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A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF MISSIONS

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A Book Review

Presented to

Dr. Dean Sieberhagen

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for MISSN 3363-B

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by

Jeffrey A. Manning

March 29. 2013


A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF MISSIONS

Probably no specifically missionary book has ever undertaken as profound

and comprehensive a treatment of the subject as this one, said J.F. Shepherd of George

W. Peters book A Biblical Theology of Missions. This is fascinating for a couple of

reasons. First, given the fact that the book was published in 1972, his statement means

that others before it in all of Christian history were not as comprehensive as his. Second,

it is significant even during Peters own time because of his stance as a conservative

evangelical during the battles concerning the centrality and authority of the Bible.

Speaking from his tenured experience as a teacher of theology and missions, this book is

his comprehensive attempt to show that the Bible is a record of theology in mission

God in action on behalf of salvation of mankind. (9)

Summary

The book itself is divided into three major sections encompassing eight chapters.

The first section, Biblical Foundation of Missions, discusses the missionary theology

and (1) Jesus Christ, (2) the Nature of God, (3) the Old Testament, and (4) the New

Testament. The first of these sections (Jesus Christ) is a key to understanding the rest of

what he writes because he believes that Christianity is Christocentric. (35) It is all

about Jesus. In this sense, Peters is arguing more from a systematic standpoint rather than

a biblical-theological one. This is interesting given the title of the book. If he had done

the latter he would have reversed the order and began with the Old Testament. His

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purpose is to make Jesus both the example and focal point of the missionary task. Peters

makes the case in the next section that there is theocentricity in missions rather than one

that is about man, the world, or the church. He says, the glory of God forms the

highest goal of missions because the being and character of God are the deepest of

missions(57)

Peters lays the remaining foundation for this section by developing the biblical

case for missions found in the Old and New Testaments. To this he begins by

highlighting the Protoevangelium found in Genesis 3:15, the Noachian covenant, and the

national religion of Israel. This is an attempt at surveying the Old Testament in hopes of

answering the question of whether Jesus found substantiation for a missionary thrust in

the Old Testament. Peters believes that He did since Jesus continually spoke of Himself

as being a fulfillment of Old Testament promises. A significant portion of this section is

spent on explaining the national religion of Israel. It is with Israel that Peters believes that

God expresses His particularity for a people but for a universal promise (89).

Continuing on, Peters hold that the New Testament can simply speak for itself.

To establish the theology of missions in the New Testament one simply accepts the New

Testament for what it is, he writes (131). He focuses on the underlying theological

concepts found in the activities of the Twelve Disciples and also of Paul. Primarily,

Peters continues the concept of the universality of Gods promise. He feels strongly that

anything other than this ideal is a fabrication and not found in Scripture (148).

Part two begins with the missionary task and ends with the church and its mission.

Under subheadings, Peters says that the missionary task is spiritual, biblical, one of faith,

and one of human tasks. This is wrapped up in a two-fold mandate that is delineated by
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God to man. The first is of Adam as a representative of the race and the second is of the

apostles as representatives of the church of Jesus Christ. Peters tends to use successive

lists and for Israels mandate he says that theirs is evangelization, discipleship training,

church planting, church care, and benevolent ministries. He makes a note that they are to

be concerned with the whole man but that the mandate is primarily spiritual. It may be

that his distinction is too separated. He goes on at length to discuss the Great Commission

but makes it clear, as he did in the beginning, that the Commission itself is not the

foundation of missions. The Bible is.

In the second portion of the second section, Peters deals with the church and its

mission. Being from a Mennonite background, he shows his view of the church to be that

of an Anabaptist. It is very much that of a New Testament church, not being so much

institutional but more as a living being. His assessment is one that points to the practical

tasks of the church from biblical exegesis as well as a historical analysis to show how

these tasks have been transmitted throughout the history of the church.

Part three, the instruments and dynamics of missions, is Peters discussion over

how the task of the missionary is carried out to the nations. To this point, he has

identified a lot of principles and definitions. He continues this trend in this chapter but it

is over the specific offices and ministries that God has given such as apostles,

missionaries, pastor-teachers, and evangelist. They are to all have the ministry of the

Word as well as one of hard work, facing the challenges of ministry.

Lastly, in a more theological section, he attempts to ground missions in Pentecost

and the work of the Holy Spirit. Fleshing it out in more practical terms, Peters considers

the implications of the Gospel. This includes the difficulties of mans sin and opposing,
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non-Christian religions. He gives an urgent appeal to proclaim this Gospel calling it an

emergency (328). The believer is to be guided by prayer to God, showing full

submission to him.

Critical Evaluation

Positively, it can be said that this text is one of the most comprehensive text solely

on the biblical theology of missions. Peters began as Christopher Wright did in his book

The Mission of God, making the case that the Bible is not just theology but a recording of

theology on mission. He clearly believes the Bible to be authoritative and Jesus to be the

centerpiece of mission theology. In many ways, Peters shows his cards as a conservative

evangelical who believes the mission of God to be more about the spiritual man than the

physical, although he holds up both. Through and through, he tries to uphold many of the

biblical themes in unity, providing many kinds of list from the biblical text as well as

practical applications that are easy to remember and readily available for the reader to

access.

Negatively, there were a few points or themes that Peters seemed to lean to

heavily upon. First, it seemed at times that the book was driven more by his

dispensational theology. He did not state it upfront but it was clear which theological

system he claimed. Although not a problem in itself, it just seemed to come through the

text more than expected such as his use of words like dispensation, epochs, and even his

discussion on a national Israel. Probably revealing it even more is the background from

which he comes from as a Mennonite as well as the more lengthy comments on the faults

of those involved in the Reformation concerning the atonement and missions. Secondly,

in a similar vein of thought, Peters actually revealed in some of his own critiques some
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contentions with certain positions and then a lacking in areas that seemed to need more.

Peters expresses in the Preface that this book is not a polemic but an exposition (10). Yet,

one finds the writer contending with differing positions concerning doctrines. It does not

seem possible to have a comprehensive text without engaging various kinds of

difficulties. Therefore, it seems unnecessary to mention otherwise that it is not the

intended purpose of the text. More specifically, it may be more helpful to contend with

those positions that are further outside of a conservative evangelical position. Peters later

discussion on non-Christian religions comes at a very late point and seems somewhat

meager.

Conclusion

All in all, this is a great text. Even as a text written in the 1970s, A Biblical

Theology of Missions is one that still applies greatly to today, mainly because Christians

still face very similar problems concerning missions. Many have relied too heavily on a

subculture Christianity understanding of missions rather than a biblical-theological one.

Concerning the transmission of a high view of Scripture, one can be thankful for Peters

text due to the battles over inerrancy for many during this period. Even more so, the

effect that the doctrine of the Word of God would have had on the state of missions if

those like Peters had not stood strongly against the tides of liberalism. A great strength of

this text is that it puts the biblical text at the forefront where Jesus can shine and where

the pastor, missionary, or otherwise layman in the church can understand the mission of

God comprehensively and practically.