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February 7, 2011Leadership, Missiology

Dr. David Sills on MissionShift

Dr. David Sills has written a helpful review of MissionShift for the Journal of Evangelism and Missions. Since we have been discussing the MissionSHIFT book here on Mondays, I am reproducing it here for you. Be sure to subscribe to the Journal of Evangelism and Missions to get this and other great insight and reviews.

MissionShift brings multiple perspectives to bear on three of the most crucial missiological issues of our day. Whereas most texts, even edited volumes, typically advocate a single position or strategic view, MissionShift differs most notably in its roundtable discussion approach to the topics addressed: global missions issues in the third millennium. The book, edited by one of the most respected missiological authorities of our generation, David Hesselgrave, and one of our most prominent contemporary missiologists, Ed Stetzer, tackles the core topics of defining mission, contextualization, and the future of evangelicals in mission. The key elements of the text are the three anchor essays that cover the book's core topics addressing missions' past, present, and future. These essays are written by well-known missiologists within each of these disciplines, and serve as the springboard for subsequent responses by other missiologists and theologians comprising the remainder of the book.

The first essay, written by Charles Van Engen, tackles the topic of defining and describing "mission" in the context of the church. Taking a largely historical perspective, Van Engen's essay most notably affirms the value in the missional church movement, which provides much of the fodder for the respondents. Establishing a format maintained throughout the text, five missiologists and theologians respond to Van Engen's essay with varying degrees of support. This examination of the definition and description of mission and the missional church movement results in a multifaceted examination of the topic with healthy debate and differing opinions. The second essay follows in like manner, this time by the late and great Paul Hiebert in one of his final written works, submitted just before his death. Hiebert tackles a contemporary controversial topic in his examination of contextualization. Hiebert's concluding call to critical contextualization is coupled with an articulation of the call for a contextualized hermeneutic. As with each of the other two articles, multiple respondents follow Hiebert's contribution, engaging his essay with their own perspectives. With responses from scholars as varied as Darrell Whiteman and Norman Geisler, and issues ranging from insider movements to orality to apologetics all interact with Hiebert's essay, resulting in a robust and complex discussion.

Finally, the third topic covered is the future of evangelical missions. Written by Ralph Winter not long before his death, the essay captures a historical perspective on missions while offering a strong call to return to a holistic approach to social ministries. It is with Winter's essay that the responses find distinction from those to the previous essays. The respondents did not feel Winter addressed the core topic of the future of missions and in response tackled the topic themselves. This section includes frank discussion of Winter's approach as well as the informed opinion of several missiologists revealing their varied perspectives on the future of evangelicals in missions. The book concludes with an essay by David Hesselgrave providing historical insights into the history and development of evangelical missions, as we know it, providing key insights for seeing down the missions road we are traveling.

MissionShift is a helpful text that provides a fascinating glimpse into differing perspectives on some of the most complex issues of our day. While the discussions centered on defining missions and the future of missions are helpful, the examination of approaches to contextualization is especially significant and provocative. Ed Stetzer's responses to each section are especially helpful for providing a sense of resolution and cohesion, preventing the sort of chaos that could result with this multi-perspective format. One minor criticism of the text, however, is that the liberties Dr. Winter took with his topic skewed the content of the final section, resulting in multiple offerings of perspectives on the future of evangelicals in missions, rather than multiple contributors engaging with the essayists single perspective. Even so, the contributions on the future were helpful and insightful.

Ultimately, MissionShift's key contributions to the discipline of missiology are two-fold. First, the multi-perspective format allows a helpful overview to informed opinions on crucial issues rather than an agenda driven approach that sets up and destroys all differing views. Second, the section on contextualization provides a thoroughly diverse examination of one of the most vigorously debated subjects of our day. The insights offered into the reasoning of diverse perspectives are beneficial for a thorough understanding of the origin, legitimacy, and limits of contextualization. Hesselgrave and Stetzer should be commended for assembling this lineup of essayists and respondents, who together with the framework the editors created, bring experience and wisdom to bear on issues of great significance. You will want to read this volume for its multifaceted presentation of missions' past, present, and future found in the arguments and reflections of some of today's leading missiologists.

- Review by M. David Sills, D.Miss., Ph.D.

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Dr. David Sills on MissionShift