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.