Book Review: The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends

The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends by Michael Pocock, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell reviews many of the issues and trends facing Christians today. Whether working in vocational ministry / missions or working as a layperson in their own personal ministry, these trends and issues are relevant to how one approaches the world at large with the Gospel. Divided into three section, the authors focused on Global Context, Missional Context, and Strategic Context. Each chapter in these sections focused on a specific topic and is subdivided into four sections – identification of the trend, evaluation of the trend, reflecting on the trend, and engaging the trend. Contributors to the book, other than the authors stated above, are Mike Barnett (chapter 8), J. Tedd Esler (chapter 11) and A. Scott Moreau (chapter 12).

            The first section, focusing on global trends, tackled the subjects of Globalization, Changing Demographics, Multiple Spiritualities, and the Changing Basis of knowledge. When the first missionaries went out into the world, the world was, in a sense, over there – someplace else. With the increased trend of globalization, the world is a much smaller and more accessible place. I can chat with my friend in India real time and not wait weeks for a written letter. My neighborhood (in South Carolina of all places) has Koreans, Russians, Guatemalans, Chinese, and Indians along with African Americans and Caucasian Americans. Not only has the world come to my neighborhood, but I am just a 30-hour flight from the farthest point on this planet.[1] With this increased Globalization, comes the opportunity for Christianity to broaden its cultural influence.

With this globalization, demographic changes have taken place. Migration trends have restructured much of the West. Wanting to improve their lot economically, many immigrate from poorer countries to more prosperous ones. They bring with them their own cultures and worldviews. They also bring with them the problems of their origin nations. HIV / AIDS along with at-risk children (due to disease, child labor, violence, sexual exploitation, neglect, poverty, etc.) are two of the main issues that will concern the church in the face of changing demographics.[2]

            With the changing of demographics, there is a concurrent mixing of a multiple spiritualities. Some countries remain open to a pluralism of spiritualities which others enforce a “militancy” towards a particular spiritual (or lack thereof) expression.[3] Islam and Evangelical Christianity are two of the most rapidly growing spiritual trends globally. However, I believe the author missed an opportunity to discuss the forced political atheism of China and North Korea as well as the strong cultural atheistic trends of Europe and America. Atheism / humanism is an equally compelling worldview that is gaining momentum.

            Having a baseline of the global trends, the second section of the book looks at the missional context. Topics covered in this section are the rise of global Christianity, the changing motivations for missionaries, spiritual warfare, and innovations in mission operations. How has globalization affected the Christian’s approach missionary work? First, there is the fact that “most Christians today live and thrive outside the former boundaries of Western Christendom.”[4] Christianity has moved from a dominant Western-centric and culturally Western expression to global faith. As African, Asian and Latin American Christianity grows, missionary work has to adapt.[5] The motivation for missionary work has also changed. Historically, motivations have changed from period to period. Theological, political, and economic motivations all come into focus with each period.[6] Therefore, as the West has entered into a post-Christian era, missionary work from Christians all over the world should be focused on the core of the message, the positiveness of the message, the spiritual nature of the message, and recognition of receptivity.[7] Also significant, especially in the Christian communities of the Global South, is the emphasis of Spiritual warfare in missionary work.[8]

            The third section of the book focused on the strategic context of missions. Collaboration, money, new technology, and contextualization are covered in this section. Globalization has changed the way missionary work is viewed. These changes have to be focused into a strategic vision. First, collaboration is essential. Networks of organizations are far more effective than going it alone.[9] I see this in my own ministry with the Christian Motorcyclists Association (CMA). We not only minister to motorcycling community globally, but we also partner with Jesus Films, Open Doors, and Missionary Ventures. Bonding together as partners in missionary work has been far more effective than if we were to go it all alone.

            Money and technology always have been issues when it comes to missionary work. Prior missionary views of economic support were paternalistic in nature – support coming from a more prosperous culture to a lower economic culture.[10] An indigenous perspective, stressing self-propagation, self-support, and self-governance, makes far more sense in light of the trends facing world missions.[11] Technologically, may be seen as a great opportunity, but it can also create a disparity between those that have the technology and those that don’t.[12] Stewardship, with both money and technology, is essential for wise use of both important resources.[13]

            The book finished with the subject of contextualization, which is a process in which missionaries adapt their message to the context of the culture and people they are delivering their message to.[14] Contextualization that is interdisciplinary, dynamic, concerned with the whole of the Christian faith, aware of the impact of sin, is propositional (declaring the truth) and existential (living out the truth), and a two-way process (intermingling of cultures), is healthy and an important concept for all Christians to embrace.[15] The world has changed. We are far more global, and our missionary vision has to change with that important trend. Our strategies ultimately have to be focused on delivering the Gospel in a context that is similar to Paul in Acts 17:16-34 at the Areopagus or when he addressed the Corinthians:

Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law ​— ​though I myself am not under the law   ​— ​to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law ​— ​though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ ​— ​to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (CSB)

[1] Michael Pocock, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends, Encountering Mission (Grand Rapids: Baker Pub. Group, 2005), Kindle Edition, Location 343.

[2] Ibid, Location 895.

[3] Ibid, Location 1491.

[4] Ibid, Location 2519.

[5] Ibid, Location 2855.

[6] Ibid, Location 3154.

[7] Ibid, Location 3461 – 3501.

[8] Ibid, Location 3656.

[9] Ibid, Location 5015.

[10] Ibid, Location 5514.

[11] Ibid, Location 5576

[12] Ibid, Location 6200.

[13] Ibid, Location 6237.

[14] Ibid, Location 6348.

[15] Ibid, Location 6348 – 6387.

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