Robert L. GALLAGHER and Paul HERTIG, editors. Contemporary Mission Theology. Engaging the Nations: Essays in Honor of Charles E. Van Engen. American Society of Missiology Series, No. 53. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017. Pp. xxxi + 307. $42.00, paperback, ISBN 978-1-62698-211-6. Reviewed by John T. FORD, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064.


This Festschrift honors Charles Van Engen, a professor in the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. The preliminary material includes: two prefaces, a foreword, an introduction, an identification-list of contributors, a short biography of the honoree, and two excellent essays: the first: “The Emergence of Mission Theology” (Jan Jongeneel); the second: an exploration of the implications of “A New Missionary Age” (Gerald Anderson). The bulk of the volume (pages 25-288) consists of twenty-four essays—each of eight to twelve pages in length and sorted into eight “parts” that relate “Mission Theology” to: [1] the Bible; [2] “Church Beliefs”; [3] Context; [4] the Church; [5] Church History; [6] Religious Pluralism; [7] Modernity and Postmodernity; [8] Ministry Formation. The volume concludes with Van Engen’s insightful summary: “Seeking Ways Forward in Mission Theology” (289-296).

As is the case with most collections, the quality of these studies is varied—fortunately all are interesting and well-written; some are especially insightful. On the list of essays that this reviewer found particularly informative: J. Andrew Kirk’s discussion of the history of “Missionary Theology” (68-79); Robert L. Gallagher’s “Engaging Luke’s Narrative Soteriology of the Nations” (193-202) in tandem with vanThanh Nguyen’s discussion of the “Missionary Churches in Acts” (135); the topic of religious pluralism as discussed theologically by Jerald Gort, “Interreligious Dialogue and Convivence” (214-225) and described practically in the case study of Sarita D. Gallagher, “Interfaith Education and the Missio Dei” (201-213).

  On the whole, this volume is valuable in three respects: first, the historical data about the emergence of “Mission Theology”—rather anomalously, even though the “Great Commission” (Mt. 28:16-20) is fundamental to Christianity, academicians have been, and sometimes still are, remiss in formulating a comprehensive theology of mission for guiding and assessing missionary endeavors. Second are the frequent reminders that the context and consequently the approach to mission has radically changed from the 19th century when missionaries from the northern hemisphere went abroad to convert “pagans” in “foreign lands” with the hope of evangelizing the whole world in their generation; today in contrast, “mission” is bidirectional: there is need to re-evangelize once-Christian countries; anomalously, some of the missionaries undertaking this “new evangelization” are from the “Third World.” Third, there is need for re-conceptualizing and revising mission approaches for the future; such a task, which is both theoretical and ministerial, needs to take into consideration the facts of both religious pluralism and technologically-based secularism that are now practically world-wide.  

            In sum, this collection of essays provides a beneficial panorama of “mission theology” and could well be used as a text for courses not only in “missiology” but also in ecclesiology and ecumenism.