- Christianity Encountering World Religions: The Practice of Mission in the Twenty-First Century
In an age when dialogue is emphasized in the meeting of religions, this book presents a refreshing and interesting alternative approach. Muck and Adeney, both professors of evangelism in the United States, argue that Christians have no alternative to the practice of mission in the twenty-first century. They argue that central to Christian revelation is the unmerited gift that Christians have received in Christ, and this theme of gift drives their argument, inelegantly named "giftive mission."
The argument runs something like this. First, they develop their approach from the Bible, fully recognizing that there are a number of possible trajectories out of the Bible on this issue. One massively helpful feature of this book is an appendix of 239 biblical references dealing with Israel's and the Church's encounters with the "Other." Their theological presuppositions are that the biblical message about the redemptive triune God is "true" and that other religions teach many truths, but not about who God is; that the salvation of the non-Christian is ambiguous and should not be conflated with the question of truth; that Christians must fully cooperate with non-Christians; that both dialogue and evangelism are required from Christians; and that spiritual practices inculturated from other religions might be usefully employed, but only with great care. This amounts to a kind of open evangelical position: the world religions are finally human creations, with enormous wisdom and truth to be found, but, finally, Christianity is the only true disclosure of God's self revelation. So far, clear and predictable, given the stable out of which our writers come. But the originality of the book is yet to be unleashed. [End Page 235]
The authors next lay out a strategy for mission, beyond competition and cooperation, emphasising the theme of mission as gift sharing. One might recall Aquinas, which they do not at this point of their argument, although they do later, who argued that the greatest gift we can give a friend is sharing that which we value most. For friendship requires that we desire the greatest good for the friend and this means that we would desire the truth of Jesus Christ for our friends. This does not displace an element of competition, if understood as the belief that we can partly argue for the truth and should always do so against rival claims. This does not displace cooperation either. Rather, it is to bring into focus an organizing principle, which is profoundly centered on the nature of revelation as gift. The best feature of this book now emerges as our authors carefully and sensitively tease out aspects of this gift through highlighting certain values as exemplified in the practice of great missionaries of the past.
Each person takes up an entire chapter and each is finally contrasted with an antitype, which makes this an immensely helpful resource for students in terms of discussion and engaging stories. Furthermore, the authors provide discussion questions, summaries, and notes in sidebars, little gray boxes that break the text up. The heroes and heroines are Paul the Apostle (universal reaching out); Patrick, missionary to Ireland (fellowship, emphasising that belonging precedes believing); Cyril and Methodius (localization, through their serving the local needs of the Slavic church); Thomas Aquinas (commitment, holding ideas with conviction but not allowing ideas to be divisive); Bartolomé Las Casas (freedom, honoring the principle of religious choice); Matteo Ricci (effectiveness, allowing the context to determine the form of witness); William Carey (consistency, striving for consistency between methods and goals); Catherine Booth (founder of the Salvation Army—variety, communicating the gospel in many forms); Mother Teresa of Calcutta (charity, loving those to whom she witnessed); and Billy Graham (missional ecumenicity, practicing mission as a joint project of the church). Note the balance in denominational types and gender—which is a typical mark of the ecumenical orientation of our authors. Admittedly, they downplay in some of their characters the...