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July 1973 · Vol. 2 No. 3 · pp. 91–92 

Book Review

Crucial Issues in Missions Tomorrow

ed. Donald A. McGavran. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1972. 272 pages.

Reviewed by Paul G. Hiebert

The editor has put together a series of articles written by contemporary thinkers in missions on the crisis issues in the next decade. The topics range from theology to mission anthropology and practical problems.

Glasser and, in particular, Beyerhaus, trace some of the critical theological issues and their conclusions show how far evangelical theologians have come in their willingness to accept Christ’s mission to the whole man. Tippett tries to reconcile theological and sociological explanations for people movements, but aside from accepting both explanatory systems as valid he fails to deal with the crucial issues in bringing the social sciences and evangelical theology together. King defends separate mission organizations on what appear to be very weak theological grounds.

In the section on mission anthropology Tippett argues for the evangelization of animists because they are particularly responsive. The plea is well directed, but the treatment is superficial. Animistic religions cannot be lumped together under a few generalizations, nor are they equally responsive to the gospel. The equation of animists with the sorcerers and magicians of the New Testament appears tenuous.

The evangelical need for the future is not a weaker theology but a more honest confrontation with the issues raised by anthropology. This, in fact, is what Mbiti attempts to do in his excellent treatment of traditional religions of Africa and their place in the mission process. Not all will agree with his conclusions, but they must face squarely the issues he raises, for these are among the crucial issues missions will face in the near future. Kwast raises problems in the cross-cultural translation of the gospel, but turns to theological, not anthropological, principles for the solution of what is essentially a cultural process.

The last section ranges over a number of topics from people movements to urban evangelism. Apart from Peters’ article on great campaign evangelism, none provides more than selected instances to illustrate their points. There is need here for a thorough analysis of all the data in order to test a particular thesis.

The book suffers from a lack of an integrated comprehensive view of the field. The independent writers often refight the battles of the last decade and fail to give us a comprehensive study of the issues in this decade. Specialists will find little new, or space prevents a thorough coverage of the specific topics. It is more disturbing to find in modern evangelical missions a glorification of science. To talk of a “science of missions” involves either a radical shift in theology or a superficial treatment of the philosophical underpinnings of modern science. The resolution of science and theology lies not in accepting scientific methodology without its philosophical basis. Nor need it lead to an abandonment of the evangelical theology. What is needed is a real analysis of the issues between {92} them. Similarly mission anthropology must go beyond adapting some anthropological findings to dealing with the fundamental ideas underlying the social sciences. One gets the feeling that the writers at times draw back when faced with such issues and return to the more familiar ground of exegetical theology, even when facing the crucial socio-cultural issues confronting modern missions.

Paul Hiebert
University of Washington, Seattle

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