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Spring 2017 · Vol. 46 No. 1 · pp. 107–109 

Book Review

The Church in Mission: Perspectives of Global Mennonite Brethren on Mission in the 21st Century

ed. Victor Wiens. Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2015. 691 pages.

Reviewed by J. Bryan Born

What does the Mennonite Brethren Church believe about mission today, and how has the new missiological reality of “mission from everywhere to everywhere” (instead of “the West to the rest”) transformed mission praxis in the twenty-first century? Almost fifty years after the production of a Mennonite Brethren missiological text by the same title, editor Victor Wiens has drawn together a fine team of writers to address issues related to how the global MB church engages in God’s mission of redeeming, reconciling, and transforming the world.

Due to my long engagement with MB Mission and personal relationships with almost every contributor to this volume, I am far from a disinterested reader. Even though it is a big book and its subject broad, it easily kept me engrossed on account of its numerous stories and illustrations. The Church in Mission is a product of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) family, and readers familiar with the MB world will feel invited into an important conversation with friends, colleagues, mentors, professors, and pastors.

At the outset, Wiens emphasizes that the book emerges from a discussion within the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB). Its purpose is to “strengthen the mission capacities of MB conferences worldwide.” Following the pattern set by the highly influential missions reader, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, this book’s forty-five chapters are grouped by biblical/theological, historical, cultural, and strategic themes. In addition to providing information, this text inspires, challenges, and equips workers for involvement in the mission God has entrusted to the church. Like many mission workers, Wiens is a practitioner first and foremost, and he admits that the considerable number of chapters in the cultural and strategic sections indicates his bias.

One of the book’s most notable features is the number of contributions from non-Western authors. They span the globe, serving in diverse religious and economic contexts, and represent both urban and rural realities. This diversity challenges us to consider various points of view. For example, whereas Pierre Gilbert (Canadian) argues that “one transforms a nation through the transformation of one person at a time” (31), in the very next chapter, E. D. Solomon (Indian) notes that many Hindus “remain uninterested in the gospel because evangelical preaching is mostly about individual salvation” (47). Both Gilbert and Solomon address key aspects of the gospel, but from different backgrounds and cultural perspectives. A diversity of opinion also appears in the {108} discussion of the purpose and value of formal, nonformal, and informal education in relation to mission training. This type of interaction between authors is incredibly rich.

The growing willingness of the global church to critique past mission efforts is also significant. Rather than glossing over past failures, these writers address the unhelpful evangelism-versus-social-action debate. They note the unwillingness of some past mission workers to emphasize Anabaptist MB theological distinctives. And they deal forthrightly with church leadership conflicts that have plagued some areas of the world. These signs of maturity bode well for the future as they indicate growing respect for the insights of all members of the ICOMB family.

While I recommend this book highly, I do have a few concerns. The first is acknowledged in the editor’s preface: the lack of female contributors. Why so few? Some who were approached to write were, for different reasons, unable to accept the invitation. But even if they had, the imbalance of male and female voices would have been glaring. This is not the editor’s fault, but it is something we in the Mennonite Brethren Church must address.

Further to the topic of contributors, I greatly enjoyed the inclusion of articles by our MB missionary statesmen and scholars. I felt like I was sitting at a table with my elders. However, it seemed to me that some major topics required a more contemporary voice. George Peters’s article on “Missionary Theology and the New Testament” is one example. In our highly pluralist age, a fuller treatment of the uniqueness of Christ in relation to the claims of the world religions is necessary to equip future mission workers. Similarly, the matters of eschatology, final judgment, and the destiny of the unevangelised are nowhere addressed in the volume. One cannot assume that most readers will come to this book with a sound understanding of these issues in hand.

Closely related are two more strategic concerns. Obviously one can only include so many topics in a text like this one, but I am surprised that none of the chapters focused on apologetics and interreligious dialogue, or on church planting movements. A mission movement focused on evangelism and church planting, I would argue, must carefully examine best practices in articulating the gospel and also the key dynamics behind church planting movements around the globe. Mining our MB experience in the Congo, India, and Laos could provide valuable insights.

Of course, to cover every mission-related theme in one volume is an impossible task. Nevertheless, Victor Wiens and his team have done an excellent job of producing an outstanding missiological resource for the global MB family. This is a book to be read carefully. While academically serious, the articles dealing with spiritual authority, intercultural {109} dynamics, community development and transformation, contextualization, world religions, and our Mennonite Brethren ecclesiology have been tested in real mission contexts. This is genuine missiology—theology in practice!

J. Bryan Born
Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, B.C.

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