Book Recommendations: The History of Christian Mission

One of the things we hope to do at Between the Times is provide readers with helpful introductory bibliographies on topics we consider to be important. We hope these bibliographies will be a valuable resource for those who desire to live rightly before God between Christ’s first and second comings.

The following is a list of recommended books devoted to the history of Christian mission, one of my areas of scholarly interest. Though this list is just beginning to scratch the surface, I believe it is a good starting place for those interested in the topic. It is officially a “top ten” list, though you will see that some of the recommendations are multi-volume works. I have also recommended one whole series in addition to the list itself. No single-volume missionary biographies are included in this list; I will save those for a separate bibliography in the future.

Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, 7 vols. (New York and London: Harper, 1937-1945). This is the most extensive history of mission published to date, though the work is obviously a bit dated. This is still a great place to look to fill in details about specific periods, and it builds upon the work of late 19th and early 20th century scholars like Harnack. The series is out-of-print, but can still be purchased online from a number of used booksellers.

Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions, 2d ed. (New York: Penguin, 1986). This is the best one-volume introduction to this topic. Neill’s interpretation is strongly influenced by mid-20th century ecumenism. If you only puchase one book for your personal library, this should be the one.

David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990). Bosch’s work is arguably the most significant constructive work in missiology published in the last quarter century. Part 2 of the book, covering over 150 pages, is a helpful introduction to the dominant missiological paradigms that reigned during different periods of church history. Highly recommended.

Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). This book is a wonderful popular introduction to the history of mission written from an evangelical perspective. As the title indicates, Tucker’s book is actually a collection of several dozen short biographical essays of key mission leaders. This would be the perfect book to use in a small group context in a local church.

Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 2 vols. (InterVarsity, 2004). The history of Christian mission actually begins with the first century. Schnabel’s highly acclaimed work addresses mission in the New Testament era. Written from an evangelical perspective.

Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002). See below.

________, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996). Both this work and the above book are collections of essays written by one of the leading historical missiologists in the world. Walls is especially strong on matters of the history of contextualization. Written from a perspective that is generally friendly to evangelicalism.

Dana Lee Robert, American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1996). This is a very helpful work on the contributions of American women to cross-cultural mission over the last 200 years. Robert helpfully surveys evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Catholic mission efforts.

Lamin Sanneh, Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Sanneh is another one of the leading historical missiologists in the world today. This book, his most recent, is a helpful introduction to Christianity as a world movement, an increasingly popular theme among historians and various types of social scientists of religion.

William R. Estep, Whole Gospel, Whole World: The Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1845-1995 (Nashville: B&H, 1994). Because my own ecclesiastical home is the Southern Baptist Convention, I would recommend you read the institutional history of our denominational mission board. Far from a dry history, Estep’s volume is written with great passion for the topic and will point readers to dozens of helpful books and dissertations related specifically to the history of Southern Baptist mission. Out-of-print but still widely available from used booksellers.

See also the fine series Studies in the History of Christian Missions, published by Eerdmans. Sixteen volumes have been published thus far, most of which relate to mission in the modern era. Highly recommended.

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 2: Revelation)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

For three decades now, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have united over their belief in the inspiration of Holy Scripture. Unlike those, such as Freud or Russell, who see the Scriptures as human constructions devoid of supernatural revelation, we believe that Scripture is given supernaturally by God. Indeed, it is the very breath of God (2 Tim 3:16). And differing from those, such as Barth or Brunner, who see the Scriptures as a merely human witness to divine revelation, we believe that Scripture is ipsissma verba Dei, the very words of God.

If the Christian Scriptures are indeed the very words of God, then we will want to mold our strategies and methods according to the words of God. And while this might seem to be a yawningly obvious observation, we must pay careful attention in light of the fact that we often do not allow the Scriptures to drive our methods of evangelism, discipleship, church growth, and church planting. Our tendency is to shout very loudly about inerrancy, while undermining that same conviction by our practices.

Instead, we must consciously, carefully, and consistently seek to understand the Grand Biblical Narrative and its implications for church practice, and in particular for our missiological method. This is hard work because (1) as our global, national, and cultural contexts change from era to era, our missiology must be re-worked and re-written afresh for every generation; and (2) proof-texting will not do. Many of the particular challenges that we face are not addressed explicitly by Scripture. Rather, we must call forth the deep-level principles in the Bible and allow them to speak with propriety and prescience to the issue at hand.

This is not to say that we may not learn from extra-biblical sources. In fact, it pleases God for us to use the full faculties of reason and observation as we minister. We ought to read widely in history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, marketing, and other disciplines. It is God who created us with the capacities for reason and imagination and who allows us the great privilege and responsibility of using those for his glory. Theologians have spoken of God’s “two books,” the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. In the Book of Scripture, God has provided us a special knowledge of, for example, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation by grace through faith alone, while in the Book of Nature he has provided us a general knowledge of man and the rest of the created order.

God is the author of both books, and they are not in conflict with one another. When properly interpreted, they agree. How, then, might a missiologist view such disciplines as history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and marketing? Of what use are such disciplines? How are they positioned in light of Christian Scripture?

Among the ways that they might be helpful, here are five:

First, they may be helpful in recognizing God’s existence and some of his attributes (Rom 1). We may make ontological, teleological, cosmological, and moral arguments for the existence of one God, based upon what we may learn in philosophy, anthropology, or sociology.

Second, they may be helpful for fleshing out, or applying, biblical theology. For example, the disciplines of cultural anthropology and sociology are helpful in fleshing out the doctrine of man and man’s relationship to God, himself, others, and the rest of the created order. The psychological and pedagogical disciplines are helpful in teaching us about learning styles and the process of changing a person’s view of the world and life.

Third, they may be helpful in illustrating biblical theology. We often are able to illustrate such concepts as God’s love and fatherhood, or man’s sin and its consequences, through the use of insights gleaned from anthropology and sociology.

Fourth, they may be helpful in subverting false theologies. We may use philosophy and the social sciences to defend the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel, in response to those who would attack us. Further, we may use them to, in Schaeffer’s words, “take the roof off” of opposing salvific systems, showing them to be false saviors, lacking in logical coherence, empirical adequacy, and existential viability.

Fifth, they may be helpful in understanding those to whom we proclaim the gospel. Reading widely in history and current affairs, for example, helps us to understand the civilizational, cultural, and social contexts of those to whom we minister.

This, then, is a very limited exploration of how the doctrine of revelation comes to bear upon the church’s practice. In riveting missiological practice to the doctrine of revelation, we must beware of at least two dangers. The first is to allow the insights gleaned from general revelation (in particular, anthropology, sociology, and business marketing) to take the driver’s seat in missiology. The second danger, however, is to give theology the driver’s seat and demand that no other discipline be allowed a seat. To do so, I believe, is to reject the great gift that God has given us in allowing us to study and interact with His good world. game download

A Thought or Two about Resolution #6 (Part 1)

A while back I had the privilege of preaching at 1st Baptist Church of Kearney, Missouri, which so happens to have been the home church of Jesse James. Jesse was a member in good standing when he led the first daylight bank robbery in Liberty, Missouri, a town about ten miles away. The church minutes record that deliberations to discipline Jesse were complicated by the concern that he might burn down the building. Everyone in the community knew Jesse was staying at his mother’s farm (she was a Sunday school teacher at the time), so two deacons were selected to go to confront him according to the guidelines of Matthew 18. The minutes of the next business meeting report that, for one reason or another, the deacons never could find the time to visit the notorious bandit. Then the minutes report that Jesse himself arrived at the meeting, and wishing to cause no embarrassment to the congregation, requested his name be removed from the roll. The church obliged.

By passing resolution #6, this year’s SBC convention admitted that Southern Baptists have failed to obey New Testament principles concerning church accountability. The decline of accountability and discipline in SBC life is well documented. However, a foundational ecclesiastical principle is that the body of Christ is composed of individual members who are truly integrated with one another (see 1 Cor 12). When put into practice, this principle is a beautiful manifestation of the love of Christ for his Church. Each member, when he unites with a congregation, makes himself accountable to that local body, and he is to care for the welfare of every member as he would care for himself.

So what went wrong? How did such a powerful truth disappear from the collective consciousness of Baptists? How did accountability come to be viewed merely as discipline-or more often than not-degenerate into mere punishment? Some very good studies explore these questions in better detail than I can give them in this blog (see Gregory A. Wills, “Southern Baptists and Church Discipline”), but I want to focus on just one factor: the tendency to select the wrong candidates for discipline. In other words, in times past too often discipline was exercised in a vindictive and arbitrary manner. We need to recover what was good about the practice of our forbearers while at the same time try to avoid their mistakes.

The Bible focuses on two types of members that are to be reproved by the congregation, but Baptist churches unfortunately have focused too often on a third. Public discipline should be reserved for (1) the indifferent and (2) the obstinate, but many times it was directed at (3) the weak.

The indifferent member is the one who stops showing any interest in Christ and the things of God. He demonstrates his apathy by his lack of attendance or support; he is spiritually lazy (2 Thess 3:6-15). It is not unusual for a traditional Baptist Church to have a church roll four or five times larger than its actual active membership. The Bible never gives comfort to the indifferent (just take a look at the Book of Hebrews) and neither should we.

The obstinate member is the second type of professing believer who the Bible directs us to call into account. This is the person who either is involved in flagrant sin, seriously disrupts the life of the church, or advocates clearly heretical beliefs. He (or she) disregards attempts by believers to be reconciled, has no desire to repent, and in fact digs in his (or her) heels (1 Cor 5; 1 Tim 1:20; Titus 3:9-11). The New Testament requires the local church to act in such cases (Matt 18:15-17).

However, more often than not, discipline was not directed at the backslider or the hard headed, but at those who stumbled. There is a world of difference between the one who is “stiff necked” and rebellious and the one who is overtaken in a fault (Gal. 6:1-3). The church is instructed to give attention to both, but in very different ways. Too often the targets of discipline have been unwed teenage mothers or those struggling to overcome an old life of drug or alcohol abuse. In these instances, discipline was not exercised so much as it was wielded. Too often discipline became a weapon.

Spiritual struggles and stutter-steps are not signs that one is unsaved. Just the opposite; it is one of the surest signs of spiritual vitality. Ask anyone who ministers to those who have been saved from a variety of addictive behaviors. They will tell you the old cliché, “Only live fish struggle to swim upstream; dead fish float with the current.” Spiritual battles indicate spiritual life. I’m not as concerned about the eternal destiny of those beleaguered with temptation as I am with the member who doesn’t give a rip.

Accountability is always in order; discipline is not. So we must be discerning about when and when not to discipline. We do not want to be like a church in northeast Arkansas with which I am familiar. The minutes from one of its business meetings of long ago tell how the congregation debated whether or not watching a square dance was grounds to be “churched.” Not dancing, mind you, but just seeing others dance. The church concluded that this indeed was sufficient cause and duly kicked out the guilty parties.

In no small measure, an important element in the successful reimplementation of the principle of accountability and the practice of church discipline will be whether we teach our people how to distinguish between those who demonstrate a lack of concern or open rebellion from those who stumble on the journey.