Book Review: Missionary Methods

Missionary Methods:  God’s Plans For Missions According To Paul, by Roland Allen

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

When this volume appeared rather unexpectedly on my doorstep, it did not take too long to place (thanks to what it says on the cover) that this volume was part of the publisher’s ongoing series of reprints of Christian classics [1].  And, to be sure, the subject matter of this book is one that I have a great deal of interest in given my own experience as a missionary abroad [2].  Nevertheless, although there is much of interest in this book and much that is worthy of application, the author’s attempts to use Paul’s own experience as a model for his own manage to fall short for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that the author misrepresents the view of Paul concerning the biblical corpus of law, and so the author’s antinomian take on Paul’s theology, a fairly common mistake among many Protestant writers, leads to all kinds of mistaken conclusions which in the eyes of some readers who know better would discredit the author’s genuine insights about avoiding authoritarianism in the setting up of local congregations in other parts of the world.  The weaknesses of the author’s understanding work against the acceptance of his accurate insights to those who are not prone to agreeing with the author at least in part already.

The book itself is immensely cleverly organized.  In each of the parts of this book the author opens with a small set of very large questions and then proceeds to answer them over the course of the chapters in that part.  After an introduction to the second edition of the book (from 1927) and a short introduction, the first part of the book, for example, answers questions about Paul’s use of strategic points to spread the gospel, the question of what class of people Paul was primarily dealing with, and the moral and social condition of the commonfolk of the time as opposed to those we deal with in other countries in our own time.  The second part of the book answers questions on Paul’s use of miracles as a seal of divine approval for his doctrine and message (a doctrine the author grossly misunderstands), Paul’s avoidance of controlling the finances of local churches, and the substance of Paul’s preaching in various areas.  Part three deals with the subject of Paul’s teaching and the training of candidates for membership and church leadership.  Part four of the book looks at Paul’s desire to increase congregational involvement in authority and discipline as well as the important subject of unity.  And finally, part five of the book looks at the principles and spirit of Paul’s preaching, its application to present-day conditions, and a contrast between two contemporary missionary situations.

The entire focus of the book is on using Paul’s missionary approach as a model today.  This effort, though, depends on several assumptions.  For one, the author believes that he understands the methods and approach of Paul, and it would appear that he does understand Paul’s restraint of himself in order to help believers become more mature through their own exercise of choices and their own facing of difficult decisions through the wisdom granted to them by the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, the author’s failure to understand the doctrinal content of Paul’s message undercuts many of his insights about Paul’s approach to planting local congregations with a complex blend of unity and autonomy under local leadership.  In addition, the author’s whole approach depends on a presupposition that Paul’s preaching methods were effective.  While I happen to believe this, there are many [3] who would claim that Paul’s efforts were not effective at all.  As a result, since this author does not prove the effectiveness of Paul’s approach but rather assumes it, this book’s whole appeal is only to those who share the author’s assumptions that Paul’s preaching was successful.  This book has a lot of insights, but it also represents some of the pitfalls of writing authoritatively about that which one does not fully understand.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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