Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours

9781844746156

Robert L. Plummer & John Mark Terry eds., Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January, 2013. 252 pp. Paperback, $22.00.

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Just over 100 years ago, Roland Allen wrote a book called Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Though it took a few years for everyone to catch up to Allen’s insights, when they did, his book became a missiological classic.

Now, 100 years later, Robert L. Plummer and John Mark Terry have edited a collection of essays that revisits Allen’s book. As they explain in the introduction, several questions prompted their study (9):

  • What contributions has it made to missiology?
  • How has Allen affected New Testament study?
  • Are the teachings found in his book still valid today?
  • In what ways do our current missiological questions and concerns differ from Allen’s day?

To answer these questions and more, Plummer and Terry assembled a team of missionaries, pastors, scholars, and church planters to interact with both Allen’s book and Paul’s message and methods. Plummer edited the section of the book on the former, Terry the latter.

Overview

In Plummer’s section, the important questions animating the study are (9-10):

  • What was Paul’s gospel?
  • How did he envision the organization of the churches that he started?
  • How were these churches related to the ongoing advance of the gospel?
  • For Paul, what is the role of suffering in missions?

A team of mostly New Testament scholars wade through these questions and others starting with Michael F. Bird’s essay “Paul’s Religious and Historical Milieu.” From here we go on to look at Paul’s missionary career (Eckhard Schnabel), his gospel (Plummer), his doctrine of the church (Benjamin Merkle), his understanding of his own mission and that of the church universal (Christoph Stenschke), his theology of suffering (Don Howell Jr.), and his understanding of spiritual warfare (Craig Keener).

In Terry’s section, the important questions for study are (10):

  • Did the apostle Paul have a strategy? If he did, what was it?
  • Is Paul’s strategy still applicable today?

For these questions, a team of mostly missiologists are brought in. David Hesselgrave answers the question of whether or not Paul had a strategy (short answer: yes). Then, Michael Pocock (from my alma mater) discusses whether or not Paul’s strategy is still determinative for us, and to what extent. Terry then explores Paul’s example when it comes to indigenous mission, followed by a chapter on Paul and church planting from Ed Stetzer and Lizette Beard. The ever thorny issue of contextualization comes up next and is handled by M. David Sills before the section is closed out by Chuck Lawless’ examination of Paul and leadership development. The book is then brought to an end by a brief postscript from J. D. Payne on the legacy of Roland Allen’s book.

Strengths/Weaknesses

I found this book to be particularly interesting. The essays are for the most part right around the 10 page mark. They simultaneously provide a window in Paul’s thought and method, as well as Allen’s contribution. Most of the essays give nod to Allen without extensively interacting with him. The exception would be Hesselgrave’s article which follows Allen’s lead closely and then moves beyond his initial insights. The whole second half of the book in general has this feel to it, i.e. “Allen started the conversation and now we’re reflecting on his work and advancing and critiquing it where necessary.”

Having not read Allen’s book and only being a freelance missiologist on small scale, I don’t have much to critique in this volume. It is highly accessible to pastors and Bible students and given its close reading of Paul, is a great resource for anyone entering into traditional mission work.

My biggest takeaway was an appreciation for the format used in this book. By that I mean, here we have a solid collection of 21st century pastors and scholars interacting with a 100 year old book and paying respect to the author, while also advancing his insight. I think we would all benefit from more volumes of this type. It fosters a respect for older thinkers and their works and gives a new generation reason to not focus so myopically on the latest and most recently published work (which may be forgotten by next year). I know I’m particularly guilty of this kind of inadvertent “chronological snobbery,” and while I wasn’t riveted by the content of this book, I was impressed by these scholars’ interaction with Allen’s work.

Conclusion

In the end, anyone who is interested in missiology primarily, and Paul secondarily, should check out this book. It covers a broad range of topics related to Paul’s thought and method, as well as contemporary missiological issues. Drawing simultaneously from Allen’s seminal work, and the apostle Paul’s foundational methodology, the authors in Paul’s Missionary Methods offer readers plenty of food for thought and practice.

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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