(Confession: At the Frontline conference in January, I made a personal commitment to read a book a every month and post a review. So far I have not completed one book. This review is based on reading the first few chapters of the book. I’ll aim to finish the book and post a full review at the end of April)
Martin Robinson has experience of church leadership and mission in a variety af situations at home and abroad. He believes that mission is the business of the local church, but that it needs to be informed by understanding of history, especially of prevailing worldviews, which affect our ability to connect with people in the community.
The book begins with a review of mission from the time of Jesus onwards. Robinson argues from the very beginning that our current situation is not new. Like the first Christians we are presenting Christ to a world that does not know Him, to a people that are largely indifferent, and in situations that may bring rejection or persecution.
Another recurring theme is the way movements for change often become extreme, sometimes leading to polarisation in the church. It happened at the Reformation, with the Pentecostal revivals and to some extent with the evangelical movement that came from the 1910 Edinburgh conference om Mission.
Yet despite the difficulties, the church has continued to grow, often in unexpected ways. For example: the missionary movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries sometimes had colonial overtones because of the channels through which access was gained to foreign territories. This often led missionaries to consider that national Christians were not suitable leaders. Conversely, the evangelised peoples often failed to fully engage with the church because it was seen as a western institution.
However, when independence or civil war drove the white people out of many African nations, the local Christians very quickly adapted. As the countries opened up again, sometimes after many years, the returning missionaries found churches thriving despite persecution and isolation.
In the late 20th Century, many people forecast that the pendulum would swing back in favour of Christianity and this would bring revival. Clearly this has not happened. But there is an openness to discussing spiritual matters and their bearing on moral and political life that we have not seen for many years. And if we are ready to change our approach (as in the African) churches, we may find that we can engage naturally with people around us on shared ground and so open the door to speak the gospel.
(A more thorough review will follow when I’ve finished the book)
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