“A Concise History of the Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View of Missions from Pentecost to the Present”, A Critical Analysis

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J. Herbert Kane’s A Concise History of the Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View of Missions from Pentecost to the Present fills a gap in the Christian world mission compendium. As beneficial as this work is, it should be noted that its purpose is not to serve as an in-depth tome of history, but instead, it is a brief overview to support “Dr. Howard’s opinion that all committed Christians should have a working knowledge of the Christian world mission.”[1] Many Christians are very busy, so in taking Dr. Howard’s suggestion to heart, Kane has produced a work to educate Christians without burdening them with a work that is too weighty. The beauty of this text is that it stokes interest in the reader and provides a jumping-off point for further research.

Summary

If one were to ask a Christian what the Great Commission is, the vast majority would be able to recite, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28-19-20). The problem is that many Christians will not be able to tell you what the Christian world missions have done in the past and how missions shall look in the future. By the command of the Great Commission, the church is charged to go forth into the world to spread the gospel so that all shall know God and the salvation that is offered through the resurrecting power found in Jesus Christ. Still, many Christians will argue for an isolationist model that focuses on missions domestically instead of internationally. While domestic missions are needed, these alone do not fulfill the command to make disciples of all nations.

Kane discusses the growth of Christianity throughout the world, first focusing upon the state of the church in the Roman Empire and the effects of the church upon the Greek culture of the day. And while the church did affect society, Kane notably points out that, “The gospel is first personal, then social.”[2] Christianity is not designed to change society first, such that people come to faith, but it is to change the individual through their faith. Societal change is merely a byproduct of those that have been transformed by the power of the gospel. Such a design for spreading the Truth is found in Jesus’ ministry. It was through a small group of disciples that the gospel spread forth into the world. Jesus did not focus on changing society but on the people within the society.[3]

Kane then moves into giving a brief history of the spread of Christianity throughout the world, discussing the regional histories and challenges. While the majority of the text is dedicated to this section, the overview is certainly only an overview. While some people desire more in-depth historical coverage, Kane remains true to the purpose of his work as not to over-burden the reader in this endeavor. Instead, the reader is left with a desire to dive into the more extensive works to learn even more about the Christian world mission.

One of the most notable subjects readers will discover is how differently missions occurred throughout the world. While much of the mission to the East acted independently, the missions of the West and the “New World” were heavily controlled by the Roman Catholic church. Modern scholarship is proving how early Christianity spread Eastward and how heavily self-sufficient the church became without support from the West. It is because of the strong local churches of the East that Christianity continues into the present despite numerous challenges throughout the ages. In contrast, the Western and “New World” missions were heavily supported by the Roman Catholic church and often tied to politics between nations.

While the Roman Catholic church made multiple attempts at mission work in the East, the western influence was not accepted positively, causing them to be expelled multiple times. One can argue that the Western church had little effect in the East, and it was the early independent missions to the East that truly created the lasting impact there. As time passed, the emergence of the Reformation movement removed the monopoly of Roman Catholicism in the West.[4] From then on, much of the missions work resembles a competition between Protestantism vs. Roman Catholicism on a world stage.

Critical Analysis

Keeping in mind the purpose of the text, it is difficult to find an issue with Kane’s choices of focus. While one can argue that more information may be desired for each region’s missions history. Unfortunately, I believe that would invalidate the purpose of the word, as suggested by Dr. Howard. Instead, the work has accomplished what was intended—I am now motivated to look more deeply into different subjects regarding Christian world missions.

If there was one subject that deserves further elaboration, Kane needs to provide further information on the spread of Christianity in the East. While there is good coverage of the missions attempted by the Roman Catholic church, it fails to provide further information on the early work by the Nestorians that already existed well before these. With the greater information that is now known about this early church of the East, one can argue Kane wrote from a very Western-centric point of view. Further, recognition of the many failures of the Roman Catholic missions in the East points toward a strong Eastern church that is the true reason for Christianity surviving from the early days of the church until the present. Coverage of these facts is essential to Eastern history, yet little ink is dedicated to such discussion. I do not charge Kane with purposefully writing from a Western point of view, but it is likely a result of lacking awareness due to the limited discussion between the Western and Eastern churches. Today much more is known, and a revision of this text is justified.

Overall, this is a wonderful book that Christians of all levels may benefit. It is neither too weighty that only seminarians and theologians benefit, nor is it too bare to bore the most well-read of Christians. Despite being sparse in the early Eastern church’s history, the overall overview provides a framework that facilitates future research. For that reason, it is of great benefit to all in reading this work.

Reference:

Kane, J. Herbert. A Concise History of the Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View of Missions from Pentecost to the Present. Revised Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982.


[1] Herbert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View of Missions from Pentecost to the Present, Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), v.

[2] Ibid., 20.

[3] Ibid., 20-21.

[4] Ibid., 57.

Gordon Bland

I am a seminary student working toward my M.Div. While I grew up Pentecostal, within my first semester of seminary, I came to a different understanding of the Word and theology. I am now Reformed Baptist. #1689 I love teaching others about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, for it was Christ that transformed me. For a number of years, I was a militant atheist and substance abuser. If God can change me, I know he can do the same for you! I am but a wretch, yet He still chose to give me grace. He truly is amazing and deserves all our praise!