Jonathan Y. TAN. Christian Mission Among the Peoples of Asia. New York: Orbis Books, 2014. pp. 242. $40.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-104-1. Reviewed by Jayne L. WILCOX, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141
How does the evangelistic impulse, central to the Christian mission, maintain a proper place in a dialogical theology of mission? Tan walks the reader through the challenges of doing mission in a pluri-religious and post-colonial Asian context. The reader discovers that in Christian mission the seemingly competing tasks to “promote the liberative and life-giving Good News of Jesus Christ” and to celebrate and embrace the rich diversity of ancient Asian religions are not mutually exclusive aims.
Building upon the mission theology of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), Tan develops a theology of mission that locates Christian witness among the Asian people rather than one imposed upon or imported, as in the approach of European colonial domination. Tan frames the first two chapters as an overview of the historical successes and failures of Christian mission in Asia. In chapter three, he describes the FABC’s mission theology through a presentation of the five-fold missiological framework of a dialogical model of mission for a pluri-religious Asian context. In chapter four, Tan constructs the heart of his theology of mission approach based on four theological propositions: 1) rejection of the sending-receiving model of mission for a model amenable to a World Christianity defined by the collaborative partnership of the global North and South in the mutual pursuit of Christian mission; 2) an orthodoxy of mission as the discernment of the missio dei, God’s already-present mission to see the reign of God realized in Asia, and to partner with God in that mission among the Asian people; 3) an orthopathos of mission as the cultivation of a spirit of empathy and solidarity with the Asian people in the same manner as Jesus who enters into the human experiences of the Samaritan woman; 4) an orthopraxis of mission as the practice of interreligious hospitality that intentionally fosters dialogue, relationality, reconciliation, and an openness to the gospel message of Christ’s redemption through the witness of a “lived Christianity.” In the final chapter, Tan suggests two practical scenarios for doing mission among Asian migrants and among Asian Millenials via social media.
Tan works from the assumptions of a contextual theologian seeking to develop a distinctly Asian approach to doing the task of Christian mission among the Asian people. He submits that a “witness of life” is a more amiable mechanism through which Asians can recognize, and potentially receive, the message of the gospel. The dialogical model remains the essential mode of evangelism, one that avoids the historical tactics of proselytizing while prioritizing a praxis of solidarity and witness with and among the people.
While Tan’s claim to a distinctively Asian approach is certainly valid, there is wider relevance in Tan’s theology of mission. A theology that takes into account human experience and heeds the particularities of a culture has contemporary implications. In presenting his theology of mission as a “new missiological template,” based on a contextual approach and as “a mission among the people,” his model has much to offer the Western Church in learning a new mode of Christian witness. Perhaps the most significant implication is exploring the feasibility of adopting Tan’s approach within the increasingly post-Christian pockets of North American culture.
Tan writes with an ecumenical style exemplar of his call for collaboration and partnership, not only across the lines of the global North and South but also in building inter-Christian alliances in the task of Christian mission.
The text is best suited for the student of missiology; however, those ministering in a post-Christian culture may find Tan’s work a valuable tool in learning a new approach of Christian proclamation through “dialogue and deeds.”