The Contribution Of Mcgavran

God, Man and Church Growth, edited by A. R. Tippett (Eerdmans, 1973, 447 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Robert Recker, associate professor of missions, Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Here is a book of which note must be taken, not just because it is a festschrift in honor of evangelical missiologist Donald McGavran, but because it is an honest attempt to deal with the complex of “God, man, and church growth.”

An introductory section draws “Three Portraits” of Donald Anderson McGavran and gives a bibliography of his works.

Many of McGavran’s main points—his emphasis on “church planting” rather than just individual conversions, his insistence that good stewardship in missions today requires the use of such tools as statistics and systems analysis, and others—are generally accepted by those interested in the Christian mission. McGavran is weakest in those areas in which he has engaged in polemics: namely, his understanding of the concepts of mission, evangelism, salvation, Church, and Gospel. A number of the contributions to this volume take up some of the “shibboleths” without much thought. They dogmatically affirm that others are attempting to “rationalize substitutions for the gospel appeal,” and that “in our day when there appears to be such conspiracy to reduce the total mission of the Church to inter-church aid, political action, economic betterment or the quest for social justice, one fact stands out clearly: Those who advocate this reductionism uniformly betray a low view of Scripture.” Can these sweeping generalizations stand up under scrutiny? I do not believe so. They do not do justice to many men and women who are earnestly struggling with the Gospel as norm and judge of their lives, with the nature of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the nations and over the development of history, with the inalienable union of the convert’s submission to Jesus Christ as both Saviour and Lord, and with other big questions.

All this discussion is not simply motivated by demonic attempts at perversion, willful blindness to Scripture, or a desire to opt out of the evangelistic encounter with the world.

But the main contribution of this book, as suggested by its title, is its central focus on church growth as the precipitate of and goal of the encounter between God and men. The focus on “church growth” rather than the coming of the kingdom of God may be faulted as horizontalism or as the ultimatizing of the penultimate. The Church is not an end in itself but must be caught up in the mission of God, embodying in some measure his will, and pointing beyond itself to the One whom it represents.

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Nevertheless, recognizing that biblically we must acknowledge the unique significance and importance of the Church of Christ in the total context of God’s purpose for his cosmos, every child of God must be interested in the growth of Christ’s Church. The Church-planting emphasis can be healthful and productive if the Church is understood in the context of the mission of God, and is seen as representative of the Christ who came to do the will of his heavenly Father.

The title of this book demands that the reader deal with the traditional theological discussion of the relation of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. However, this traditional concern is here centered on the advancement of the kingdom of God. The sovereignty-responsibility debate surfaces again in the question: What causes the Church of God in history to grow and increase? The editor speaks of McGavran’s seeing “both the human and the divine side of ‘open doors.’ ”

I see the McGavran school as a sort of protest against a docetic spiritualistic concept of church growth. He emphasizes the responsibility of the human agent to know the situation and then to use his best tools to carry out the will of God—namely, that his Church grow. This emphasis contrasts sharply with the passive “leave it to God” mentality. Does God truly work through men, through his Church, or not? Are the results influenced by the quality and intensity of the work and witness of the human agents? Does it make any difference in results whether the sermon is good or not, whether the witness of the Gospel is unmistakably clear or not? Only if the answer to such questions as these is Yes does it make any sense to study church history, to picture in graphs the growth or the decline of a denomination, to try to isolate the reasons for periods of rapid growth and for periods of relative stagnation. McGavran can only be applauded for emphasizing the truth that the doctrine of salvation by grace does not absolve Christ’s Church of responsible stewardship of the Gospel.

It is of interest to me that the apostles who are pushing Christian responsibility and stewardship in the social, economic, and political areas of human life are standing on the same platform with McGavran. Even those who advocate violent revolution in the name of Christ are challenging the Christian Church to recognize its responsibility as the new community in Christ and to witness to the transcendent quality of the life in Christ, the life that hungers and thirsts after righteousness.

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What is the dividing line between these two groups, then? It all comes down to these basic questions: What is the meaning of being a “disciple of Christ”? What is the nature of the “salvation” into which Christ has ushered those who believe? What is the nature of the Church with which those who “know” Christ are now identified? What is the meaning of the history of the New Testament era—between the ascension of Christ and his return in glory? Concern for these questions cannot be used to circumvent the crucial importance of men’s entrance into the kingdom of God, but such questions do radically influence both that flow into the Church of Christ and the continued existence and vitality of the Church of Christ. The church must not only herald a verbal message but must in its total existence be “in Christ” and thus be a parable unto the children of men. Its new life must be such that, like the early Church, it attracts men to come and see the reason for such a wonder. The unity of word and life is of crucial concern for “church growth.” God wills not only the “babe in Christ” but also the “mature man in Christ,” and the call at the beginning is a call to wholeness and responsible maturity in present human society.

The overwhelming concern set forth in this book is revealed in the subheadings of the editor’s concluding chapter: “God’s Purpose and Man’s Responsibility,” “God’s Work in Human Structures,” “God in Human History,” “God and Man in Field Situations,” and “Research Techniques for the Work of God.”

The theological section is one of the weakest. Although the importance of theology is recognized, this statement from the concluding chapter is a good characterization of the theology of the church-growth movement: “These church growth theologians see no hope for a missionary philosophy hanging on a few isolated ‘proof texts’ and word studies without context.” Arthur Glasser has made a beginning, but perhaps the aspect of “concurrence” in the doctrine of divine providence would open up vistas for accenting human responsibility in the mission of God. Jack Shepherd represents McGavran as affirming “that God has purposed to accomplish His mission through human instrumentality.” Perhaps the most helpful essays in this work are those in the areas of anthropology, linguistics, and psychology. Contributions by Kraft, Kwast, Murphy, Kjaerland, and Winter are of special interest.

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The contribution of David Barrett arouses mixed response. I believe he is correct in citing the “fringe elements” as “one of the problems of outstanding success in mission.” However, when he speaks of the NKST Church in Tivland, Nigeria, and states that a million Tiv profess to be Christian, he is engaging in hyperbole or wishful thinking. This may be true of a third of a million. Is this an equivalent of saying, as it might be read, that all animists desire to become Christian? I fear that this is putting too much content into the answers given to the census-takers.

A more serious discrepancy is his assertion that “pastors and missionaries in the Tiv Protestant Church have put into practice McGavran’s philosophy and methodology more than the churches in, probably, any other African people on the continent.” This is not true, though McGavran’s thinking may have had some influence on certain people in the last few years. I believe that under God the credit must go first of all to some early outstanding evangelistic missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa; secondly, to their emphasis on setting up Christian primary schools and classes for religious instruction in the bush; thirdly, to their accent on the production of and distribution of Christian literature (including their translation of the entire Bible in Tiv); and finally, to their ability to understand the Tiv mentality. However, all this would have been in vain without the parallel emergence of strong, aggressive Tiv-Christian leadership, a great craving on the part of the Tiv people to learn to read Christian literature, the insistence of the Tiv people on their need for an educational structure, a scrupulous guarding by the Tiv church of its rapport with the tribe at large, and its strong sense of “self-identity” in the face of the foreign mission structure. If anything, the last few years have seen a bogging-down of the aggressive evangelistic action of the national church and an increased interest in church structures, mission-church relations, the questions of the seat of authority, and the like. Africa of all places is a picture of the effectiveness of the word-deed witness of the ordinary Christian and of the special role played by the native evangelist, catechist, and Bible-school teacher. Later on, the African nurse and dispensary attendant became key figures in leading many to Christ.

Whether one is a devotee of McGavran or not, there are many good little tidbits in this book, and it can serve to challenge us all to reexamine our activity in Christ and try to make it the most responsible and productive activity possible.

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Shame And Glory

The Missionaries, by Geoffrey Moorhouse (Lippincott, 1973, 368 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Richard V. Pierard, professor of history, Indiana State University, Terre Haute.

Although generations of Europeans and North Americans have been stirred by accounts of heroic missionary endeavors, the trend today has shifted; all too often we now read that missions were the vanguard of imperialism and the force that tragically destroyed indigenous cultures and societies in non-Western lands. Therefore, British journalist and author Geoffrey Moorhouse’s thoughtful, highly readable, and remarkable balanced account of the progress of Christian missions in Africa (the scope of the book is not global, as the title implies) is a breath of fresh air.

To be sure, he does not sidestep these accusations. He notes that most missionaries did not see anything positive and valuable in African life and culture. Since these outsiders were “incapable of making a distinction between European and Christian values,” they could not escape from the constricting bonds of their own culture. In addition, most were obsessed with matters of sexual immorality, insufferably racist, and too closely tied to the advances of European expansionism, as for example, in Uganda.

Nevertheless, Moorhouse portrays vividly the hardships that these pioneers endured, not only the physical but also the spiritual trials—the failure of the Africans to respond to the Gospel. His character sketches are a major strength of the book, and he excellently captures the essence of such figures as Crowther, Livingstone, Anna Hinderer, and Mackay without manifesting need either to glorify or to debunk their achievements.

The author’s assessment of the forces that impelled men and women to embark upon missionary service is especially interesting. I would quarrel with his suggestion that missionaries came “in proportions approximating to purely national instincts for expansion and appetites for colonisation.” The impact of the evangelical revival seems to be a better explanation for the British predominance in missions during the nineteenth century. He does bring out the fact that the foremost influence on persons who choose Christian service abroad was not the Scriptures as such but rather missionary books and biographies and the influence of parents and acquaintances.

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His discussion of untoward behavior by some missionaries simply points up how much the old nature persisted even in these men of God. Of course, this comes as no surprise to those who have experienced the infighting of church politics. Such people can readily attest that many Christians, even those in places of leadership, have hardly achieved a high level of sanctification.

Although critical of many aspects of the missionary enterprise, Moorhouse does not downplay its positive achievements—the campaign against slavery, the education of Africa’s present leaders, the bringing of medical aid and agricultural technology to aid its people. And he rightly acknowledges the deep spiritual motivation of the great majority of the missionaries. His evaluation of the successes and failures and his explanation of the differences between Protestant and Catholic accomplishments are sound.

Even though the number of converts seemed rather small and expatriate missionaries can no longer dominate the continent’s religious life, the growth of indigenous African churches reveals the vigor of the faith that the missionaries introduced. Perhaps missions in Africa were not as much a failure as some critics have contended. Moorhouse does not think so, nor do I.


The Evangelical Response to Bangkok, edited by Ralph Winter (William Carey [305 Pasadena Ave., South Pasadena, Cal. 91030], 153 pp., $1.95 pb). Fourteen reactions to the World Council-sponsored meetings on the theme “Salvation Today,” held in Thailand in January, 1973. Striking evidence of the wide gap between professing Christians on the good news and communicating it to unbelievers.

The Psychology of Religion, by Wayne E. Oates (Word, 291 pp., $7.95). A good survey of the variety of impacts of any religion on individuals. It reflects years of study and teaching by a Southern Baptist seminary professor and counselor.

Historical Geography of the Holy Land, by George A. Turner (Baker and Canon [1014 Washington Bldg., Washington, D. C. 20005], 368 pp., $11.95). Geography and history of Palestine interlaced in one volume. Interestingly written by a professor at Asbury Seminary. Abundance of photos and maps.

English Biblical Translation, by A. C. Partridge (Seminar, 246 pp., $10.50). A major addition to the scholarly study of the history of the English language; examines translations of the Bible from before Wycliffe to the New English Bible. Theological libraries will want this.

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Behold, I Come, by Ralph Earle (Beacon Hill, 86 pp., n.p., pb). A leading scholar in the Wesleyan tradition offers a book-by-book survey of the New Testament teaching on the Lord’s return.

Old Testament History, by Charles F. Pfeiffer (Baker and Canon [1014 Washington Bldg., Washington, D. C. 20005], 640 pp., $12.95). Complete history of Jewish people up to the birth of Christ by a well-known evangelical scholar. (Seven of the eight parts have been separately published over the past several years.)

Why Do Christians Break Down?, by William A. Miller (Augsburg, 124 pp., $2.95 pb). A penetrating analysis of the Church’s contribution to emotional breakdown among its members and also its potential as a source of restoration of mental and emotional health.

Scripture and Confession, edited by John Skilton (Presbyterian and Reformed, 273 pp., $4.95 pb). Essays by past and present professors at Westminster Seminary on the biblical warrant for confessional documents. Although there is particular reference to United Presbyterian confessional disputes, the book has wider application.

New Testament Fire in the Philippines, by Jim Montgomery (William Carey Library, 209 pp., $2.50 pb). The field director of Overseas Crusades in the Philippines analyzes the mushrooming success of Foursquare Pentecostal missions in that land. He refrains from debating usual points of diversion in an attempt to grasp the principles at work. Conclusion is a challenge for evangelicals to review and revise present methods.

To Turn From Idols, by Kenneth Hamilton (Eerdmans, 232 pp., $3.95 pb). A persuasive, scholarly exposé of contemporary substitutes for God, one of the most popular being the “great god Change.” Deals with the role of imagination in calling forth both false images of God (idolatry) and those which communicate truth. Challenging arguments.

Brazil 1980: The Protestant Handbook, by William Read and Frank Iveson (MARC [919 W. Huntington Dr., Monrovia, Cal. 91016], 405 pp., $7.50 pb). A study of the recent and exciting past and proposals and prospects for the future of the Gospel in one of the world’s largest countries.

Escape From the Money Trap, by Henry Clark (Judson, 124 pp., $2.35 pb). Does a good job of helping us to consider the question, “How can we use all our economic resources in a Christian way?”

Exodus, by Alan Cole, and Jeremiah and Lamentations, by R. K. Harrison (Inter-Varsity, 240 pp. each, $5.95 each). Latest additions to the excellent series of “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.”

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Christian Witness Among Muslims, anonymous (Africa Christian Press [Box 30, Achimota, Ghana], 96 pp., $1 pb). A good, practical book which, though written with sub-Saharan Muslims in view, is adaptable for use elsewhere.

Amnesty? The Unsettled Question of Vietnam, by Arlie Schardt, William Rusher, and Mark Hatfield (Sun River [5 S. Union St., Lawrence MA 01843], 148 pp., $5.95). “Now!,” “Never!,” and “If …” are the positions advocated respectively by the three authors. Intelligent examination of an important ethical question.

Jesus Now, by Malachi Martin (Dutton, 317 pp., $7.95). A former Jesuit professor surveys the subtle but pervasive proclivity of people to create “Jesus-figures” (he discusses twenty-six of them) that embody their own ideas. He proves his point by doing just that himself.

Born at Midnight, by Peter Cotterell (Moody, 189 pp., $3.50 pb). A missionary interestingly depicts the development of evangelicalism in southern Ethiopia.

The Grand Design of God, by C. A. Patrides (University of Toronto, 182 pp., $7.50). A fine account for scholars of the Christian tradition of historiography as it is reflected in works of literature and works of history.

Early Quaker Writings 1650–1700, edited by Hugh Barbour and Arthur O. Roberts (Eerdmans, 622 pp., $9.95). With a well written introduction and two indexes this reference volume offers a wide variety of British and American Quaker thought.

Look at Me, Please Look at Me, by Dorothy Clark and Jane Dahl (David C. Cook, 125 pp., $1.25 pb). Stirring account of work with mentally handicapped children in church activities. Deals with distractions and frustrations as well as joys.

Enemy Versions of the Gospel, by Herchel H. Sheets (Upper Room, 72 pp., $1 pb). A look at the teachings of Jesus as understood by the people in the gospel narratives who opposed him. Even these criticisms inadvertently proclaim good news.

Introducing the New Testament, by Archibald M. Hunter (Westminster, 224 pp., $3.50 pb). This third edition of a popular work is a thorough revision and updating. Hunter stresses the New Testament’s continuing relevance.

Pre-Existence, Wisdom and The Son of Man, by R. G. Hamerton-Kelley (Cambridge, 322 pp., $23.50). A scholarly study of the various forms taken by the ideas of pre-existence in early Jewish and biblical traditions as they emerge in the various New Testament writings.

A Literary Survey of the Bible, by Joyce Vedral (Logos, 243 pp., $2.50 pb). A text for public high school English classes that is not “tilted” against evangelical views.

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Buddhism, by Yushim Yoo (Scarecrow, 184 pp., n.p.). A subject index to periodical articles on Buddhism in English from 1728 to 1971. A valuable reference tool.

’Til Divorce Do Us Part, by R. Lofton Hudson (Nelson, 132 pp., $4.95). Case histories, historical background of what Jesus and Paul said on divorce and remarriage, and some practical advice. An attempt to apply the Scriptures to a pervasive problem faithfully but with less rigidity than is customary in evangelical writing on the subject.

Lucid Anti-Abortion Essays

Abortion and Social Justice, edited by Thomas W. Hilgers and Dennis J. Horan (Sheed and Ward, 1972, 328 pp., $6.95, $1.95 pb), is reviewed by John Marshall, editorial assistant, Canon Press, Washington, D. C.

In contrast to the heated and uninformed arguments that characterize much modern talk against abortion stands this admirable collection of essays. The three divisions, dealing with the medical, legal, and social objections to abortion, are edited by two notably qualified members of the medical and legal professions. Each contributor brings to this study a vast command of the technicalities of his profession and their application to the subject. None of the essays argues directly from a theological premise, but definite religious points of view appear in several.

The first two essays are the most interesting for the medical layman. The development of the fetus from conception to birth is discussed with appreciable clarity and detail to refute the pro-abortionist contention that the fetus is passive and non-autonomous.

In one article the multiplicity of abortions is seen as the result of social and economic problems; the need is to solve these problems rather than to liberalize abortion laws. How this is to be done is not discussed here, but later another writer concludes that “the hearts of men must change” before the “aborting society” can be abolished. In the legal section is the statement, quoted with approval from an outside source, that “only the Christian doctrine of man can effectively moderate the tyranny of scientific techniques.” Conclusions such as these typify the general moral and ethical tone of the work.

This volume offers forceful polemic, copious statistics and references, and a respectable level of scholarship. Readers on both sides of the abortion controversy would definitely profit by coming to grips with its vigorous and lucid statements of anti-abortion thinking.

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Excellent, But …

A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, by Ernest Best (Harper & Row, 1972, 376 pp., $10), is reviewed by Robert L. Thomas, professor of New Testament language and literature, Talbot Theological Seminary, La Mirada, California.

This volume is the sixth to appear in Harper’s “New Testament Commentary” series. In some respects Best’s work is more valuable than its predecessors because of its closer attention to grammatical, linguistic and textual matters as well as its greater proportional length. Without doubt it will be received as a major contribution.

Best has done much to update studies in the Thessalonian epistles by assembling a mass of documentation that includes articles and books from recent years. Regrettably, he failed to notice D. Edmond Hiebert’s The Thessalonian Epistles (Moody, 1971). Hiebert’s work is slightly longer than Best’s and contains a much more extensive bibliography, excluding the non-English sources upon which Best is at times dependent. However, Best’s index of authors includes 260 names, a great wealth of resource data.

Best’s treatment of introductory areas in some cases coincides with long-standing orthodox practices. He endorses Pauline authorship and traditional place and date of writing. Yet he does not hesitate to raise questions about such matters as the historical accuracy and Lucan authorship of Acts and the Pauline authorship of Ephesians and the pastoral epistles. His extensive introductory remarks are perhaps highlighted by a discussion of Paul’s opponents at Thessalonica.

Best’s skill as an exegete is continually evident. One cannot help being impressed by, for example, his unusually good discussion of phthano in I, 2:16. His insistence on arriving at one and only one primary interpretation in difficult passages is also refreshing (as with en barei in I, 2:7). He displays in most cases good grammatical awareness, as well as a skillful handling of synonyms. His discussion of debated passages is thorough.

The overall excellence of the exegetical treatment is marred here and there, however. Discussion of eklogen in I, 1:4 becomes more theological than exegetical. Solutions to two interrelated problem passages in I, 1:45 (eklogen and hoti) seem irreconcilable with each other. In reaching his conclusion about the proper syntax of “through Jesus” in I, 4:14, he fails to incorporate it into his translation of the verse. He reveals a lack of awareness of the millennial position’s explanation of “forever” in I, 4:17, as he does in relation to the restrainer (or katechon, II, 2:7) when he fails to make even a passing allusion to the Holy Spirit view of identification, a rather widely held position.

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This last omission is perhaps due to Beat’s unwillingness to allow Paul’s theology in Thessalonians to be developed enough to include a formulated Trinitarian doctrine. A further area of theology is impinged upon, that of bibliology: any semblance of inerrancy in Scripture is ruled out when Paul in Romans is made to contradict what he had written earlier in Thessalonians.

Best takes pains to transform the epistles’ eschatological emphasis into something relevant to the modern world by means of an existential explanation of Christ’s return. First-century mythology is remolded into that of the twentieth century. In so doing the author reflects his approval of formgeschichte’s distinction between the Christ of Christianity and Jesus of history. He parallels the return of Christ with “a supposed point of creation,” which he says no one any longer dates a few thousand years before Christ, but which rather stretches to a point so far away that it need not be reckoned with. By analogy the same is true with the Parousia. It is just as wrong to think of “a real physical End” as it is of “a real physical Beginning.” “The End is not an event in history but outside it.”

All in all, this recent entry into the field of New Testament exegesis deserves a place among the top works on Thessalonians, though the conservative reader will find it repugnant in some of the areas outlined above.

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