Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies
A Denver Journal Book Review by Denver Seminary Professor Alemayehu (Alex) Mekonnen
Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, 2nd edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2014., $14.48. Pp, 480. ISBN: 0310252377.
With rich field and academic background that embrace both knowledge and experience, Van Rheenen has written his book on missions with a comprehensive biblical theology of mission and some practical guide for all who engage in missions. The author believes: “the study of missions is a journey that expands our horizons and broadens our understanding in at least four directions. Frist, the study of missions is a journey into the world to see the world as it really is—as God sees it…Second, it is a journey a journey above to perceive God—what he is about in the world and what he desires of us. Third, the journey of missions is a journey into the Christian community. Fourth, it is a journey within—a journey of spiritual formation” (p.15). The book is written as a basic equipping tool for this journey. Present and future missionaries, both domestic and foreign are the audience of the author.
The book guides missionaries: “(1) to attune their hearts to the missionary narrative of mission in the Bible…; (2) to spiritually transform their lives into God’s likeness; (3) to discern personal motivations for carrying the mission of God; (4) to learn from missionaries who have gone before; (5) to learn how to be learners as they enter the new culture…; (6) to confront personal feelings of ethnocentrism…; (7) to communicate God’s eternal message in cultural categories that are both meaningful and effective; (8) to minister using a process of theological reflection, cultural analysis, historical perspective, and strategy formation within the context of spiritual formation; (9) to learn basic incarnational principles for planting churches…(10) to apply these principles to the specific contexts of Africa and North America; (11) to discern the wise use of money in missions; (12) to determine fundamental criteria for selecting sites for missions”.(p. 17).
As one goes over the chapters of the book all the way through, he/she will find the promises given in the preface, step by step, being fulfilled. The book makes you realize that mission is initiated by God, not man. “It is the story of a loving, holy, faithful God working through his people to accomplish his mission” (p. 22). The biblical narrative in chapter one, the spiritual awakening in chapter two which reflects God’s glory, the theology of mission in chapter three which describes the heart and motivation of God for missions, the kingdom of God and missions, and the incarnation theology are well articulated to affirm the fact that God is the prime cause of mission.
In chapter four, the church is described as the manifestation of the kingdom of God. “The church is God’s people called out from the world to be his witness in the world” (p.97). The Christians are urged not “ to fail to recognize the difference between the values and ethics of God’s kingdom and those of the world”(p.97). For the people of God, missions is not an adventure, it is neither a last or least choice of Christian service nor a philanthropic activity. According to Van Rheenen, the church ought to engage in mission not for the sake of others but for her spiritual health and existence. “Mision is to to church what blood is to the body” (p. 99).
Chapter five deals about Motives for Missions—Reasons for participating in God’s mission. In this world to run our life aimlessly is futile and the waste of a precious and irreplaceable commodity; that is time. Having a meaningful and satisfying purpose to live for is crucial. The chapter enlightens the reader that there is a noble cause to serve with tenacity and determination. As we go out to the world to communicate the mission of God both in word and deed, the author reminds us of the importance of one of the four dimensions of a journey of missions—a journey within. Van Rheen underscores the importance of spiritual transformation of missionaries in order to engage in missions, by giving illustration about Caterpillars, Pupas, and Butterflies on pp. 48-49. The illustration provides deep insights about the importance of prayer, reading the Scripture, and living a holy life.
Chapter six addresses the changes on types of missionaries we see in the past and the present. “The skills of earlier missionaries were broad because workers were few, finances were limited, and Christian movements small. These missionaries were also overtaxed and frustrated, as they felt compelled to engage in ministries for which they may not have been particularly gifted. We have entered, however, an era of specialization in which there are multiple expressions of mission throughout the world” P.125. Hence, this chapter highlights the importance of focused and advanced theological and missiological training. The chapter also states the broad scope of missionary service that encompasses the physical, social, spiritual, economic, etc. need of the people.
Chapter seven addresses the missionary cycle—predeparture through reentry. This includes initial commitment, general training, field selections, focused training, the initial adjustment, missionary service, and reentry. The author believes that by understanding the missionary cycle and the struggles associated with each stage, missionaries can effectively adapt and be productive both in the field and at home when they reenter the culture they left. The writing from chapters 8-19 covers the points in chapter seven in detail.
Van Rheenen’s book is rich with illustration and most of the theological and missiological terms are simplified. In this regard, the book is distinguished from several other books that I read on missions by different authors. It is an easy read, good to grasp his thought and to follow the flow and development of the book. I highly recommend it for mission pastors and missionaries, and for use as a college level textbook.
Alemayehu Mekonnen, PhD
Associate Professor of Missions