Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century
Tennent, president of Asbury Seminary and former professor of missions at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has written a fresh, engaging, highly readable introduction to world missions. He was motivated to write this book because of his concern that the way missions has been conceptualized in recent years is no longer adequate for the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century. More specifically he believes that mission studies must be shaped within an explicitly Trinitarian framework, and he finds that no current missiology does that. Invitation to World Missions admirably fulfills that mandate. He examines a full range of introductory issues in missiology and presents a model for doing so from a theological—explicitly Trinitarian—basis.
Tennent’s first chapter on megatrends that shape current mission is an excellent overview on the state of global Christianity, which is the context for theologizing and for all mission endeavors. He concisely summarizes the well-chronicled collapse of Western Christendom and the shift of the center of gravity from worldwide Christianity to the global south, exploring sometimes-ignored implications, such as the emergence of a “fourth branch” of Christian faith, outside the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communities. He also explores implications of globalization for Christian faith that the typical “missions-minded” Western Christian is often unaware of, such as the impact of immigration and urbanization.
In chapters 2 and 3 Tennent lays the foundation for his Trinitarian missional theology. As the ultimate sender, God the Father is the source of the missio dei, and mission is an expression of His relational, holy love. God the Son is the embodiment of the missio dei, in the incarnation itself, but also in church history and in contemporary holistic mission, both of which are a reflection of the incarnation. God the Spirit is the empowering presence of the missio dei, both in dynamic missionary witness and in suffering and persecution.
The remainder of the book is a reflection of the content covered in a traditional introduction to world missions, but with each section introduced within a Trinitarian framework. In chapters 4–7 Tennent surveys biblical foundations for mission, presents an excellent biblical theology of culture, and introduces an evangelical theology of religions under the heading of God the Father as the source and goal of the mission. In chapters 8–13 Tennent overviews the history of mission, the challenge of cross-cultural communication, and the necessity of holistic mission, all under the heading of God the Son as the redemptive embodiment of mission. His examination of significant “turning points” in earlier mission history and his discussion of issues in church planting are original, refreshing approaches that even seasoned mission teachers and practitioners will appreciate. Chapters 14–16 discuss the Holy Spirit as the empowering presence of the mission. In this section Tennent explores the use of the book of Acts in missiology and the significant role the worldwide Pentecostal movement plays in contemporary missions, the issue of modalities (such as institutional churches) and sodalities (such as mission agencies), and the advance of the gospel through persecution. In his conclusion Tennent warns that no matter how big the global missions enterprise becomes believers dare not overlook the foundations of a Trinitarian theology, the missio dei, and mission done in the context of the reality of the global church.
Tennent has much to contribute, and anyone who teaches any topic in mission studies will want to read this book. The book will also be an encouragement and provide vigorous reflection for mission practitioners. Most readers will probably quibble with some aspect of Tennent’s theology or will find a particular topic they feel he has not adequately covered, but overall his theology and coverage is balanced and complete. His approach is not quite as comprehensive as some mission introductions, such as Introducing World Missions (Baker, 2004), by A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee, but what he does discuss goes deeper and is far more theologically based. Some will find it to be adequate as a text for introductory mission courses at the graduate or undergraduate level; others will find that its gaps are a bit too wide to serve as a stand-alone textbook. But all who teach or engage in mission will want to absorb it, learn from it, and be sure that it influences their thinking and practice.