cultural adjustment” (13). Thus, a new framework that both incorporates this complexity but also draws boundaries on what does and does not fit within the disciplines is needed.

To this end, Nehrbass suggests the metaphor of a river, which has multiple tributaries that flow into its existence and a variety of distributaries that flow out of it. The tributaries of the missiology river are core theories of theology, history, anthropology, intercultural studies, development theory, and education, while the distributaries that flow from it address core practices, theories, and future trends that help define how it is done. The book, then, is organized around these two aspects of the river’s flow. This concept is exceptionally helpful for students and practitioners of missiology to grasp the interdisciplinary complexity that makes missiology what it is.

The second major strength of this book is its comprehensive scope. Nehrbass leaves few major stones unturned in the theory and scholarship that the discipline of missiology has covered over the last hundred plus years. He brings a wide array of major voices, theories, and works to the stage while also highlighting some lesser known sources. This book can thus serve as a foundational textbook for graduate level courses in missiology. As a word of caution, however, one should set appropriate expectations for this strength. While its reach is wide, it comes at a necessary cost to depth. The book should not be taken as a definitive statement on any one discipline or topic but rather a beginning point at which further study can embark. Nehrbass anticipates this need by providing numerous resources for the student to follow at a future time.

The third major strength of this work is its organization. The decision to begin each chapter with knowledge, action, and heart goals not only sets an appropriate tone but is immensely helpful for reference when wading through the more detailed pieces of each topic. Each chapter, then, concludes with ideas for further research, review questions, and reflection questions that help to tie the main themes back together while setting up future opportunities for external scholarship and internal reflection. It is likely that multiple dissertations and theses will be born out of these suggestions. Additionally, within each chapter are small, vignette biographies of key missiologists throughout history. These not only give refreshing breaks in the reading but also flesh out theories with reference to the men and women who created them. Additional praise should be given for the diversity of the people Nehrbass chooses to highlight, both in terms of demographics and theology.

Certain areas could use improvement. The chapter entitled “Connecting Theology to Cross-Cultural Discipleship” had the commendable goal of explaining “the way missiologists think theologically in order to inform best practices of making disciples across cultures” (35). There are a number of strengths to this chapter, especially in the way that the difference between “mission” and “missions” informs theological conclusions. But the chapter could have been tighter and more focused. In particular, using “missiological implications” as the connection between theology and missiology can be a thin foundation to work from. Implications, if stretched, can be found almost anywhere, and at times it seems like that stretching reached its limits. Another area of improvement is that, while Nehrbass is to be commended for inviting co-authors into the chapters on development theory and education, it is unclear why those topics were singled out over others. A further application of this same strategy to each chapter could have provided a platform for other voices. And in what will likely be a core textbook for schools of missiology, this could prove to be an important improvement.

Overall, Nehrbass’s Advanced Missiology is an exciting and necessary contribution to the field that deserves a full recommendation to any serious student of the discipline. It not only contributes to an advancement in thinking of what missiology is and how it is done but also provides countless resources for students and practitioners to further their work. Colleges and universities, as well as organizations and mission boards, would do well to use this book for years to come.

Aaron Wheeler

Adjunct Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship

Ozark Christian College

Joplin, MO, USA

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