Missions: Biblical Foundations & Contemporary Strategies

Gailyn Van Rheenen has written a tremendous college level book on missions. Paul Hiebert writes in the Foreword:

Van Rheenen lays a solid theological foundations for our call and motivation to mission, then gives us a brief overview of missionary life. He then deals with the critical issues that confront all those in intercultural ministries, such as identifying with the people, learning new languages and cultures, dealing with feelings of superiority, communicating cross-culturally without distorting the Gospel, and strategizing for planting living reproducing churches.[1]

I liked everything Van Rheenen wrote in this book, especially his section, “The Holy Spirit: The Power of Mission”:

The Holy Spirit is the power driving forward the mission of God. It is certainly true that God’s mission is not simply an enterprise of the Church. It is a work of the Spirit who goes ahead of the Church, touches the Roman soldier Cornelius and his household, prepares them for the message, and teaches [Peter and] the Church a new lesson about the scope of God’s grace.[2]

The author notes that churches seem to have many nominal Christians on membership rolls. Van Rheenen writes, “The church today frequently loses its identity as God’s distinct people. Instead of permeating the world with its eternal message, the church is being permeated by the world.”[3]

The E-Scale (Evangelism Scale). It is good to see Van Rheenen’s use of Ralph D. Winter’s E-Scale (Evangelism Scale), though an image would have shown the reader at a glance what Van Rheenen needs two pages to explain. Van Rheenen is able to teach the E-Scale from the perspective of the Kipsigis people of Kenya, among whom he resided for 14 years as a missionary. The Kipsigis are 97% Christian. Thus, their E-0 mission is extensive among nominal Kipsigis church members. Their mission to non-Christian Kipsigis (E-1) is almost non-existent. As to E-2 and E-3 Van Rheenen explains:

Although the Kipsigis are geographical neighbors of the Kisii, Lui and Masai of Kenya, they are ill-equipped to teach them the gospel. Incessant tribal feuds and cattle raids have created such animosities that most Kisii, Luo, and Masai would not accept a Kipsigis evangelist in their midst. American missionaries as E-3 evangelists are more effective than Kipsigis as E-2 evangelists.[4]

Culture Shock. Nearly all mission topics are covered in Van Rheenen’s book, including culture shock. Moving from one culture to another makes a person dizzy; he or she no longer knows how to act appropriately in social situations. No matter how broadminded or full of goodwill you may be, when the props are knocked from under you, it is normal to feel frustration and anxiety.[5] The Honeymoon stage gives way to the Rejection stage indicated by the colored stripe, and then to Adjustment and Biculturalism or, unfortunately, Withdrawal.

Studying the New Testament to Understand Cross-Cultural Mission. It is wonderful to read Van Rheenen’s use of the New Testament to understand the apostle Paul’s principle of accommodation in his mission to non-Christian peoples. Gentile believers did not need to adopt the Jewish religious practices. Paul protects this “freedom” in Galatians 2. Jews held that God would accept the Gentiles after they accepted the Jewish dietary restrictions and submitted to the rite of circumcision. Paul appealed to Abraham in these matters: “He is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised in order that righteousness might be credited to them.” Van Rheenen explains this issue from the texts found in Acts 10, Acts 15, and Acts 21:17-26. Van Rheenen is right to warn the missionary away from extracting new converts from their cultures.

Van Rheenen’s book suffers from one omission. As it is a book on the Biblical Foundations of Missions, he could have and should have introduced the reader to the biblical basis of “the two structures of God’s redemptive mission.” It has become clear, to me at least, that there are two New Testament structures of Christian mission, the second being the Jewish missionary bands, hevurot. The pairing of these two—synagogue and hevrah—enables us to understand John the Baptist and his disciples, Jesus Christ and his twelve, Paul and Barnabas and their missionary bands, as well as Prisca and Aquila and all who follow their path.

Van Rheenen was a missionary working alongside an African church, but not so long ago pioneering missionaries arrived among the Kipsigis. Van Rheenen wrote that the Kipsigis give no thought to evangelizing the unreached peoples in their area; shall pioneering missionary work in Africa be left to the white missionaries at this late date in history? The mission structure, adapted to the African situation, will be the means by which the Kipsigis bring the gospel to their neighbors. The uncovering of what is “really there” in the New Testament and in history will have no small effect on missionary efforts among unreached peoples in our day.

Van Rheenen, Gailyn. Missions: Biblical Foundations & Contemporary Strategies. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1996.

[1] Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations & Contemporary Strategies (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1996).

[2] Ibid. 27-28

[3] Ibid. 30

[4] Ibid. 85

[5] Ibid. 86