Introducing Christian Mission Today


In Introducing Christian Mission Today, Michael Goheen provides a full-scale introduction to the area of Christian mission. Incorporating the missional wisdom of Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch, and J.H. Bavinck, among many others, it unfolds in three major sections.

The first articulates a biblical and theological basis for mission, first by tracing mission in the biblical story and then by reflecting on a theology of mission and a missional theology.

The second section is an historical and contemporary reflection on mission that sketches mission in the history of the church, describes the contemporary ecumenical paradigm of mission today including the various ecclesial traditions in mission, and then surveys the global church in mission.

The third and longest section engages current issues in mission today including the nature of mission, contextualization mission and Western culture, world religions, urban mission, and cross-cultural missions. It is written in popular idiom and puts into print an introductory course he has taught for over 25 years at a number of institutions.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Paradigm Shift in Mission Studies Today
Changing World Church
Changing Global Realities
A New Understanding of Mission
The Landscape of Mission Studies Today

PART ONE: Biblical and Theological Reflection on Mission

1. Scripture as a Narrative Record of God’s Mission

The Bible and Mission in a New Era

God’s Mission to Restore the Whole World

God Chooses Israel to Bring Salvation to the Whole World

God Sends Jesus to Gather and Restore Israel to Its Mission

The Church’s Mission to the Ends of the Earth

God’s Mission Continues Beyond Acts

2. Theology of Mission and Missional Theology

Theological Reflection on Mission

Missional Reflection on Theology


PART TWO: Historical and Contemporary Reflection on Mission

3. Historical Paradigms of Mission

What Story Do We Want to Tell?

Early Church Paradigm

Christendom Paradigm

The Enlightenment Paradigm

4. An Emerging Ecumenical Paradigm of Mission

Responses to the Modern Missionary Movement: Toward a New Paradigm

Mission Traditions


5. A Survey of the Global Church

Mission and Global Christianity?

Some Initial Statistics

The Global Shift to the South

Sub-Saharan Africa


Latin America

The Middle East and North Africa

The Pacific

Eastern Europe

The West


PART THREE: Current Issues in Mission Today

6. Holistic Mission: Witness in Life, Word and Deed

Our Legacy: A Split Between Word and Deed

Authentic Evangelism

Mercy and Justice

Calling of Believers in Society

7. Faithful Contextualization: Church, Gospel, and Culture(s)

The Urgency of the Issue

The Gospel and Cultures: Ethnocentrism and Relativism

The Gospel and Culture: Syncretism and Irrelevance

A Brief History of Contextualization

Contextualization Today

Models of Contextualization

Macrocontextual Differences

Faithful Contextualization

8. Toward a Missiology of Western Culture

An Urgent Task

Missionary Encounter with Culture: The Faithful Posture of the Church

The Theological Task: Liberating the Gospel

The Ecclesiological Task: Understanding Our Missional Identity

The Cultural Task: A Missionary Analysis of Western Culture

9. A Missionary Encounter with World Religions

An Urgent Issue

The Proper Posture Amidst Religious Pluralism—A Missionary Encounter

A Challenge to Pluralism

A Brief Sketch of a Theology of Religions

A Missionary Approach and Subversive Fulfillment

The Church’s Mission in the Context of Religious Pluralism


10. Urban Mission: The New Frontier

Our Urban Future—and Present

The Importance of Cities for Mission

An Agenda for Urban Mission

A Theology of Mission for the City

Elements of Faithful Missional Congregations


11. Missions: A Witness to the Gospel Where There Is None

Mission, Missions and Cross-Cultural Partnership

Our Legacy: Reduction and Response

A Return to Scripture

World Need

Problems Hindering a Fresh Missions Initiative

Structures of Missions—Who Will Do the Job?

New Initiatives Today


Sidebar Sources
Subject Index


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 as professor of missional theology 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.


Michael W. Goheen has produced here more than an introduction to mission studies. In this volume of some four hundred pages he provides a comprehensive, scholarly survey of the biblical, historical and contemporary issues in world mission that will serve to inform a generation of students and pastors. It is a remarkable achievement.

- Gerald H. Anderson, director emeritus, Overseas Ministries Study Center

Very few people can combine multiple areas of expertise in their own thinking, let alone in a single book. Mike Goheen is one of those few. This wide-ranging survey is the fruit of a true teacher’s passion for the whole scope of his discipline. We are led steadily to understand mission from its biblical foundations, in theological reflection, through millenia of historical practice, across multiple cultural and ecclesial contexts, to the most urgent issues facing the church in mission today and tomorrow. Theologically enriching, reliably informative, and both conceptually and practically challenging.

- Christopher J. H. Wright, international ministries director, Langham Partnership

Based on Scripture and in light of current and historical developments, Introducing Christian Mission Today recalibrates the church’s understanding of mission. Evangelical in spirit, yet ecumenical in breadth, this is an important and stimulating introduction to the foundations, challenges and issues of Christian mission today.

- Craig Ott, professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Introducing Christian Mission Today is a well-written, accessible and comprehensive survey of mission theology. Michael Goheen provides the reader with an authoritative and balanced account of the salient developments–starting with a robust biblical theology that puts the mission of God at the dynamic center–that have transformed our understanding over the past century. This work edifies and challenges.

- Wilbert R. Shenk, senior professor of mission history and contemporary culture, Fuller Graduate

School of Intercultural Studies Michael Goheen has distilled some of the best of recent Western missiological thinking into a readable and well-organized presentation. The book is current and has God’s entire, comprehensive and worldwide mission in view. There are also particular examples and focused discussions on such crucial topics as urban mission. Many congregations, individuals and mission agencies will find great insight and reap much benefit here.

- J. Nelson Jennings, executive director, Overseas Ministries Study Center

Allison Norton, Evangelical Missions Quarterly Michael Goheen’s book will be added to my list of recommended books. Part one gives a biblical and theological reflection on mission. Part two hands the reader a historical and contemporary reflection on mission. These chapters are more than mere reflections; they also contain gospel-centered recommendations to move the worldwide church forward…. This book gives the church guidance and hope to continually be involved in God’s mission.

- Henry Bartsch, Haddington House Journal

This is a wonderful book and is a worthy replacement to David Bosch’s brilliant but dated work Transforming Mission. It covers biblical and theological reflections on mission, reflections on the history of missions, and current issues in mission. I thought there was great analyses of contextualization, religious pluralism, urban mission, and mission to new frontiers. The book comes across as a hybrid of  Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch, and N.T. Wright. No doubt this will probably be one of the preferred text books for mission studies in many colleges and seminaries.

- Michael F. Bird,

It has been a long time since I have been impacted in so many different ways through the reading of one book. There are gems of wisdom and poignant challenges on nearly every page. This is a book that not only brings the reader up to date with the latest in mission theory but inspires one to get involved.

- Daniel Kirk, Themelios

…if you are looking for a full orbed introduction to mission which is thoughtful, contemporary and practical, then Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History and Issues by Mike Goheen is the place to which you must turn. There is simply nothing quite so comprehensive or thoughtful on the market at the moment. It’s the book I’ve been waiting for, for a long time…. Let me be blunt. If you are studying for Christian ministry in any form and this book is not on your reading list, you should ask your professors why not! (OK, it only came out in June this year, so it might take a while to catch up). If you are involved in leading missionary work within a local congregation, then you need to read this. If you are a mission agency leader or board member and this isn’t on your ‘to read list’, you are failing in your responsibilities. It’s that good. I am no prophet, but this deserves to be the ‘go to’ book for evangelical mission studies for many years to come.

- Eddie Arthur, Kouyanet

As a textbook on mission, particularly as an opening up of contemporary missiological thinking, this book makes a very valuable contribution. It will certainly replace Transforming Mission on most of my reading lists.

- Ian Kirby, Journal of Youth Ministry

Every once in a while a missions survey text comes along that serves as a go-to standard for subsequent years. Introducing Christian Mission Today will likely become such a survey. Michael Goheen… provides readers with a comprehensive and accessible work that addresses the major issues in missiology and mission theology…. This book is ideal for an undergraduate introductory missions course. It could also serve well for any informed teacher in a church or mission-related organizational context.

- Christopher Flanders, Missiology

Goheen… is a master synthesizer; boiling down a vast amount of literature to introduce the key conversations, contributors, and concepts. In many cases, ICM offers the most succinct presentation I’ve read on these issues. Goheen is more current, more accessible, and more evangelical than Bosch; therefore, I believe that ICM would be a worthy replacement in most curricula…. Did I mention I really like this book? I do, and I recommend it to you. It might make you shout “hallelujah” one minute and shout something I can’t print here the next, meaning Goheen has succeeded marvelously in engaging the reader in the study of mission…. With its combination of ambiguity, detail, survey, insight, readability, and provocativeness, ICM would be a very fruitful catalyst for discussion in a classroom, or perhaps among a session of elders, a small group, or a missionary team.

- E.W. Zeller, Training Leaders International


Translation into Korean (Seoul: Christian Literature Crusade, forthcoming)

Translation into Hungarian (Budapest: John Calvin Publishing House of the Reformed Church Publishers, 2018)