What constitutes mission within the life of the local church has gone through something of a renaissance over the last few years. Seeking to think about local and global spheres of ministry through the lens of mission has been helpful, but it has also brought some challenges. One example is this; just what do we mean when we talk about mission? This is the main thrust of what Stroope seeks to address in his provocative, yet well-reasoned assessment of the current situation in the discussion of mission.
The book follows a simple outline consisting of three main sections. Part one, justifying mission, sees Stroope tackling the inherent etymological challenges of the word itself. Mission does not find its origin in the bible and it is arguably not a good piece of terminology to quantify the totality of what the bible speaks about concerning God’s work in the world. It is helpful to pause and consider why we use particular terminology and for this Stroope deserves our commendation. From this platform Stroope then assesses how this language is employed by key exponents in the world of missiology. He identifies three groups; partisans, apologists and revisionists with each respective group using the mission language in different ways. As a result of this inconsistent usage, Stroope argues that coherent thinking is often replaced with clouded miscommunication. Again, these are important things to consider as we seek to engage the people of God in the work of his growing kingdom.
Stroope shifts focus in the second section of the book, innovating mission, to concentrate on how mission and missionary terminology became the language of common currency. To do this he highlights the spread of the Roman Catholic church across the world during the middle ages and suggests that it was with Ignatius Loyola that mission language begins to rise to prominence. Previously common descriptors such as pilgrim and witness no longer exist on their own; they become subsumed into the rhetoric of Christendom’s political and territorial advance.
In the books final section, revising mission, Stroope argues that the protestant mission movement simply adopts the language created in the Roman Catholic church and, along with it, similar structures. He rightly notes that this takes place at a much later time given the challenges which faced the reformers. Nonetheless, the language of mission is embraced, and in time is rejuvenated to provide a framework which would form the protestant concept of global gospel proclamation during the period of colonialism. As with many others, Stroope emphasises the importance of the 1910 Edinburgh World Mission Conference and suggests that this is the place where we see most clearly the culmination of mission terminology in service to the structures and practices of the modern mission movement.
Drawing his thinking to a close, Stroope suggests that change in our terminology needs to take place in order to better communicate what God is doing in the world and how the people of God participate in this divine initiative. Simply put, what we believe and the terms we employ to express those beliefs will mould our praxis. To that end he proposes recapturing the sense of being pilgrim witnesses of the kingdom of God.
There is much to commend in this book and Stroope has handled a difficult and emotive subject with great tact. One area which seems to undermine the new way proposed by Stroope is his original argument. If mission is not to be used because it is being imposed on the biblical texts rather than flowing from them, then pilgrim language is not a solution as it also falls into this category. Alongside this, it is easy to caricature the masses during the modern mission movement with a broad brush. However, this does not do justice to those who strove to be contextually appropriate in their life and communication of the gospel in the midst of the colonial period.
Despite this flaw in the conclusion, transcending mission is an important book and will prove to make a lasting contribution to the discussion of mission practice and conceptualisation into the coming decades as the global church seeks to communicate the good news of Jesus in all its fullness.
This review was originally published in the SBET 36/2 Autumn 2018.