Keene’s Review: Challenging Western Christians and Their Neighbours

Keene’s Review

Challenging Western Christians and their Neighbours

Steven Paas

Resource Publications (Wipf and Stock), 2020 (ISBN: 9781725275843, 106pp, £14.30)

The author of this short book rightly focuses on Christ’s great commission as the governing text and authority for Christian mission. A touching introduction roots the author’s own appreciation of this mandate in a childhood exhortation from his grandfather. Despite this homely opening vignette, the rest of the book maintains a rather less applied air, largely devoid of either personal illustration or practical direction. As such, it doesn’t quite seem to know what manner of creature it intends to be – insufficiently detailed to be an academic consideration of missiology, insufficiently applied to be a pastoral manual. Paas writes from a Dutch Reformed context; indeed, all his endorsements are from within this ecclesial world. As such, there may be some insights ‘lost in translation’ – the title, in particular, seems to only half make sense. 

Most readers of this paper will sympathise with and support Paas’ theological approach. As well as the great commission, he also draws heavily on the progression of events in the Acts of the Apostles, from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the world. This progress is read as a pattern for modern Christians to begin ‘at Jerusalem’ – i.e. with neighbours at home, rather than to consider mission as something that happens ‘over there’ out in far-flung lands, at the hands of specialised workers. True though this may be, it is not a novel insight and feels more suited to a church emerging from ‘Christendom’ two generations ago than for one which has been well settled into post-Christendom for quite some time. Even in the Church of England, at an institutional level, there has been recognition of our new paradigm for decades, with Diocesan Directors of Mission since the 1980s, parish Mission Action Plans since the 1990s, and the Archbishops’ College of Evangelists since 1999.

Although Paas does parse the concepts of ‘make disciples’ and ‘teach’ from the great commission, his explanation of what carrying out these actions actually looks like in practise is woefully absent. We can endorse the author’s desire to see believers ‘testify to our Lord in words and deeds’, but insofar as the book is intended as a practical ‘challenge’, it would be worthwhile to have some actual scenarios or examples of such testimony. Likewise, the author celebrates ‘cultural hooks’ remaining from a more Christianised past, but goes not further in exploring what such hooks look like or how to use them in practice. As such, the whole book feels slightly surreal and deeply frustrating – theologically correct, but trapped in an abstract world of pure theory. 

To his credit, Paas does consider a few objections to engagement in mission. Nonetheless, the treatment of these objections itself is lop-sided at best. A whole chapter is devoted to addressing hyper-Calvinism, whilst only a few passing lines consider universalism. The former of these may be a much more significant phenomenon in Holland than in England (where it is virtually non-existent), but even so it seems unlikely to be nearly as problematic a factor for the modern ordinary Christian as the latter. 

Paas is absolutely right to ‘challenge’ western Christians to heed the great commission and get going with it among their own neighbours. Certainly in an anglophone context however, this is unlikely to be the best book by which to do so.

Edward Keene, Little Shelford