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July 1973 · Vol. 2 No. 3 · pp. 89–91 

Book Review

Missions: Which Way? Humanization or Redemption?

Peter Beyerhaus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971. 120 pages.

Reviewed by Paul G. Hiebert

In every field there are a few books which stand on the list as must reading. For missions this is one of these. In a hundred concise pages {90} Beyerhaus places the current theological crisis in protestant mission in historical perspective.

Beyerhaus traces the roots of the crisis to four forces which have revolutionized the international scene: 1) the existence of an indigenous church around the world; 2) a revival of national religions and the rejection of proselytism; 3) western theology forced to come to grips with the multiplicity of cultures; 4) a shift to a greater socio-ethical concern.

The Church has given three answers to contemporary questions. Conservative evangelicals have responded with the postwar resurgence of the Second Missionary Movement stressing evangelism and church building. They have often bypassed the younger churches developed by previous labors.

The International Missionary Council has rejected the identification of missions and national interests, the cultural superiority of the west, and the separation of mission from church. The conviction that church and mission are one led to the merger of the W.C.C. and the I.M.C.

Some of the influential leaders of the W.C.C. have given a third answer, that of radical missions. For them the church is not the community of the redeemed but those who know of God’s work of saving the world. Salvation is the growing peace in man and the world.

In the past years there has been a growing Evangelical-Ecumenical confrontation. The strength of the radical theologians lies in their control of the core ecumenical offices, the inability until now of evangelicals in the ecumenical movement to voice a strong alternative to the extreme positions, and the growing world demand for justice and peace. Evangelicals have often boycotted the W.C.C. and gone their separate ways. Beyerhaus’ book, and the Frankfort declaration which he spearheaded, represents the voice of evangelicals in the ecumenical movement now being heard and calling for a return to a truly biblical understanding of mission and church.

What can each side contribute to a common biblical understanding? Beyerhaus notes that the strength of the evangelicals is based on their commitment to the authority of the Bible. Their dangers are a form of closed theological system which does not come to grips with history or culture and the delusion that they alone are the only true representation of the “invisible” church. In missions this position leads to a lasting paternalism, i.e. an unwillingness to trust the spirituality of the younger churches. Evangelicals often lack an understanding of the eschatological significance of world history and hence are ambivalent regarding contemporary social concern.

Beyerhaus notes that ecumenicals take history seriously and have a strong theology of church. But they ignore the eternal dimension of the evangelicals, and often look at salvation from a gnostic point of view, and overlook the new creation in their emphasis on fruits.

Beyerhaus pleads for a balanced view of God’s total mission which includes the confrontation of all human life with the grace and lordship of Christ. Mission is the action of the church putting man’s total existence, through a conscious decision of faith, under Christ’s lordship and power.

Beyerhaus asks, where is ecumenical missions being taken? He sees a greater willingness on the part of many evangelicals to include social concern in their mission; he is more dubious that the radical theologians, controlling many of the crucial offices in the W.C.C., will return to a {91} biblical position on salvation. This book is a call for the W.C.C. to return to an orthodox position on the Bible and salvation by one of the leaders in that movement. This makes it a crucial volume at this stage in mission history. Beyerhaus is deeply committed to an evangelical position yet honestly faces the searching questions of our time.

Paul Hiebert
University of Washington, Seattle

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