MISSION has often been characterised as Christians imposing our ideas through conquest and conversion. More recently, evangelistic “crusades” and courses (including Alpha?) have, despite claiming otherwise, followed much the same path. In the last century, this kind of colonial domination of cultures and minds gave way to contextualisation, seeking to translate the gospel in response to scripture and the Spirit. This book moves us on again through its central emphasis on conversation, between diverse people, and in a prophetic dialogue with the world.
It is a most refreshing collection of stories from a largely CMS “stable” (which the likes of Max Warren and John V. Taylor would surely have welcomed), and presents Churches around the world now engaged in what we might call “integral mission”. The conversation is between academics and practitioners, but also, more importantly, between what Christians seek to bring into a situation and what the people already there think, feel, and hope for. So the key words are “vulnerability”, “creativity”, “risk”, “imagination”, and “generous love”.
It covers a wide range of places — from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the UK — and issues from the environment, where Creation is not a context for mission but fundamental to it, to migration and the Pope’s “No” to an economy of exclusion. Whether it’s talking about interfaith relations or economic disparity, the emphasis is on relationality, being with rather than working for, because that was the way of Jesus. And it’s not afraid to explore new ways, such as encouraging business rather than established development models.
In all the stories of local mission, the emphasis is on building community — defined as home, calling, and gift — and so reflecting the Trinity. This naturally leads to talk of new ways of being church, but, while some writers draw on Catholic social thought, there is nothing about its sacramentality.
The book acknowledges and welcomes the fact that missionary movements today are largely non-Western, but avoids the question whether their overriding Pentecostalism is likely to follow this conversation route. Equally, the increasingly Charismatic nature of the British Churches often represents a kind of mission in which the aim is a particular kind of spiritual experience. While it is encouraging that those who come to faith in this way are increasingly committed to its social and economic implications, one wonders whether a much larger and more open conversation with the world is needed. This book might show the way.
The Rt Revd Michael Doe is Preacher to Gray’s Inn and a former General Secretary of USPG.
Missional Conversations: A dialogue between theory and praxis in world mission
Cathy Ross and Colin Smith
SCM Press £25
Church Times Bookshop special price £20