Friday, January 25, 2013

Review of Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours

I have an entire bookcase overflowing with books that were published over one hundred years ago. They have survived the test of time. For some of these books the truth contained within them has served the church for centuries. Sadly these gems are often left to collect dust. In what C.S. Lewis called chronological snubbery most modern readers neglect these classics to our peril.

Part of the reason for dust gathering on these treasures is that at face value some of them no longer seem relevant. Is it really still an issue how we ought to respond to the Guy Fawkes uprising? A host of my readers will not even know who Guy Fawkes was or why he mattered. And because it no longer seems relevant these pages often remain unturned.

One hundred years ago in his book Missionary Methods: Saint Paul’s or Ours?, Roland Allen asked important questions about the missiology of his day. On the centennial anniversary of that work, Plummer and Terry have decided to revisit some of those same questions asked by Allen at the turn of the 20th century. (Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours).


The book is divided into two sections. The first section, “Paul’s Message” is edited by Plummer. The second section, “Paul’s Missiology”, is edited by Terry. Each chapter is written by a different scholar that is well-respected in the field of which he is tasked with interacting.

Allen’s central aim was to present the missional principles of the apostle Paul and urge his readers to imitate Paul’s approach. In the last one hundred years there has been a great amount of work done in the area of Pauline missiology. Would Allen’s work stand the test of time? Does contemporary scholarship negate Allen’s points? Would “Paul’s answers” to the missiological questions of the early 1900’s be the same as “Paul’s answers” to the missiological questions of the early 2000’s?

Each chapter of the book addresses a different concern. There are questions of ecclesiology, suffering, and spiritual warfare. The chapter written by Dr. Plummer attempts to answer the much debated question of our day: what is Paul’s gospel. There are questions of missional strategy including issues related to church planting, indigenous missions, and contextualization.

If you have spent any time reading books about missiology you know the hot button questions of our day. The book is really a modernization of Allen’s major concern; namely, to take the contemporary issues and answer them in light of the approach of the apostle Paul. These scholars do that same thing in Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours.

My Take

I have never had the opportunity to read Roland Allen’s classic work. This book makes me want to—or at least makes me feel like I need to. I appreciate his (and their) central concern that the Spirit-inspired Scriptures dictate the way we do missions. I love books that ask contemporary questions and then set about to show how the Scriptures answer them.

I found Ben Merkle’s chapter on Ecclesiology to be particularly helpful. As our church looks at issues related to rewriting our constitution we continued to go back to the early church and ask what did they do. Merkle helps with that. For me this proved the effectiveness of the book. At present I am not asking questions about indigenous missions—but some are. And I assume that this chapter would be just as helpful to them as the chapter on ecclesiology was for me.

On another note I hope that more writers follow in the footsteps of Plummer and Terry. There are many classic works that would benefit from undergoing such a thorough look. It’s one thing to modernize the language of Calvin’s Institutes. It’s quite another to attempt to get in the mind of Calvin (as the authors have done with Allen here) and say, “what would Calvin say of this issue, and is he biblically accurate”. Many books would benefit from being modernized in such a way as these scholars have done with Allen’s work.

Should You Buy It?

This book is not going to be for everyone. If you aren’t prone to ask questions of missiology then I doubt you will have a desire to pick up this book. But for those that are pastors, church planters, etc. this is a very helpful book.

Also, everyone that reads this review that is a believer is a missionary and as such might benefit from thinking through some of the concerns raised in the book. I’m not sure that it will necessarily inspire mission but it will certainly inform it. If you are passionate about doing missions but wondering how it ought to be biblically done this book will be a helpful tool.

Such terms like missiology can be daunting. Especially when you see that the book is written by a group of scholars and then published by IVP. I assure the casual reader, though, that while this book is scholarly it is not poorly written. These men are good scholars which means that they can take that which is very difficult and make it sound somewhat simple (not simplistic). This book is well written and is not a drudgery to read. If you are interested in a theology of missions you will enjoy this book.

You can buy a copy today.

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