In Picturing Christian Witness Stanley H. Skreslet, has brought his vocation in ministry, formerly as mission worker and professor at Evangelical Theological Seminary, Cairo, Egypt, and now as professor of Christian Mission at Union Theological Seminary/Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Virginia, to the exploration of some of the images in the New Testament of the disciples of Jesus in mission.
He wants to replace metaphors of missionary work from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that are mistaken and harmful in our time. He gives examples of worn-out images: one claimed that Western missionaries were beacons of light in places of heathen darkness (Leonard Woods, 1812), another that missionary work is the Christian warfare against Islam (Rennie MacInnes, 1925), and another from the Presbyterian church held that we are bearers of material and religious progress based in Christian culture (John R. Mott, 1910).
Unlike other missiologists who suggest images of the church and mission primarily as responses in reaction against past mistakes, Skreslet aims in his book to bring New Testament images directly to bear on the formulation of “an initial framework for theological reflection on Christian mission, which might then be developed and interpreted in a variety of contexts, with specific cultural and historical considerations in mind” (p. 20). Like David Bosch in Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, N.Y., Orbis, 1991), Skreslet wants to contribute to the development of a comprehensive theology of Christian mission. He has chosen to do so by identifying and illustrating “the leading roles in mission assumed by the first few generations of Jesus’ disciples, as these have been made known to us through the writings of the New Testament” (pp. 21-22).
The author chooses five New Testament images of disciples in mission. 1. Announcing good news, the public proclamation of the gospel, to which the commissioning texts (Matthew 28:16-20 and parallels) and the Acts of the Apostles give primary expression. 2. Sharing Christ with friends, the communication of the gospel in interpersonal communications with kin, friends, and close neighbors, illustrated in John’s gospel, for example in the calling of Peter by Andrew (1:35-42), in the story of the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42), and also in Mark’s account (2:1-12) of the healing of the paralyzed man, brought to Jesus by his friends. 3. Interpreting the gospel, when the gospel moves into new cultural settings, as in the cases of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Barnabas in Lystra, and Paul’s visit to Athens, all four from the Acts of the Apostles. 4. Shepherding as a missionary endeavor, founded on the calling of Simon Peter by Jesus after he was raised (John 21) and the example of Jesus himself in seeking out the sheep outside his fold (John 10). 5. Building and planting, which comes from Paul, particularly from I Corinthians 3.
For each of these images of mission, the author engages the texts themselves and explores the implications of the metaphors for a contemporary theology of Christian mission. Appropriately for the author’s emphasis on images of mission, he examines visual depictions of discipleship from eastern and western history of Christian iconography and art, from contemporary student art, from Chinese paper cuts, and from recent photographs, to give us pictures of mission, proclamation, friendship, interpreting, shepherding, planting. He expects that the visual representations will engage us sympathetically in mission.
This important book deserves a wide reading. The author brings depth of New Testament scholarship, the wisdom and experience of the practice of cross-cultural mission, and energy and enthusiasm for his subject to the renewal of the foundations of mission theology. His putting together representative examples of art from diverse historical and cultural settings with his exegesis and theological comment on images of mission is innovative and makes his presentation lively. The book would be useful for seminary courses on the mission and ministry of the church. Also church leaders charged with administering and planning for mission work, including local pastors and lay people, will find the material accessible and helpful. Skreslet gives all who are committed to evangelism in partnership with the broad Christian community good material that we should think about and act upon in our common calling.
Charles Raynal is director of advanced studies and associate professor of theology, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Ga.