This book is not as pessimistic as the title might suggest! In fact, it is a positive book in many ways. The preface traces the origin of the book to the 2014 meeting of the Tyndale Fellowship Christian Doctrine Study Group. Emma Wild-Wood (senior lecturer at the Centre for the Study of World Christianity in New College, Edinburgh) then provides a foreword that sets the book in the context of the changing face of World Christianity.
“Theologians and missiologists do not often talk to each other,” so say Jason Sexton and Paul Weston in the opening line of their introduction (p. xxi). But they go on to explain how the essays in the book point in a different direction, deliberately drawing missiologists and theologians together. They admit, “It was not an entirely easy conversation” (p. xxii). Although many perspectives are represented in the book, “at every point, the focus of the authors was the central question of what it means to do theology for the sake of mission” (p. xxii).
The editors helpfully arrange the book in three parts. Part one is entitled “Theology and Mission in Dialogue.” This section has three main papers, each followed by a response. Where the main chapter is written by a specialist in mission, the response is given by a systematic theologian, and vice versa.
Part two is entitled “Assessing the Shape of Theology and Mission in Dialogue.” Here several authors reflect (to a greater or lesser extent) on the relationship between mission and theology in the light of the earlier chapters. Of the four essays by Mark Elliott, Brian Stanley, Pete Ward, and Jason Sexton, I particularly appreciated Elliott’s appreciative remarks on the importance of mission while pushing back against those who wish to argue that it is the hermeneutical key to Scripture. Also noteworthy is Brian Stanley’s challenge to do self-consciously theological work that relates to Christian mission. I found the clarity and verve of Stanley’s paper particularly engaging.
In Part three, “The Practice of Shaping Theology for Mission,” I particularly enjoyed reading David Kirkpatrick’s exploration of the influences on Ecuadorian theologian C. René Padilla, including Arthur Holmes at Wheaton College; F. F. Bruce, who supervised Padilla’s PhD in New Testament at Manchester University; George Eldon Ladd, with his theology of the Kingdom and a church living “between the times”; and John A. Mackay, the Scottish missionary from Inverness who called for theology in the Latin American church to be written in context. Other essays reflect theologically on personal experiences of people seeking to engage in mission in various ways and contexts.
This book has an important statement of intent—namely, theologians and missiologists must speak to each other. It is also a useful snapshot for students of the kinds of conversations that are taking place regarding the interface between theology and missiology. At the same time, this is not the first place I would point people looking for theological reflection on mission. I found some essays rather heavy going. Despite the editors’ best efforts to create a measure of coherence, a collection of essays typically has a disjointed feel to it. It was inevitable that I should warm to some essays more than others. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the work that went into this volume. It contains several excellent papers and is a valuable addition to the range of resources available to support serious theological thinking.