Missionary Monks

An Introduction to the History and Theology of Missionary Monasticism

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Edward L. Smither
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , December
     204 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In Missionary Monks, Edward Smither writes to both scholars and Christian practitioners. His goal is to survey key movements and individuals in the history of Christian monasticism through the lens of their missionary impact, and to consider what lessons might be useful in contemporary Christian evangelism. This book is enriched by examples from both Eastern and Western Christianity, most notably with a chapter on the largely unknown and misunderstood Church of the East.

Although the text is widely approachable and useful, Smither is clearly writing for a primarily Evangelical Christian audience. On the one hand, he employs specifically Evangelical modalities—for example, Basil-the-Great was ordained as a “minister,” and the hearts of several figures were “burdened” by God with a particular mission. These anachronisms may reflect either the author’s own context. or his intention to speak directly to the Evangelical community, or both.

Each chapter includes a scholarly and concise history of the missionary figure or movement. In most of the chapters, Smither then considers key elements in the success of Christian monastic mission efforts. As the book goes on, several of these insights form common themes. Understandably, one of the major emphases of the book is the role of preaching. Throughout the text, frequent mention of monastic missionary preaching feels like an apologetic to fellow Evangelicals that preaching existed in Christianity prior to the Reformation. If this was one of Smither’s unwritten goals in writing this book, it is evidence for the next generation of Evangelical apologists as to the richness of ancient Christianity, following in the footsteps of writers such as Dallas Willard, and movements such as the Emerging/Emergent Church.

Additionally, Smither notes that successful monastic evangelism involved engaging political leaders, team building, and planting new monasteries. He underlines the role of contemplation and visionary inspiration, but takes care to locate them in conjunction with missionary action. Successful missionaries also engage in ascetic practice, social justice ministry, and pastoral care.

In the historical section, the author mentions several times that Christian missionary work often included repurposing or destroying pagan temples or sacred sites. Yet, Smither does not include this detail in the “missionary success” section of the text. From a scholarly standpoint, limiting or eliminating non-Christian options for worship would have contributed greatly in refocusing pagan religiosity to Christianity. Nevertheless, given his goal of exploring what might be useful for contemporary mission efforts, it is understandable that Smither chose only to mention this factor in the historical section.

Although Missionary Monks would have benefited from one further round of editing to provide some context or segue for the secondary sources Smither cites, it is well written and accessible.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Justin Rose is a doctoral candidate in religous studies at the University of California, Riverside.

Date of Review: 
October 13, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Edward L. Smither is Professor of Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University, the author of Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders and Brazilian Evangelical Missions in the Arab World, and translator of Francois Decret's Early Christianity in North Africa.



Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.