Mitzi J. BUDDE and Don THORSEN, editors. Unity in Mission: Theological Reflections on the Pilgrimage of Mission. New York: Paulist Press, 2013. pp. 345. $24.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8091-4830-1. Reviewed by Jeffrey KIRCH, C.PP.S. Saint Joseph’s College, Rensselaer, IN 47978
Unity in Mission is the fruit of a four year project on mission and ecumenism which was sponsored by the Faith and Order Commission. The Study Group was co-chaired by Mitzi Budde and Don Thorsen who served as the editors of the text. The text, part of the Faith & Order Commission Theological Series, primarily consists of papers presented during the project. The twenty chapters are grouped together according to topic such as: Foundations of Unity in Missions, Word and Sacrament, The Way of Reconciliation, Experiential Journeys of Mission, and Biblical Reflections.
The introduction serves as a summary of the four year project and presents the readers with the overarching theme of “journey/pilgrimage” which is woven throughout the chapters. The editors clearly state that “the book is a work of narrative theology, rather than analytical or systematic theology” (pg 3). The narrative quality in the book has both positive and negative aspects. Since each author approached their topic from distinctive vantage points, the reader is able to get a proverbial flavor of the multitude of ways which mission is concretized in various denominations. Yet, on the other hand, since each chapter was originally a stand-alone paper, the overall book can seem to be disjointed at times.
The first section of the book offers four chapters devoted to the Foundations of Unity in Mission. These provide the groundwork upon which the rest of the text rests. John T. Ford’s and Michael Kinnamon’s two chapters clearly present the theme of the book. Ford utilizes the Catholic devotion of the via crucis and las posadas as a model of envisioning the pilgrimage of ecumenism. Kinnamon’s chapter zeros in on mission and scripture. He outlines how the Lausanne Continuation Committee and the World Council of Churches represent two distinctive approaches on the authority of Scripture and he calls for a better scriptural exegesis in the ecumenical movement.
The second section is devoted to Word and Sacrament. The three short chapters offer a vision of proclamation, baptism, and eucharist through the lens of mission. Each shows how vital the concept of mission is to an ecumenical understanding of the sacraments. The third section grapples with areas of the Christian Church’s history that are in need of reconciliation. Matthew Lundberg’s chapter is especially informative in its presentation of the scope of the wounds inflicted by Christians in the name of mission. From the Spanish conquest of Latin America, to the treatment of Native Americans, and back to the intra-protestant conflicts in Europe, he offers a cogent argument for the inclusion of reconciliation in missiology.
The fourth section, Experiential Journeys of Mission, consists of five chapters which are the most characteristic of narrative theology. These chapters range from a reflection from the Christian Scientist’s perspective to an Asian-American reflection on ethnicity and gender. All of them demonstrate how contextual both ecumenism and mission are. Finally, the last section is devoted to Biblical Reflections. Don Thorsen’s chapter on Matthew 28 and Luke 4 is a concise presentation of how Christians have reflected on Jesus‘ understanding of his mission.
The last chapter by John Ford seems out of place in the scripture section. It serves well as a conclusion to the text in that he pulls together the different strands of mission, ecumenism, and journey that have been woven throughout the nineteen other chapters. Ford recognizes three different “ecclesial identities” in the 21st century: recapitulative (beliefs influenced and formed before the Age of Enlightenment), reformulative (influenced by the Enlightenment), and reinvigorative (searching for a new way to be Christian) and argues that the concept of mission resonates with all three ecclesial identities and therefore has potential for the furthering of ecumenism.
The issues of mission and ecumenism are of great importance in the Christian Church today and this text contributes to the ongoing conversation. It would be of use especially to those studying the intersection of missology and ecumenism. The wide representation of denominations and the narrative theology contained in the text make this text unique and informative.