Introduction to Christian Mission Today – Preface


This book arises out of a course that I have taught for twenty-five years in a number of undergraduate and graduate institutions. When I first taught an introduction to mission course in 1988, I struggled to structure the course in keeping with the momentous changes taking place in the world church and mission during the twentieth century. I was acutely aware of the inadequacy of the colonialist paradigm, which had given rise to a certain way of teaching missiology. But I did not know a better way to proceed. After teaching the course a few times, I happened upon David Bosch’s Transforming Mission days after it was released. I devoured that book. I saw a new path for mission studies and a new way to structure an introductory course. Of course, today, over two decades after the release of that book, we know its importance. It has served to help many reconfigure and restructure their way of teaching missiology in a new setting where the church is now in every part of the world.

I have used Bosch’s book many times in courses but have found that its length and density are sometimes prohibitive for students. I hoped that someone would offer a more popular version that employed Bosch’s basic structure that I could use as a textbook. Although many good books on mission have emerged since that time, none has tried to cover the waterfront of mission studies as his does yet in a more popular way. And as I faced the difficulty, in almost every chapter of this book, of trying to summarize enormous amounts of material in brief chapters, I understand why! Nevertheless, I have persevered, and I offer this as a more popular introduction to mission studies. It is intended as an introductory book for students and pastors.

I start with the missio Dei as narrated in the biblical story and place the mission of the church in that narrative context. Mission is participation in the story of God’s mission. The role that the people of God are to play in that story gives them their missional identity. Thus, the church is missional by its very nature, and the whole of its mission springs from this identity. So this book roots mission in ecclesiology; it is thus a missiology that takes the church with utmost importance—something that is surprisingly rare. It is also a missiology that takes history seriously, attempting to understand and learn from the church as it has carried out its mission in various historical and cultural contexts. It is, moreover, a missiology that takes the global context seriously, formulating a missiology that understands mission to be in, from, and to all parts of the world. It is, finally, a missiology that takes the contemporary context seriously. The various tasks facing the global church today in its different settings set the agenda for mission.

No one is neutral, of course. And so my confessional and geographical location has greatly shaped this book. Considered from a global perspective, I stand in the Evangelical tradition. More specifically, the authors who have shaped me most are J. H. Bavinck, Harvie Conn, Lesslie Newbigin and David Bosch. And so it is from within the Reformed tradition that this introductory book arises. Bavinck and Conn set the structural girders for my thinking early, and that early foundational formation remains to the present.

And so my approach to missiology stands more narrowly within the Dutch Neocalvinist tradition, although I hope that my appreciation for many other traditions is evident. My indebtedness to Newbigin and Bosch at many points will be obvious. I believe them to be the leading mission thinkers in the latter part of the twentieth century, and therefore I have attempted to read all of their writings. I have also benefited tremendously from many others. I think specifically of Hendrik Kraemer, Wilbert Shenk, Gerald Anderson, Darrell Guder, Chris Wright, Andrew Walls, George Vandervelde and Jan Jongeneel.

I am also a Canadian, and no doubt this will be evident as well. It is the Western context that informs my scholarship, but I have attempted to listen to brothers and sisters from outside the West. I have had many opportunities for interaction with brothers and sisters from other parts of the world. I have also taught a course in contextual theology for a number of years, most recently at Regent College, Vancouver, and this has helped me hear voices from other parts of the world. Both my reading and personal contact have contributed to a more global perspective in my own thinking, as well as enriching and correcting my thinking. No doubt I have not quoted them as much as I should, but their insight has shaped my work more than what appears in the footnotes.

I am thankful to Dean Flemming, Mark Glanville and Albert Strydhorst, who have taken the time to read earlier versions of the whole manuscript, as well as Mike Williams, Chris Gonzalez, Tim Sheridan, Wilbert Shenk and Andrew Beunk, who read certain chapters. They have offered helpful comments and critique, and as usual, I am unable to incorporate all their good suggestions, sometimes because of inability and sometimes because of time. I am also grateful for my family, who have discussed with me as well as practiced much of what is in this book. My wife, Marnie, and many of my grown “children,” as well as some of their spouses, have taken the course out of which this book arises. All have taken their role in God’s mission, and many of the topics of this book continue to be fodder for ongoing family discussion. I have also learned much from my brothers and sisters in the congregations where I am set. My present congregations, both New West Christian Reformed Church in Burnaby, British Columbia, and Missio Dei Communities in Tempe, Arizona, have been a source of enrichment that has contributed to my understanding of mission. The Geneva Society has given oversight to a chair in worldview studies that I have occupied over the past seven years. The Oikodome foundation and Pieter and Fran Vanderpol have funded it. Both have enabled me to carry out my scholarly calling, of which this book is a part. I have been warmly received by the Missional Training Center—Phoenix, by Calvin Theological Seminary as the Jake and Betsy Tuls Chair of Missiology, and by Newbigin House of Studies in the next stage of my academic career in the next stage of my academic career, but I remain deeply grateful for the sacrifice and work of the many who were involved with the funding and oversight of the Geneva Chair. Finally, my thanks go to Daniel Reid at InterVarsity Press, who has supported this project from the beginning even though many factors have prohibited me from getting the manuscript in on time.

There is a website that supports this book along with others I have written. There are many free resources, ranging from scholarly and popular papers to Powerpoint presentations of all sorts, in the areas of biblical story, worldview and mission. Professors who use this book as a text will be able to find Powerpoint presentations for lectures and syllabi there that may be used for an introductory course in mission. That website is

I worked on my PhD dissertation for a decade studying Newbigin as well as the missiological developments that informed his thinking. During that time, not only the life and writings of Lesslie Newbigin, but also the expert supervision of both Jan Jongeneel and George Vandervelde, helped me refine my thinking in missiology. George and Lesslie are with the Lord, while Jan continues to be academically productive in retirement. I dedicate this book to those three men.