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The Dynamics Of Christian Mission: History Through A Missiological Perspective Paperback – January 8, 2009
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About the Author
Paul E. Pierson served as an evangelist/church planter on the Brazil-Bolivia border in the late 50's. He then taught in seminaries in Recife, Brazil and Lisbon, Portugal. He has served as a Presbyterian pastor in cities throughout California. He also served as the Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary from 1980-1992, where he now serves as the Senior Professor of History of Mission.
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Like other books of this sort, it narrates the history of the expansion of Christianity from the apostolic era to the present, dividing that history into six sections. “Early Expansion” (chapters 1–7) traces the story from the apostolic era through the rise of the Celtic church. “Change and Attempts at Renewal” (chapters 8–12) examine the Middle Ages. “The Reformation Era” (chapters 13–16) focuses on the missionary efforts of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. “Renewal and the Beginnings of Protestant Reformation” (chapters 17–22) takes up the story in the seventeenth century with Puritans in the British Isles and Pietists on the European continent and ends with revival movements on the American frontier. “The ‘Great Centuries’” (chapters 23–30. examines evangelical missionary efforts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, dividing its material into geographical regions: Asia (chapter 26); Oceania, the Middle East, and North Africa (chapter 27); Africa (chapter 28); and Latin America (chapter 29). “The New Era (chapters 31–35) conclude the story with chapters on how missions is changing in the contemporary era.
Pierson’s historical narrative is conventional, focused on European and North American missions, especially evangelical missions. The real value of the work lies less in its narrative than in its interpretation of what the book’s title calls “the dynamics of Christian mission.” Pierson makes explicit in the Preface that this interpretation is the “purpose of this work”: “To study church history in a way that will encourage you to appreciate the importance of the dynamic principles underlying the expansion of the Christian movement” (p. 5).
He then goes on to identify eight dynamics—he calls them “theses”—in particular (pp. 6–7), which he draws attention to repeatedly throughout the historical narrative that follows:
1. “Movements of renewal and mission always seem to arise on the periphery of the church structures.”
2. “Congregational structures [i.e., modality] and mission structures [i.e., sodality] are essential to the completion of the mission of the Church to the end of history and that both are equally the Church, the People of God.”
3. “A key leader has triggered most mission movements.”
4. “Mission has normally come out of renewal.”
5. “Movements of renewal and mission have often involved theological breakthroughs: a discovery or rediscovery of a previously unrealized or forgotten aspect of biblical faith.”
6. “The historical context of mission movements is important. The mission does not change, but the context in which God calls us to carry out our mission changes constantly. This opens up new and creative possibilities for sharing the Gospel.”
7. “New, more contextualized forms of spirituality are often a characteristic of the movements we will study.”
8. “Finally, the distribution of information has often been important. News of new initiatives in mission or renewal has often stimulated similar movements in other places.”
The identification of these theses or dynamics demonstrates the enduring value of Pierson’s work for missiologists, more so than his historical narrative, which as already noted, is conventional, though competent.
In this history book Pierson attempts to find a thread which runs through all of mission history. According to him there are several threads which run through the history of mission, however Pierson decides to focus on one of these threads, as is seen in his thesis statement: “My thesis is that both congregational structures and mission structures are essential to the completion of the mission of the Church to the end of history, and that both are equally the Church, the People of God.” Pierson notes that the completion of mission often occurs on the periphery of the broader church. Pierson develops his thesis as well as this secondary idea throughout his study of how God’s Mission has been done throughout the existence of the Church.
Pierson divides his book into six different sections:
1-“Early Expansion.” Here Pierson studies the early church as it is found in the New Testament as well as the early church’s expansion in the Roman world.
2-“Change and Attempts at Renewal.” The changes which Pierson refers to are the changes in the political structure of the world at this time.
3-"Protestant and Catholic Reformations." Pierson sees the reformation as a movement which re-contexutalized the Christian faith.
4-"Renewal and the Beginnings of Protestant Missions." He studies several groups like the Moravians and Methodists which focused spreading the Gospel.
5- “The ‘Great Centuries.” Pierson examines a time period in which Global mission began moving at an extremely rapid pace.
6-"The New Era." This last section of this book covers the current state of mission as well as the future of mission. He shows how congregational structures are key to accomplishing God’s mission by studying new church structures that are emerging.
Overall, I believe that Pierson’s thesis is correct, and he does a fairly good job showing it. If there is something to take away from this book is that churches today must rethink how congregational structures are to interact with larger mission structures. This will be especially important in facing the challenges of the modern world. If the Church is going to accomplish God’s mission, it must discover creative ways to work together and disregard divisions between congregations and “para-church,” it must work together as one united Church.
Pierson's writing style is very accessible to all readers. No doubt, this book is based upon his classroom lectures. The reader feels like he or she is sitting in the classroom with Dr. Pierson as he lectures.
Books on the History of Christian Missions are rare. This is a book for all wishing to have a deeper understanding.