Dale T. IRVIN and Peter C. PHAN, eds. Christian Mission, Contextual Theology, Prophetic Dialogue. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018. Pp. 293+xxiv. $40.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-299-4.Reviewed by Reid B. LOCKLIN, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, 81 St. Mary St., Toronto, ON CANADA M5S1J4.

 In the introduction of this volume, co-editor Peter C. Phan notes that its goal is twofold.  First, it is a Festschrift, a celebration of the life and scholarly legacy of the missiologist Steven B. Bevans, SVD. However, since the destiny of most such works is “to gather dust on library shelves,” a decision was taken by the press and editors to produce “a textbook for widespread use by theology students as well as general readers” (xvii). The result, ironically, falls short as auniversity textbook, but succeeds better than most Festschriften in celebrating and bringing forward its subject’s legacy.

The work is divided into three major sections, which correspond to major works in Bevans’oeuvre, specifically: his co-authored history of Christian mission, Constants in Context (Orbis, 2004); what may be his most influential book, Models of Contextual Theology (Orbis, 1992, 2002); and his Prophetic Dialogue (Orbis, 2011), co-authored with Constants collaborator Roger P. Schroeder.Thus, the first section—“Christian Mission”—includes essays surveying the missiology of the Book of Revelation by vanThanh Nguyen and major developments in Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Pentecostal theological traditions by Roger Schroeder, Athanasios N. Papathanasiou, co-editor Dale T. Irvin and Veli-MattiKärkkäinen, respectively. The second section, on “Contextual Theology,” features broad overviews by Robert Schreiter and Thomas F. O’Meara, a particularly welcome historical account of Christian theology, slavery and race discrimination in North America by Leo D. Lefebure, and an overview of global currents in constructive theology by co-editor Peter C. Phan. The final section on “Prophetic Dialogue” features essays on liberation theology by Gemma Tulud Cruz, contextual theology and culture by José M. de Mesa, interreligious theology by Anh Q. Tran, and ecclesiology by Carolyn Chau. An autobiographical essay by Bevans, originally presented at a 2017 meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America, concludes the volume.

The essays are of high quality—remarkably high quality, in most cases—but they become steadily less coherent with the three major organizing themes as the volume progresses. For example, Chau offers a beautiful theological reflection on the four marks of the church, in historical perspective and in contemporary practice, but its connection to “prophetic dialogue” as a distinct missiological approach is not clear, at least to this reader. Similarly, José de Mesa’s chapter provides a lucid analysis of changing ecclesial attitudes toward culture and inculturation that would seem to belong most naturally in section II. The historical surveys in section I, by contrast, are highly coherent and provide invaluable background and bibliography. The decision to dedicate full chapters to both Orthodox and Pentecostal theologies of mission considerably strengthens the work. Essays by Schreiter, Phan, Lefebure, de Mesa and Tran are similarly comprehensive and work well as general introductions to their respective topics, accessible to a wide readership—an achievement made all the more impressive by these authors’ stature as contextual theologians in their own right. Gemma Cruz’s treatment of liberation theology under the rubric of “rupture” and “ruptures within the rupture” (178) is particularly illuminating, insofar as she treats the movement less in terms of its supporters and critics (though these are duly noted) than in terms of its continuing, disruptive power as a catalyst of theological development in global Christianity.

One attractive feature of Christian Mission is that nearly every chapter engages Bevans’ scholarship directly, in the context of the essay topic. In my experience, this is rare even in many standard Festschriften. At the same time, it also highlights the difficulty of creating a Festschrift that can also serve as “a textbook for widespread use by theology students.” Unlike many of Bevans’ own books, which could be—and, I’m sure, have been—adopted as core texts in courses in Christian missiology, world Christian history, contextual theology and introduction to theology, this work would seem to posit the various themes of Bevans’ rich, organically meandering scholarly career as the imagined curriculum. What possible course would cover most or all of these topics? Thus, though I can imagine most individual chapters in various course readers (I am already plotting), the same cannot be said of the work as a whole. It might be better conceived as a handbook in this respect, rather than a textbook.

This is a rather fine distinction, which should not detract from this fine collection of essays. It belongs on the shelf of any theological library, and of all of us who write or teach in the areas of missiology and world Christianity. The book is highly unlikely, in my estimation, to gather much dust.