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I Understand
Volume 5.1 / Encountering the History of Missions: From Early Church to Today

Book Review

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Encountering the History of Missions: From Early Church to Today

Book Authors: John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallaghar
Publisher: Encountering Mission. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. 416 pages. $29.99, paper.
Reviewed by Travis L. Myers Minneapolis, USA

John Mark Terry and Robert Gallagher should be commended for their attempt to survey the history of Christian missions in a single volume both succinct yet comprehensive enough to serve as a textbook for a semester-long course on the topic. Eighteen chapters span roughly 350 pages that take readers from the well-trod ground of “missions in the early church” to a rare and insightful chapter explicating the pervasive influence on today’s missions scene of Fuller Seminary’s Church Growth Movement school of thought. The authors aim for a global perspective on the history of missions in three main ways: first, by shifting early attention from the imperial Roman church to a chapter on Persian and later Nestorian missions (chapter 2); second, by including in their purview a millennium of Eastern Orthodox missions (chapter 4); and, third, by including a few notable majority world church leaders and missionaries as part of two chapters on The Great Century of Protestant missions (chapters 12 and 13) and one chapter focused on twentieth century Evangelical expansion (chapter 14). In this largely chronological presentation, readers progress through chapters on “Celtic,” Orthodox, Dominican and Franciscan, “Medieval Renewal” (namely Waldensians, Lollards, and Hussites), Reformation, Jesuit, Pietist, Moravian, and Methodist missions, specifically. Thankfully, there’s a topic index. The second half, chapters 9 and following, flow and fit together better as the focus of the book becomes Evangelical Protestantism, though not exclusively, and the authors’ missiological assessment of current trends. Terry and Gallagher seem to find their own voices after relying too uncritically in the first half of the book on scholars of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Nestorian traditions. The final chapter, “In Retrospect and Prospect,” succinctly and incisively brings the study to a conclusion after helpful chapters on Missionary Councils and Congresses, Specialized Missions, as well as that on The Church Growth Movement.

Textbooks of this genre and scope are few and far between, so I was drawn to this book by the mere title and topic. I was also attracted to this new entry in Baker’s Encountering Mission series for two other reasons: first, by my extraordinarily high regard for the 2010 addition to the series, Encountering Theology of Mission by Craig Ott and the late Stephen Strauss; second, by a curious appreciation for any joint project between a longtime Southern Baptist professor and former missionary, on one hand, and a Charismatic Australian department chair at Wheaton College and member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, on the other hand. Terry and Gallagher are both seasoned missiologists and experienced academics who, over the years, have helped provide leadership for a broad swath of Evangelicals in the (interdisciplinary) discipline of missions studies.

            Like the earlier book, which I frequently and affectionately refer to among my students as “Ott and Strauss,” Encountering the History of Missions by Terry and Gallagher is full of references to other scholarship in the field. It thereby serves readers as an introduction to some of the more seminal and standard literature on the history of missions in various subsets of the area. Unlike Ott and Strauss, though, this book is far less invested in weighing various perspectives and interpretations before judiciously reasoning its own conclusion from issue to issue. That said, it does include some attention to the history of missiology along with a history of missions activity itself. It might be considered an introductory missiological take on the history of missions.

This is a book for Evangelical students and practitioners. The authors state their belief that the history of missions “is as inspiring as it is instructional” (361-62). Baker’s Encountering Mission series is meant to be an update to the prolific twentieth century output of Evangelical missiologist, J. Herbert Kane. In the final chapter, Terry and Gallagher appropriate Kane’s judicious and charitable assessment of the history of missionary thought and practice, both “what missionaries did wrong” and “what missionaries did right” (355-59). In addition to this, the authors do provide some summary assessment along the way throughout the book. For example, chapter 2 includes a section on “Methods of Eastern Mission” (30-32), chapter 4 concludes with a survey of the “characteristics of [Orthodox] missions” (86-88), chapter 7 includes a section on “Methods of Missions” by Calvin’s Geneva (135-38), chapter 10 concludes with “Mission Methods” of the Moravians (210-20), and chapter 12 has a paragraph on William Carey’s “keys to success” (249).

In keeping with a broad and Evangelically ecumenical (or ecumenically Evangelical) perspective, Terry and Gallagher offer a charitable introduction to the place of missions in the thought of Martin Luther followed by a description of early Lutheran missions and a survey of eventual Lutheran expansion throughout Scandinavia (138-48). The missionary contributions of John Calvin’s Geneva and its ministerial training academy are rightly captured as well, except for the curious omission of any reference to the Huguenot mission to Brazil in 1556. Although the chapter on Reformation missions is too narrowly focused on Wittenberg and Geneva, at least the authors don’t erroneously dismiss these centers, and the Reformation movement as a whole, as unmissionary. That is a mistake made not only by sixteenth century Roman Catholic polemicists but by some church historians and Arminian apologetes today. Historians Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart have in recent years, respectively, corrected this error with historical data.

One could hope from Terry and Gallagher, though, a more accurate framing of the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism as one finds in the section on Wesleyan hymnody (237-38). Despite the fact that in the section on Calvinists in missions, the authors note Calvinist belief in predestination and election and do so without critique, in this later section the authors pose Arminianism over against hyper-Calvinism, which they wrongly identify as mere Calvinism proper, saying Arminians are those who believe that “a person could choose whether to receive God’s free grace offered to all humanity. Thus, the believer was responsible to proclaim the good news for people to accept this salvation.” But that’s what biblical Calvinists believe, too.

Twenty-first century Evangelicals in the United States may know little about their continental (European) Pietistic forebearers. The chapter on Pietist missions is a helpful introduction to the movement as a whole as well as to particular figures such as August Francke, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, and Christian Schwartz. The chapter on significant missionary councils and congresses may also illuminate conservative U.S. American Evangelicals unaware of the history of these gatherings and their respective outcomes. The section on the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh in 1910, though, notes without critical clarification that “many historians view the Edinburgh conference as the beginning of the ecumenical movement” (272). Regrettably, Terry and Gallagher make no reference to Brian Stanley’s excellent retrieval of Edinburgh 1910 as a meeting of conservative Christians primarily concerned with the evangelization of the world and Christian conversion (which is a 2009 entry in Eerdmans’s Studies in the History of Christian Missions series, a series more historiographic, academic, and ecumenical than Baker’s).

Encountering the History of Missions has characteristic weaknesses which make me hesitant to assign it to undergraduate students, at least without careful mediation on my part. These five weaknesses could be classified as 1) undefined terms, 2) uncritical attributions, 3) curious omissions, 4) unclear writing, and 5) simple errors.

In later chapters the reader will encounter definitions and explanation for more familiar terms such as indigenous (258), paternalism (273), universalism (278-9), pluralism (279), and nationalism (279). However, in early chapters the reader encounters these technical terms without definition: Arianism (12), “the Tyrol” (14), “a metropolitan” (27), metal work and “illumination” (52), eucharistic community (54), archimandrite (82), Albigensian (90), antipope (117), the Papal Schism (117), and interdict (125). These undefined terms gave these chapters a cut and paste pastiche kind of feel to them, though I’m not suggesting the authors plagiarized.

In today’s Google world where readers can find definitions with a quick search online, I’m more troubled by uncritical attributions and statements made by these Evangelical authors than I am by terms left undefined by them. The following references, in my opinion, should include theological comment, but don’t: the liberal Adolf von Harnack is quoted as merely a “German Lutheran theologian” (6); “Arian Christianity” is noted without critical assessment (13); a supposed quote from Jesus is taken from the Gospel of Thomas without qualification (30); Spaniards are said to have searched for gold and “brought Christ” to native peoples through military conquest and forced conversions (91); Ignatius Loyola is said to have had a “radical conversion to Christ” (150), and post-Trent Jesuits said to have presented “the gospel” (157, 158, 170). On the opening and closing pages of chapter 8, Jesuits are posed as both “faithful to Christ” and “flexible in [Christian] expression” (150, 170); it seems the laudable pedagogical intentions of these missions professors (who apparently teach students in their classrooms, rightly, that missions must combine both faithfulness and flexibility) have gotten in the way of sounder historical and theological reflection.

Third, there are curious omissions to a copious survey work and textbook like this one. Tertullian is not cited when the authors write, “The blood of the martyrs really did prove to be the seed of the church” (10). Nor do the authors indicate that their turn of the phrase regarding John Wesley, “The world was his parish,” is derived from his own words (224). The Patronato Real of 1493 is partly explained but not named (91-92). The survey of Jesuit missionaries omits Roberto di Nobili. The significant missions theologizing and activity of the seventeenth century Further Dutch Reformation is slighted. There is no explanation of what makes “modern” missions modern (245) other than a seven-point explanation of the new era inhabited by William Carey and turn of the century trans-Atlantic Evangelicals (244-5). Related to that is no explanation of Carey’s argument or main point, even, in the Enquiry (245). For an exposition of Carey’s multifaceted theology of missions motivation, see my 2012 article in the journal Missiology (vol. 40 no. 1).

In addition to these curious omissions is unclear writing. The distinction between the Persian, Syrian, and Nestorian churches is not always clear in the second chapter. Medieval renewalists, as the authors call them in chapter 6, are sometimes unhelpfully called “Reformers” with a capital R, thus confusing them with sixteenth century Protestants. Also, did the sixteenth century Protestant Reformers really believe “clerical offices” were unbiblical? Well, yes and no. What exactly were the “mystical” aspects of the Christian faith emphasized by Pietists (200, 212)? Why is the “Sifting Period” of the Moravians called that (208-09)? Why are the Holy Club, a mission to the American colonies, and German Moravianism called “instructional persuasions” that helped guide the development of Methodism (226)? Is “instructional persuasions” some kind of Aussie expression? Failing to explain clearly John Wesley’s controversial relationship with Sophy Hopkey and its sequence of events, the reader is even left to wonder if Wesley romantically pursued another man’s wife (228).

Fifth, simple errors, though each arguably insignificant, together mar the historical integrity of the book. The Anglo-Saxon Boniface is covered in the chapter on Celtic missionaries (58-61), but that mistake has more to do with a poorly chosen title for a chapter more inclusive than Celtic missions. (The reader should consult Edward Smither’s Mission in the Early Church for a more adept historical and missiological handling of primary and secondary sources on European missions in this early medieval period). Terry and Gallagher make Luther’s 95 Theses sound like a collection of grievances against Roman Catholicism and a summary of Reformed theology rather than the specific attack on indulgences that it was (139). John Eliot, Puritan “Apostle to the Indians,” is said to have “used the Dominican model” (98). However, historians attribute Eliot’s method of missions amongst seventeenth century Algonquin to either copying the Jesuit reducciones, following English and Puritan traditions, or, as I argue in my dissertation (2015 Boston University), a combination of Congregationalist ecclesiology, primarily, plus Eliot’s own trans-Atlantic experience of Christian community and the pressing contextual reality of hostility toward “praying Indians” from both Native traditionalists and ungodly colonists alike. Terry and Gallagher claim that the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh in 1910 “ignored the problems of Western colonialism and paternalism” (273) but make no reference to V.S. Azariah’s famous plea for FRIENDS (which might actually support their point). Nor do they recognize the observation in the John R. Mott penned report of Commission 1 that colonialism brought to majority world peoples Western materialism, other temptations, and the poor testimony of nominal Christians, besides some technological benefit. In addition, the authors’ claim that Islam seemed on a slow decline at the point of the Edinburgh conference (280) ignores the fact that participants at Edinburgh, and missionaries of the day, felt a race was on in Africa between gospel advance and the southward spread of Islam. It was recognized at Edinburgh that animists, once converted to Islam, much more rarely then turned to Christ.

The potential readers best served by this book are perhaps those familiar with general church history already but who want to begin adding a better comprehension of the multi-faceted missionary – and non-Western – component(s) of the story. Modern era majority world church leaders and missionaries noted include Ko Tha Byu (252), Samuel Adjayi Crowther (256), John Sung (290), and Sundar Singh (294). One wonders, though, why the section on the church in Latin America today is one small paragraph long (296) whereas that on Europe is half a page (295-96), that on India is half a page (295), Africa gets a full page (293-94), while “East Asia” (290-91) and “Southeast Asia” (292-93) each get more than a page. While in the quasi-academic fashion typical of the Encountering Mission series Terry and Gallagher expose readers to a smattering of other secondary literature throughout the book, in this brief section they refer to none of the burgeoning body of literature on “world Christianity” as both an historical phenomenon and an emerging academic discipline, apart from a 2014 newspaper article on the church in China. Readers should be pointed to the work of Andrew Walls, Lamin Sanneh, Samuel Escobar, Dana Robert, Miriam Adeney, Ogbu Kalu, Jehu Hanciles, Allan Anderson, Scott Sunquist, Kirsteen Kim, Paul Freston, Robert Frykenberg, Brent Fulton, Todd Johnson, Philip Jenkins, Mark Noll, et al. Terry and Gallagher do cite, though, in the conclusion to this chapter and section, David Barrett’s World Christian Trends (2013) and quote from Ruth Tucker’s second edition of From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (2004).

While several women missionaries are mentioned throughout the book, four female pioneers are highlighted by sidebars: Ann Haseltine Judson (252), Helen Roseveare (293), Amy Carmichael (295), and Betty Green (324). Mary Slessor (266-67) and Joy Ridderhof (328-9) each have subsections of chapters devoted to them. The nineteenth and twentieth century “women’s movement in missions” is appropriately included though only briefly surveyed (264-268). Terry and Gallagher posit some “motivations,” “pioneers” (such as Betty Stockton, Cynthia Farrar, Eliza Agnew, and Lottie Moon), “organizations,” and “contributions” of the movement. By claiming that “feminism” (unexplained) and a rise in social status were among what motivated single women in the nineteenth century toward missions (265-66) the authors confuse the motivation(s) of actors with an historical interpretation of what happened and an observation of outcomes that obtained. Again, like so much ground covered by this book, the section functions as an adequate introductory survey that might inspire further study of the topic in more focused books and monographs by the experts in respective fields.

Instructors and masters level students of missions and missiology may find this a useful reference work and pedagogical resource. The book includes a twenty-five-page long Reference List with approximately 500 entries. Many helpful sidebars throughout the book highlight particular persons, events, issues, or primary documents. Sidebars, though brief, include discussion questions that could be used by an instructor who is able to steer the discussion toward appropriate conclusions. Many sidebars are biographical vignettes of both missionaries and missiologists, and some include excerpts from primary documents, thus serving as a good source of quotes. The authors also employ quotes from their respective subjects throughout the main text of the book. In addition to the sidebars, case studies are included after ten of the chapters, four of them from Paul and Frances Hiebert’s Case Studies in Missions (Baker, 1987). Not all of these seem like actual “case studies,” but are more like longer sidebar presentations of primary material, such as hymn lyrics from Isaac Watts and the Wesley brothers, respectively (after chapters 10 and 11), with discussion questions following.

While I was initially skeptical that an entire chapter on the Church Growth Movement was warranted, it proved a helpful, objective-while-somewhat-sympathetic explication of the current missions scene. Terry and Gallagher posit eight socio-historical factors that facilitated the trending of this school of thought, including its promotion by mega-churches and parachurch organizations (338-40). They then posit seven consequent “streams” that flowed out of Donald MacGavran’s influence, such as the now popular targeting of “unreached peoples” in missions (or, to clarify, “Unreached People Groups” [UPGs]) as well as Church Planting Movements (CPM) as the missions goal and strategy de jour [my phrase]. Even if one’s convictions don’t jibe with the book’s appreciative tone regarding MacGavran, this chapter could serve as a stand-alone resource well descriptive of what is “out there” and requiring critical, discerning engagement. I have in mind here a resource for anyone considering missionary endeavors, but especially pastors and others who would advise, equip, and shepherd either current missionaries or would-be cross-cultural workers. Terry and Gallagher, themselves, note six needed improvements to the Church Growth Movement. They admit, as well, that it “never developed a thorough theological foundation” while emerging from a pragmatic and sociological point of view (352). The authors fail to mention that CPM has since overshadowed CGM, at least in the area of cross-cultural ministry, and that CPM is even now itself being rebranded or tweaked as DMM (Disciple Making Movements).

Some final reflections on the authors’ apparent perspective regarding contextualization is called for: it certainly seems middle of the road and noncontroversial, albeit also uncritical. Their claim that elements of a pre-Christian culture could serve as a “foundation” for the Christian faith (158) may be taken as either overstatement or, perhaps, as a more accommodating and Charles Kraft-like posture toward indigenous worldviews and culture than Paul Hiebert’s safer (and better) “critical contextualization” approach. While the following commendation of Celtic missionaries is appropriate per se, it leaves open to interpretation the proper final shape and extent of one’s pre-Christian worldview in the life of transformational discipleship: “[T]hey were able to work within the worldview of particular societies and help the people incorporate the gospel into a unique type of Christianity without destroying the culture” (62). The authors do commend, though, examples of Christian social reform and critically note philosophical religious pluralism as a reason for the decline of mainline missions (278-79).

Regrettably, Terry and Gallagher follow a trope employed by advocates of Insider Movements:  they posit an “extraction” method supposedly employed at large by a previous generation of missionaries and then contrast with it a more “radical” (their term) C-5 and C-6 approach taken by some today that, they say, leaves converts in the mosque and their communities. This seems to imply that missionaries past and present who aren’t “radical” like that have never tried to leave converts in their neighborhoods and families (288-89). This is the fallacy of the excluded middle. They do rightly commend the usefulness of anthropology and sociological insights for faithful missions (284-86, 343) but do so without any accompanying warning of potential missteps, such as the reverse engineering of strategies in ways that compromise biblical ideals and theological principles, especially sound ecclesiology. Such a warning is wise today since such reverse engineering is rampant. They also include a paragraph on “improved linguistics” (286) and a section on “Bible Translation” (314-18) without any reference to contemporary controversies regarding translation theory, such as the use or omission of familiar terms (especially “Father” and “Son”) in translations for Muslim audiences.

The brief final chapter, “In Retrospect and Prospect,” fails to deliver on its promise (in its own introduction) for a consideration of how to meet the remaining needs in our contemporary world. Though, to be fair, readers will find much “instruction and inspiration” for missionary praxis in the content-packed eighteen chapters leading up to the final page. Other titles in Baker’s Encountering Mission series, especially “Ott and Strauss,” also provide much to consider and assess in view of that important question. Despite its weaknesses, Encountering the History of Missions accomplishes in text book form, and as a single volume, what no other book I’m aware of does: it provides a history of Christian missions that is succinct yet comprehensive enough to serve as a textbook for a semester long course on the topic, though informed and careful attention to detail by the instructor is advised. (Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya takes a biographical approach that is both its strength and weakness. Dana Robert’s much briefer Christian Mission is limited by an attention to particular themes and the historiography of missions. The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions, edited by Martin Klauber and Scott Manetsch of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is limited to the Protestant era, but does include chapters per continent about missions in and from the contemporary world church. Volumes by Stephen Neill and J. Herbert Kane, respectively, are classic and seminal but outdated.)

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