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Vital Lessons from the Missionary Past

Nourishing Mission
Theological Settings
By Graham Kings
Brill, 2022. Pp. 319, $64.

Review by George Sumner

Graham Kings’s Nourishing Mission: Theological Settings is a collection of his essays over 40 years of cross-cultural ministry. Home base for him was the spiritual and practical world of the Church Missionary Society. Most of the parts of our Communion which have grown dramatically were originally evangelized by the CMS, though the actual, on-the-ground work depended on the early generations of local catechists they trained.

After the Second World War, a new cohort of missionaries, no less evangelical, looked for a new kind of engagement with the cultures to which they were sent. They are sometimes called the missiologists of “presence,” and they included the general secretary Max Warren, John V. Taylor in Uganda, and Kenneth Cragg (though not officially CMS) in the Middle East. They thought of dialogue as a component of witness, and sought to bring their scholarly interests as historians to bear on their mission field. (These were of the same generation of such pioneering mission historians as Sundkler and Walls, who served to redraw and widen the map of the Christian world, as Kings points out in his final essay.)

As missiologists they were influenced politically by the goal of ending colonialism, by the ecumenical witness of Lesslie Newbigin, and by the missiological “holism” (uniting social witness and evangelism) of John Stott. Theirs was an era where themes like “the mission of God” and “inculturation” came into vogue. Together they represented a kind of engaged, attentive Anglican evangelicalism. (It is worth noting that Kings shows how much these themes came to be shared with Roman Catholics as well.)

Kings is exemplary of a second generation which took many of these emphases as givens. The essays in this book are together an articulate example of Anglican missiology in the last quarter of the 20th century — a missiology in the tradition of a globally diverse research project with a coherent set of assumptions and a lively community of debate growing out of a common history and practice. One can see this in a number of his sections: “Bible, Tradition, and African Traditional Religion,” “Kenyan Church-State Relations and the Bible,” and especially “Mission and the Meeting of Faiths: Max Warren and John V. Taylor.”

To read Graham Kings is to realize how far we have moved over the subsequent generation. With the emphasis on post-colonial analysis, the political and evangelistic come unbraided. In the wake of the great rending of global Anglicanism in the early part of the 21st century, questions about ecclesiology, communion, and Anglican identity are decoupled from missiology per se. And, understandably, organizations like CMS have struggled to grasp their vocation in changed circumstances. All this makes listening to Kings yet more important, so as once more to engage that coherent Anglican missiological tradition within which he thinks.

Stephen Neill once said that the situation of Christianity in the Global South, often compared to the early Church, was more like the medieval West. Whether or not that was true in his time, we might to the contrary argue, that in our time we are all in circumstances akin to the first centuries, though in different ways. We in the North are once again a non-establishment minority, difficult though this may be to admit to ourselves. There the lure of Gnosticism is not unknown. Meanwhile in many parts of the Global South vigorous Anglican Churches find themselves having to make their way alongside other religious traditions.

In this light, Kings’s frequent allusion, explicit or implied, to the early theologies of the Logos is significant. As with his intellectual mentor Max Warren of the CMS, this must not be mistaken for a facile pluralism (one must pair the comprehensive vision of a Justin or a Gregory Nazianzen with a stringent catechetical regimen), but rather a desire to articulate a Christology as vast as that found, for example, in Ephesians 1. Both continuity and discontinuity are found in the encounter of the gospel with the culture in relation to the Word. What this retrieval of a patristic vision and order could actually look like in our straitened times is the pressing ecclesiological question up ahead.

As I conclude, allow me a moment of personal privilege. After all, in so many ways Kings’s biography parallels my own: At first a missionary in up-country, CMS-influenced East Africa, then repairing to academia, there to write a missional account of interfaith encounter, then on to the parish, and finally to minister as a bishop: for all that I have a great deal of sympathy! Nourishing Mission is like the Kenyan mash-up dish mataha, a flavorful mix of the personal reminiscence, missiology, and exegesis. Kings makes the point along the way that the interpersonal and the theological cannot, and should not, be separated in the reflections of a missionary. As with Coggan’s account of the preacher, the missionary’s calling is mediated through a personality. And this brings me, third and finally, to the importance, at least in Kings’s and my generation, of those who had previously ministered cross-culturally in the Global South. They were a leaven to the clergy ranks in the North. That such a calling back home is now rare is an issue for which there is not a ready solution. But at least we can slow ourselves in this frantic time of ours sufficiently to sit and listen to Kings’s memories, as one might gather in an evening circle in East Africa around one’s mjomba (uncle).


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