Dictionary of Mission Theology: Evangelical Foundations

By John Corrie, ed.
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2007). xvii + 448 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
20.2 (Fall 2009) : 259-261

In recent years literature about world missions has seen an almost exponential growth after several decades of relative stagnation. This recent addition to reference literature represents an attempt to examine theological terms and concepts in light of their application to missionary and missional constructs.

The volume has a normal reference format with articles varying in length from a few paragraphs to several pages. Each article has a useful bibliography and, in keeping with the publisher’s normal excellence and attention to detail, an effective use of “see” and “see also” references throughout. The main editor is Professor of Mission Studies at Trinity College in Bristol (UK) and the contributor list reflects a largely European flavor supplemented with a large number of contributions from African, Asian, and Latin American scholars and mission practitioners, as well as a number from the Indian sub-continent as well.

In his introduction Corrie states his general observations about missions and his intended purpose for the work:

World Christianity and its associated mission are going through unprecedented change and development as the centre of gravity of the faith shifts ever further ‘south’. Mission ‘from everywhere to everywhere’ challenges many traditional models of mission, and new contexts raise new questions for theologies that have hitherto seemed universal truths. Evangelicals need a mission theology with a sufficiently broad agenda, which both engages with these contexts and their perspectives while also holding on to foundational truths and scriptural boundaries (xv).

The types and scope of the articles is a rather jumbled mix of theological, anthropological, sociological, historical, and conceptual terms. Corrie states, “[T]here is plenty here that will be recognizably ‘evangelical’: a respect for the priority of the biblical text as the authoritative source of theological and missiological thinking; a thoroughgoing trinitarian view of mission; an affirmation of Jesus Christ at the heart of God’s mission purposes; a confirmation of the importance of evangelism and the making of disciples of Jesus as the focus of our mission mandate; and the gospel call to all peoples and nations to come in repentance and faith to worship the one true and living God revealed in Scripture” (xvi-xvii). But he also insists that evangelicals need to understand that “liberation as a category of salvation, the inclusion in the church’s mission of reconciliation, social justice and political engagement” are apparently equally important.

No review can detail all or even a significant number of the articles. Some important notes are important to make, though. Though an acknowledged centerpiece of evangelical theology is the inspiration (and normally inerrancy) of Scripture, the reader finds no specific article on the Bible or Scripture in this work. The longest discussion of “the authority of the Bible” consists of a few nondescript paragraphs buried in the larger article on “Worship” (441-43). Though there is some discussion of Bible translation, it is found in the larger article on “Language, Linguistics and Translation” (199-202).

Some of the normal theological categories often has a specific article, but clearly such articles were not written by contributors with specific expertise in those fields. A long, but entirely misleading, article on eschatology (106-10) misrepresents all the major millennial positions in one way or another, and the one on premillennialism calls it a view that became “prominent in the nineteenth century.” That ignores that it was the dominant position of the time prior to Augustine during the greatest missionary expansion of the church to date. After being generally unfavorable to premillennialism in terms of missions, the article then cites George Eldon Ladd as an example of “Biblical Eschatology” though failing to acknowledge that he was a premillennialist.

A key problem with the volume is that it often wanders out of its titular construct of a reference work into the genre of advocacy for a particular cause. The article on “Ecology/Environment” (104-6) is a prime example of this. The article begins, “Is it time for humanity to be de-centered as the focus of mission?” (104). The article continues, “[P]erhaps at the heart of the matter lies the doctrine of salvation. We urgently need to avoid a reductionist view of salvation, by supplementing the dimension of human individual relationship with God with a comprehensive biblical vision of renewed harmony and justice between people and the rest of the created order (Eph. 1:9-10; Col. 1:15-20)” (105). Of course, even a cursory examination of the passages cited by this article reveals that they have nothing to do with the concept which the author calls, “missionary earth-keeping.”

The discussion of salvation centers in an article of that title (352-57), which, in this reviewer’s opinion, summarizes the overall problem with the work. Largely, it is a general overview that never actually says anything definitive. The article says nothing biblically about justification by faith or how one is saved. It does not answer the question of whether or not the gospel is the exclusive means of salvation (in fact the articles on different world religions never claim that non- Christian religions lead to damnation).

The book cannot be recommended at any level. The articles represent a sociological view of “religion,” not biblical Christianity. The sub-title “Evangelical Foundations” is entirely inappropriate as there is virtually nothing within the pages that is even remotely aligned with historic evangelicalism. It is an aimless, theologically nebulous, and biblically vacuous collection of agenda-driven articles under the guise of a dictionary.