Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today

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Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. By Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004. Pp. xxii, 488. Paperback $30.

Editor's comment: In the fall of 1997 Stephen Bevans, a contributing editor, and Roger Schroeder spent three months at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, continuing foundational work for a book whose entrée-following its nine-year gestation-is noteworthy in that it could well serve as a standard introduction to mission theology for the next decade. As such, the book will be utilized in seminary classrooms across the entire ecclesiastical spectrum. Accordingly, six respected missiologists, each representing one of six distinctive ecclesiastical stances-Anabaptist, Conciliar, Evangelical, Orthodox, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic-were invited to share their candid assessments of the book. Here, then, are the six reviews in alphabetical order by perspective.

Anabaptist. Although historians have long recognized the indisputable link between the modern missionary movement and the twentieth-century ecumenical movement, nowhere has this symbiotic relationship been demonstrated as clearly as in this volume. With evident respect for various theological and ecclesiastical traditions, and drawing on insights and convictions from diverse Christian streams, Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder have skillfully forged a vigorous theology of mission.

The structure of the book demonstrates the continual interaction between constants-Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, soteriology, anthropology, and culture-in major historical contexts. The pitfall that besets much theology is that it is written from within one stream, largely oblivious, or simply in opposition to, other contemporary options. Schroeder and Bevans seek to overcome this reductionist tendency by adapting the historicaltheological typologies of Justo L. González and Dorothee Sölle, identified as types A, B, and C. Each of these three types originates with a particular early Christian theologian in a particular cultural context who was responding to particular challenges. Each of these types, it is argued, recurs throughout church history.

In contrast to David Bosch's use of historical paradigms in Transforming Mission (1991), which suggested that each new paradigm displaces the previous one, the typology used here demonstrates the interplay between continuity and variety across time. Furthermore, it takes account of the range of missional responses in each historical period. Groups and movements that have been ignored in theologies and histories of the Christian mission are recognized here. What has been regarded as a minority or marginal voice in one period can emerge later as representative of a new consensus. The sixteenth-century Anabaptist rejection of a territorially defined church would become normative for the modern mission movement. The Bevans-Schroeder approach is dynamic and responsive to contextual and historical processes but always in relation to the six constants.

This is a most useful book. Students will find it to be a reliable guide to a broad range of literature. It offers an up-to-date interpretation of a theology of the Christian mission.

-Wilbert R. Shenk

Anabaptist missiologist Wilbert R. Shenk, a contributing editor and Paul E. Pierson Professor of Mission History and Contemporary Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, is author and editor of many books. Most recently he edited North American Foreign Missions, 18101914: Theology, Theory, and Policy (Eerdmans, 2004).

Conciliar. Regardless of one's ecclesial tradition, the missiologist must be grateful for the substantive expansion of our teaching resources represented by Bevans and Schroeder's Constants in Context. It does not attempt to replace David Bosch's classic work; rather, it honors that work by building on it. Of particular value are the detailed explorations of Roman Catholic mission thought and practice. …