Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods by Eckhard J. Schnabel

Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods,
by Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paperback 519pp, IVP/Apollos £16.99
Our God is a missionary God. The Father sent his Son to save the world. The Son poured out his Spirit upon the church and commissioned her to make disciples of all nations. Mission should therefore be at the heart of church life. But how may we “do mission” in a way that is faithful to the gospel, effective in reaching the lost for Christ and that leads to new believers being gathering into churches? This major and authoritative study of the Paul the Missionary helps to answer such questions.

The author divides his treatment into six main sections. He begins with a consideration of ‘The Missionary Work of the Apostle Paul’ describing the apostle’s many missionary journeys from the time of his conversion until he was finally imprisoned and then martyred in Rome. It is often suggested that Paul underwent four missionary journeys. Schnabel challenges the traditional view, identifying fifteen distinct periods of mission. Then we come to ‘The Missionary Task According to Paul’s Letters’, where the author surveys Paul’s own understanding of the task of mission, giving careful and detailed attention his epistles. In ‘The Missionary Message of the Apostle Paul’ the writer skilfully unpacks the content of Paul’s gospel preaching, which focused on confronting Jew and Gentile alike with the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Consideration is given to ‘The Missionary Goals of the Apostle Paul’. Paul aimed at preaching the gospel so that sinners would be saved and gathered into class-defying, multi-ethnic churches, where they might be nurtured in the faith and trained for mission. The question of how the apostle went about doing all this is faced in ‘The Missionary Methods of the Apostle Paul’. The writer discusses how Paul decided which areas to evangelise, the types of building he used for mission and his manner of public speaking. Paul’s preaching centered on the sacrificial death and mighty resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both Jews and Gentiles found his message deeply offensive and objectionable. The only explanation for Paul’s missionary success is the convincing power of the Holy Spirit upon his preaching.

In the last prophetic section Schnabel seeks to apply the lessons of Paul the Missionary to ‘The Task of Missionary Work in the Twenty-First Century’. He argues that the trend towards targeting of homogeneous people groups is a contradiction of the New Testament vision of the church as God's multi-ethnic community of people united to Christ and indwelt by the Spirit. Drawing on the work of David Wells (here), he also critiques “Seeker Sensitive” and “Purpose Driven” approaches to mission, which rely too much on technique and water down the gospel for the sake of “cultural relevance”. Schnabel's prescription is that we need to return to the gospel centred, Spirit empowered approach of Paul,

‘The missionaries, teachers and preachers of the church are and remain sinners saved by God’s grace and whose “success” – evaluated from the eternal perspective of God’s Day of Judgement – is the result of the power of the Spirit of God, who honours their faithfulness to the truth of the gospel of the crucified Jesus Christ.” (p. 418).

The book is packed with a wealth of fascinating information on Paul’s missionary travels and gives an acute analysis of his theology. Indeed what is so impressive about this volume is Schnabel's commitment to the primacy of theology over and against the "can do" pragmatism that so often characterizes evangelical approaches to mission. It also struck me that while the writer takes account of the women who helped Paul in his evangelistic work, the leading figures in New Testament mission were men. The main method of mission was primarily the preaching of the gospel to all who would listen, which is a male task according to the New Testament. While women have done (and are doing) sterling work on the mission field, we need to pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up suitably gifted men to take the good news of Jesus to the nations.
Paul the Missionary should help to set the agenda for mission in the twenty-first century. It is a must for all who are involved in training people for the mission field, for would-be missionaries and for those already in the field. Pastors should read it too and be challenged by the writer's description of Paul's vision for church-based, Christ exalting evangelism and mission. Indeed all who want to get to grips with life and teaching of the great “apostle to the Gentiles” will benefit from this most helpful work.
* An edited version of this review will appear in Protestant Truth

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic book, it should be widely read ...

Lots of interesting sections on short term missions, paternalistic western missionary organisations and the homogenous unit principle.

Colin