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Spring 1994 · Vol. 23 No. 1 · pp. 133–34 

Book Review

The Transfiguration of Mission: Biblical, Theological and Historical Foundations

ed. Wilbert R. Shenk. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1993. 256 pages.

Reviewed by Hans Kasdorf

The title of this book reminds the reader of Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission by the late David J. Bosch of South Africa. While different in content, authorship, and structure, each book is bound to become a missional classic, even in postmodern times when Christian world mission is viewed with disdain by many.

The editor is a distinguished missiologist, recognized far beyond Anabaptist-Mennonite circles. The six contributors are also internationally known for their work in evangelism, education, leadership training, research, and writing. They have collectively given at least 130 years of active missional ministry within the worldwide church.

The book’s content has come to fruition after nearly 20 years of collaborative efforts in quest of a fresh theological approach to mission. The writers found their key in what they call “the messianic dynamic” anchored in the Messiah’s sentness to the world. Jesus took the existing form of mission—namely that of human proselyting—and transfigured it by giving it new content capable of transforming women and men into the likeness of the Messiah himself.

This new “model of mission established by Jesus the Messiah,” says Shenk, “is the prototype of all faithful mission” in which his messianic community, the believers’ church, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit {134} plays the major role throughout all time and to the ends of the earth. What we have here, then, is a theology of mission in which the messianic community is central for bearing witness to the life-transforming power of the Gospel of God’s kingdom. The kingdom is seen more as reign than as realm.

The book contains nine chapters. Wilbert Shenk, David A. Shank, and John Driver have written two each, while Roelf S. Kuitse, Larry Miller, and Neal Blough have each contributed one chapter. Despite different authors, the book is remarkably unified by its central theme.

In the first chapter on “The Relevance of a Messianic Missiology for Mission Today,” Shenk argues that the missio Dei embodied by the work of Jesus the Messiah is normative for all aspects of our missionary witness in the contemporary world. Shank picks up the christological theme of “Jesus the Messiah,” exegeting 1 Thessalonians as the “Messianic Foundation of Mission.” God’s “redemptive mission to the whole world” happens through “the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus” which, in turn, motivated the early church to continue that mission. That leads Driver to center his thoughts on “The Kingdom of God” as the “Goal of Messianic Mission.” Of particular interest is his historical reference to the Blumhardts (father and son) who “caught a remarkably biblical vision of the kingdom of God” for life here and now. Kuitse’s chapter on the Holy Spirit as the “Source of Messianic Mission” is a biblically refreshing treatment of the Spirit’s role in world mission today. Miller’s sociohistorical analysis of “The Church as Messianic Society: Creation and Instrument of Transfigured Mission” is helpful for understanding the church’s mission under adverse political circumstances.

In the last four chapters Shenk deals with “Messianic Mission and the World”; Blough discusses “Messianic Mission and Ethics” with reference to “Discipleship and the Good News”; Driver sees “Messianic Evangelization” when “the Spirit of the living Christ empowers his body for evangelizing”: and finally, Shank concludes the book with a chapter on the “Consummation of Messiah’s Mission.”

This book is a must for pastors, youth workers, and teachers of youths and adults who want to sharpen their global vision and deepen their theological understanding of the worldwide messianic mission of the church.

Dr. Hans Kasdorf
Professor Emeritus of World Mission
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary
Fresno, California

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