A Feature Review of
Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours
Robert L. Plummer & John Mark Terry, editors
Reviewed by Chris Schoon
There are two temptations when engaging works from a previous generation. The first is a persnickety tendency to elevate the perspectives of those with whom we resonate in a way that prevents us from seeing where their contributions leave room for further development. At the same time, we also face the temptation of a naïve ahistorical hubris that blindly critiques our predecessors for failing to fully conform to our common sensibilities. Such are the dual challenges faced by Plummer and Terry in Paul’s Missionary Methods, which celebrates, extends, and deepens conversations initiated by Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods 100 years ago.
For the past century, Allen’s Missionary Methods has served as one of the central introductory textbooks for exploring a biblical model of mission, catalyzing a wide range of New Testament studies and contextualized mission conversations in the process. Allen’s reflections have empowered several generations of New Testament scholars, missiologists, and practicing missionaries to take not only the words of the gospel seriously but also to carefully consider the manner in which the Apostle Paul carried out his calling. Drawing together a strong cohort of evangelical scholars and practitioners, Plummer and Terry’s editorial work reasserts Allen’s argument for seeing Paul as the “exemplary model not for us to blindly follow, but to appropriate and replicate intelligently.”(28)
Plummer and Terry have honored Allen’s vision by digging more deeply into both Paul’s story in the New Testament context and the influence of Paul’s methods on mission theology and practice. The contributions they have gathered in both parts encourage a renewed engagement with the mission themes introduced in Allen’s work.
When looking at Paul in the New Testament, the authors add both depth and breadth to Allen’s initial reflections. This section begins with Bird’s engagement of “Paul’s Religious and Historical Milieu,” in which he, like Allen, reasserts Kahler’s contention that mission is the “mother of all theology.” Bird draws a great deal of attention to the geographical, Greco-Roman, and Jewish contexts of Paul’s mission, contending for a consistency in Paul’s methodology that allowed him to contextually engage all three environments. Bird concludes that the challenge of the church today is to replicate – not reinvent – Paul’s missionary methodology. This conclusion serves as the dominant premise throughout the remainder of the book.
The other chapters in this first part seek expand the biblical understanding of Paul’s missionary efforts mentioned in Allen’s writing. For example, Schnabel’s fills a gap within Allen’s original work by focusing on Paul’s missionary identity, adding depth of research and reflection to Paul’s calling, motivation, and self-understanding of the missionary task. In similar fashion, Stenchke’s contribution (chapter 5, “Paul’s Mission as the Mission of the Church”) provides a supportive survey of resources surrounding whether Paul’s “converts became missionaries,” highlighting ways that Paul’s New Testament writings carry an unmistakeable missionary impulse through his call to ethical living, the inclusion of positive references to co-workers and other evangelists, invitations to provide financial support for his missionary trips, and, particularly, by Paul’s urging that the early churches imitate him.
The first part concludes with two strong chapters by Howell, Jr. (chapter 6) and Keener (chapter 7), who respectively offer well-articulated perspectives on the role of suffering and the presence of spiritual warfare within Paul’s ministry. Howell, Jr.’s commentary issues a challenging call to imitate Paul’s “cruciform pattern of proclaiming Jesus Christ,” noting how Paul viewed suffering as a friend on account of the refinement of his character and the hope for similar character growth among the early churches. In turn, Keener brings Allen’s writing into the context of contemporary conversations surrounding spiritual warfare. His extended reflection on Ephesians 6 is particularly insightful in this regard. Remaining rooted in scripture, Keener gently extends a balanced critique of both Western tendencies to dismiss the presence of spiritual powers and the propensity among some Christians to assume the hyper-activity and presence of demonic forces.