Previous | Next

April 1975 · Vol. 4 No. 2 · pp. 319–21 

The “Best” in Reading on Mission Book Review

Hans Kasdorf

A few days ago the editor of Direction approached me with a difficult question: “If you were to suggest five or six of the best books on mission for the non-specialist, which ones would you recommend?”

To choose six out of some four hundred mission books on the shelf is more than twice as difficult as choosing an ice cream cone from the thirty-one flavors at Baskin Robbins. Just as the palate could be equally pleased by two or three other flavors than the one chosen, so one could place alongside the book selected five or six others of comparable value to the reader. Another reason that I find the question difficult to answer is the make-up of the reading audience. Who reads Direction, the pastors behind the pulpit or the person in the pew? the erudite in his study or the student for his education? the worker in the churches to equip himself for the work of the Church? the parent and the children who like to keep up with the “philosophy” of their constituency? the cross-cultural minister who serves the Lord and His Church by proclamation and identification in a world of need? I don’t know. Be that as it may, I have selected one book for each of the listed headings and made references to supplemental reading.

Several factors guided me in my choice of books: one, the significance of their content to the non-specialist; each book is highly informative. Two, readability; the style is easy, in a few cases even popular. Three, availability; most Christian bookstores should carry them. Four, cost; in terms of today’s book prices, these are rather inexpensive books. My choice, however, does not make me a subscriber to all the views expressed in these books.

1. HISTORY. Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971 (622 pages, $2.25).

As in all of his writings, Neill, internationally known in matters pertaining to mission, does an excellent job in tracing the course of the Christian movement through the centuries. He not only gives facts, but portrays the expansion of the missionary enterprise in the context of political, ecclesiastical, cultural and social factors that shape history at any given time. What the reader misses, however, is an adequate treatment of the Reformation era. But that can be compensated for by reading Chapter 4 of Littell’s Origin of Sectarian Protestantism (1964). (Ed. note: And by reading Prof. Kasdorf’s article in this issue.)

2. PHILOSOPHY. Peter Beyerhaus, Missions: Which Way? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971 (120 pages, $1.95).

The subtitle, “Humanization or Redemption,” comes closer to the {320} original German title of the book and indicates quite clearly the trend in mission thinking today. Beyerhaus is professor of mission and ecumenical studies at the University of Tuebingen. A sharp analyst much involved in the ecumenical-evangelical debate on mission, he is keenly perceptive of the contemporary scene. He traces mission development in the last few decades and points out the dangers inherent in the one-sided humanization, secularization, and horizontalization processes at work in large quarters of mission ministry. Beyerhaus pleads for a biblical approach that seeks to serve the whole man, not only his socio-economic needs. While it is true the book is limited in mission theology, it is sufficient to stir the reader’s interest to look for more in that field.

3. THEORY. Alan R. Tippett, Verdict Theology in Missionary Theory. South Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1973 (194 pages, $4.95).

It is hard to keep up with Dr. Tippett (Professor of Missionary Anthropology at the School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary), for he writes more on mission and related subjects than most people read. Among his many books I recommend this one because Tippett treats a variety of issues relevant to mission in our time. In thirteen chapters he focuses on “The Biblical Imperative,” the contemporary “Issues in Debate” (which will, by the way, help in understanding Beyerhaus), and “Anthropological Dimensions,” his specialty. One of the subjects Tippett touches on is church growth, an expression which by now has almost become a watchword in evangelical circles. Those interested in this area should read the book by McGavran, a colleague of Tippett and the “apostle of the church growth movement.” McGavran’s Understanding Church Growth (1970) is the most comprehensive book on the subject.

4. THIRD WORLD. Dennis E. Clark, The Third World and Mission. Waco: Word Books (129 pages, $3.95).

In his review, Horace L. Fenton, Jr., General Director of the Latin America Mission, writes: “Only about one book out of every twenty-five I read genuinely excites me. Dennis Clark has written such a book.” I agree. Clark does not write as an armchair theorist, but as a man who personally understands the work of the Church in the Third World through experience and participation. He speaks as a prophet, not only as a critic. He studies the real situation, analyses the problems, and offers concrete solutions for the present and future. This book is a must.

5. YOUNGER READERS. C. Peter Wagner, Stop the World, I Want to Get on It. Glendale: Regal Books, 1974 (136 pages, $1.95).

Here is a book for the popular market. He has some rather stimulating things to say on the lostness of the heathen, the missionary call, the spiritual gifts, and mission strategy. But he says it in an almost journalistic fashion, which is his style. As professor of {321} Latin American Affairs at the School of World Mission, long-time missionary, and mission executive, Wagner has gained a wide range of knowledge in the field of mission. His dozen books give evidence of that. A good companion, though somewhat outdated in content, is Professor Kane’s Winds of Change in the Christian Mission (1973). High school students, but also older readers, will find these books most helpful in understanding mission today. M.B. readers will want to read Phyllis Martens’ The Mustard Seed. It’s great!

6. MISSION AND THE CHURCH. Michael C. Griffiths, Who Really Sends the Missionary? Chicago: Moody Press, 1974 (48 pages, $.75).

Griffiths, a well-known missionary leader of our time, sets the tone of the book in this excerpt from the introductory paragraph:

“Most would agree that the relationship between home churches and foreign missions is under strain. They have not divorced each other, but, frequently, they seem estranged, formal, and failing to communicate with each other. Like nagging wives, the missionary societies complain that the churches are not supplying them with enough men or enough money. For their part, on the other hand, the churches, like disappointed husbands, complain that the missionary societies have become jaded and unattractive” (p. 5).

The perceptive readers of mission literature will be disturbed by the obvious silence of writers on the question touching the role of local church in mission. This irony is a lamentable fact. Even Professor Kane’s outstanding new book on Understanding Christian Mission (1974) omits this vital issue. Griffiths boldly faces it and pleads for the involvement of the local churches, rather than the mission societies. Let the local church become responsible for selecting and sending out missionaries. Quoting Lovering from Africa Now, Griffiths states: “The scriptural role of the local church as the sending authority and financial base for world evangelization needs to be brought back into clearer focus” (p. 11). It is encouraging to hear an American evangelical speak that way. I could not agree more. “Christians in our congregations are missing an exciting privilege if they are deprived of the fullest possible involvement in the task of proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and of making disciples of all nations” (p. 47).

Good reading material is the fruition of wisdom and good reading habits the pathway which leads to that virtue. So let us follow Thoreau’s counsel and “Read the best books first, or (we) may not have a chance to read them at all.”

Previous | Next