A review of Mike Barnett and Robin Martin (eds.), Discoveirng the Mission of God: Best Missional Practices in the 21st Century, IVP, 2012.
Guest reviewer: Amanda Hill, Administrator for the Porterbrook Network.
UPDATE: thinkivp are offering a special price of £20 if you buy through this link.
Weighing in at 600 plus pages, Discovering the Mission of God leaves no stone unturned in its quest “to take you on your journey into the mission of God” (18). The collection of 38 essays (with 16 additional essays posted online) is divided into three parts: the biblical case for God’s mission, the historical development of God’s mission, and the state of God’s mission today.
The ten essays of part one establish the missional focus of the Bible. The authors address and analyse various “missions” passages, and use Paul’s travels and letters to make a case for prioritizing mission work in places where no Christian witness is present.
Part two is an extended treatment of the history of mission, starting with the apostles and spanning the early church, the Middle ages, the monastics (a very engaging chapter by Karen O’Dell Bullock), post-Reformation missionary activity, and the modern missionary movement.
The final part, which makes up the last half of the book, is concerned with various aspects of the state of modern mission. It includes a chapter on statistics, a helpful section on culture, worldview, and contextualization, and what I suppose could be called “tips” from the experts on issues like spiritual warfare and prayer.
On the whole Discovering the Mission of God successfully carries out its stated purpose. It provides the reader with all the information he needs (including repeated reminders that the real work belongs to God) to make an informed decision about his involvement in international missionary work. The book is broad enough in its subject matter and authoritative enough in its facts to be a valuable resource for future international missionaries. As, I imagine, was at least part of the editor’s intent, it will make an excellent textbook for seminary or university-level mission courses and missionary training programs. With that said, it is also very readable, and, while scholarly, not so cerebral that it wouldn’t be useful for the general public.
Yet, while I believe this book will be instrumental in developing a new generation of missionaries in the years to come, there are one or two limitations. It is written for a specific audience. Its aim is to inform—and, through compelling information, inspire—Christians in the American suburbs to embark on a career in international missions. As a result, it all but ignores the global Christian community who, in most cases, already live on the mission field the book is trying to inspire its readers to reach.
Second, because the authors’ desired outcome seems to be the evolution of a new generation of international missionaries, the book only addresses the Ends-of-the-Earth aspect of Acts 1:8. It even goes so far on a few occasions (see pages 23 and 135, and chapter 36) to warn readers that a focus on the mission opportunities in their local context may be an act of disobedience. I doubt this lop-sided approach is the result of bad theology. It is simply what happens when we take a big truth—in this case, the truth that God’s mission is that all the peoples of the earth might be blessed—and squeeze the message into a specific mould, directing it at specific people.
I think this book is an invaluable resource for learning the basics of international missions. It is most definitely worth a read for anyone who is seriously considering doing mission work in a context outside his home country. However, if you live in a place where the nations are on your doorstep, in a place where your neighbours have no cultural context for engaging with the gospel, you’re going to need more than these 600 plus pages to discover your role in the mission of God.