Missions, in their contemporary, Western form, cannot be said to be successful, particularly in the area of discipleship. But where have we gone wrong? Part of the problem, according to Dyrness and Engel, is associating missions with "modernity...and Western forms of political and economic power." But more importantly, they assert that we Christians in the West have for too long interpreted the call to go and make disciples of all nations in a deficient manner, relegating the call to simply "communicating a set of biblical propositions to a maximum number of people, and declaring them as 'reached' once this takes place," thereby measuring our success "by numerical response" alone. This misinterpretation is seen in Changing the Mind of Missions as the greatest deterrent to successful missionary activity in our time. This book is a clarion call for the recovery of a New Testament mindset concerning missions. Additionaly, it seeks to help us all understand the New Testament's missionary God as evidenced in the life of Christ.
How did the early church achieve is amazing success? In the words of Dyrness and Engel, they recognized that "the appearance of Jesus Christ as God's messiah" inaugurated or began the "last days of God's reign on earth" and God's calling out "a people to announce and embody that reign." They also knew that "the power and authority for missions comes wholly and exclusively from the risen Christ who calls His church to serve Him." Accordingly, if these two conceptions do not form the foundation of our missions strategies, our strategies will fail, as Dyrness and Engel understand it.
They attempt to paint a picture of the missionary mindset in the New Testament and the church that lived that mindset out. They compare the various views of the Great Commission as expressed in each of the Gospels and in Acts, offering a composite view of missions. True missions are defined as those that "extend the mighty work that Christ embodied as he restored God's reign on earth--atoning for human sin on the cross and conquering sin and death in the resurrection." But there is a future aspect to missions as well, as missions should anticipate "what God will do one day when Christ returns in glory to renew the earth." Ultimately, true missions must be trinitarian: they are "God-originated, Christ-centered, and Spirit-empowered."
In the early part of the twentieth century, Roland Allen, in his book Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?, went as far as to say that "we have not yet tried Paul's [missionary] method anywhere." Dyrness and Engel lay out what they see as both Paul's method, and the dominant method of missions in the New Testament. And they urge all Christians, particularly those with a heart for missions, to appropriate Paul's missionary method, and allow God to extend his reign in the earth. Heed their call, and you will truly begin to change the mind of missions.
The world has changed much since earlier Western missionaries set sail across the seas. And as a new millennium dawns, even greater global and cultural changes are overtaking us. Yet missions has remained much the same. In Changing the Mind of Missions
James F. Engle and William A. Dyrness offer a courageous analysis of the challenges facing North American and other Western Christian missions:
- How can we work within a world context that is shifting from modernity to postmodernity?
- How can we reverse our assumption that missions means going from "here" to "there"?
- How can we recapture the vitality and comprehensiveness of the gospel for the complex plight of today's world?
- How can we reexamine our commitments to programs and strategies in light of the baseline fact that we are engaged in God's mission?
Here is a book that is sure to spark conversation among missionaries, students of missions, mission leaders and church mission committees. It points a way forward with the goal of increasing the spread of the gospel by every means possible to every corner of our world.
Engel is founder and president of Development Associates International and retired distinguished professor in the graduate programs at Eastern University, where he founded the Center for Organizational Excellence. He has ministered around the world as a consultant, trainer and leadership-development expert and is well known for his books and writings on world evangelization.
William A. Dyrness is professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a former missionary and the author of several books, including and
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