Christian Mission, Contextual Theology, Prophetic Dialogue

Essays in Honor of Stephen B. Bevans, Svd.

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Dale T. Irvin, Peter C. Phan
American Society of Missiology Monograph
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , December
     2018.
     240 pages.
     $40.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781626982994.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Consisting of fourteen essays, Christian Mission, Contextual Theology, Prophetic Dialogue is a festschrift to honor the life and legacy of the renowned (and recently retired) Roman Catholic theologian and missiologist Stephen B. Bevans. The goal of editors Dale T. Irvine and Peter C. Phan was “to celebrate Steve’s lifetime achievements not with a garden-variety Festschrift but with a textbook for widespread use by theology students as well as general readers” (xvii). In my opinion, the book certainly provides valuable insights for academics interested in current missiological themes, but to what extent this publication will also become popular among a wider audience remains to be seen. 

The book is divided into four parts. The first part begins with an essay written by vanThanh Nguyen (a former student of Bevans) who provides a biblical foundation for mission based on the book of Revelation. This is followed by reflections on Christian mission in ecumenical perspective, written by widely recognized authors representing the four major streams of contemporary global Christianity. The Roman Catholic outlook on mission is provided by Roger Schroeder, followed by perspectives written from Orthodox (Athanasios N. Papathanasiou), Protestant (Irvin), and Pentecostal (Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen) points of view. In the second part of the book, four authors, beginning with Robert Schreiter, reflect on the significance of Bevans’s contributions to contextual theology by interacting with some of his most significant publications, such as Models of Contextual Theology (Orbis Books, 1992; revised edition, 2002) and An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (Orbis Books, 2009).

Part 3 of Christian Mission focuses on prophetic dialogue, which is one of the missiological and theological insights Bevans is most famous for. In this part of the book, four additional authors navigate the tension between listening carefully to the Other while simultaneously declaring the truth with boldness by exploring the possibility of prophetic dialogue from different angles. Part 4 contains the fourteenth and last chapter, which is a personal reflection by Bevans himself on how he became a “global theologian” (249, 256). This autobiographical essay is followed by an extensive bibliography, which lists the eight books Bevans has written, as well as his thirteen edited books, forty-nine book chapters, seventy-seven articles, four pamphlets, seven dictionary articles, and three published interviews. This list of scholarly material produced during a lifetime of ministry with the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) is certainly impressive. However, Bevans is more than just a scholar, as Phan affectionately expresses in the book’s introduction: “[i]n his theology he [Bevans] is a missionary, a contextualist, a prophetic dialoguer, all at once and to an unmatched degree. That is Steve’s lasting legacy, and his colleagues and students, and may I say, the church as a whole, are forever in his debt” (xix). 

By reading Christian Mission, Contextual Theology, Prophetic Dialogue, both mission scholars and practitioners will learn about Bevans’s main contributions to the field of missiology, and how these insights might be applied to a variety of contemporary contexts. The various authors develop their own thoughts, expressing them in their own unique voice, while at the same time pointing out how their theological thinking has been shaped by Bevans and his writings. For instance, referring to Bevans and Schroeder’s Prophetic Dialogue: Reflections on Christian Mission Today (Orbis Books, 2011), Nguyen affirms “Christians must never cease to act uprightly and responsibly, to give witness to Christ’s sovereignty, and to engage in ‘prophetic dialogue’ by boldly speaking forth the good news of the reign of God and speaking againstthat which is contrary to the missio Dei” (16). Another contributor, Leo D. Lefebure, applies this principle to the context of North America and issues related to race when he writes, “the dialogical method of Stephen Bevans of attending to both the global horizon and the local context offers needed guidance to Christians seeking to overcome the legacy of racism both in the United States and around the world” (148). Through contributions like these, this festschrift not only invites reflection on missiological themes, but also challenges the reader to take action toward a more just and hospitable world. 

One of the strengths of the book is that it provides the reader with a helpful overview of some of the key elements of Bevans’s scholarship, such as his six models for describing contextual theologies—the translation model, the anthropological model, the praxis model, the synthetic model, the transcendental or subjective model, and the countercultural model. At the same time, the contributors to this festschrift also develop novel perspectives on several topics, such as exploring contemporary liberation theologies, moving from comparative theology toward interreligious theology, and formulating a mission-led ecclesiology for a secular and pluralistic age. In addressing these themes, the authors are daring and innovative, while at the same time remaining rooted in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church—giving prominence to various documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) like Ad gentes (AG), Lumen gentium (LG), and Nostra aetate (NA). 

Covering such a wide range of materials and ideas, Christian Mission, Contextual Theology, Prophetic Dialogue is therefore an excellent book, as it not only celebrates Bevans’s contributions to missiology but also presents current Roman Catholic thinking on this fascinating subject.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daniel Topf is a doctoral student in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and Regional Mobilizer with World Team.

Date of Review: 
April 17, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Dale T. Irvin is President of New York Theologi­cal Seminary and Professor of World Christianity. He is the co-author with Scott W. Sunquist of History of the World Christian Movement (Orbis 2001, 2012).

Peter C. Phan is currently the Ignacio Ellacuría Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University. His other Orbis books include The Joy of Religious Plural­ism (2017) and Christianity with an Asian Face: Asian American Theology in the Making (2003).

Keywords: 

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