Encountering Theology of Mission (2010) is an Evangelical introductory textbook on mission theology. It’s layout is topical and covers key aspects of the mission of the church. Part 1 shows the Biblical foundation for mission including the vision of mission and the task of mission, Part 2 covers the motives and means of mission, and Part 3 discusses contemporary controversies and issues.
The book is distinguished from Bosch’s Transforming Mission and Bevans and Schroeder’s Constants in Context in three obvious ways. Bosch and Bevans both rely heavily on historical theology for analysis. By contrast, Encountering Theology of Mission relies primarily upon the Bible itself, while keeping an eye on historical developments. Second, Bosch and Bevans utilize a postmodern approach to their studies. They are extremely tentative at defining mission. Ott notes, “They also assume that we are prisoners of our culture and context and that there is little real hope of approaching a true understanding of mission” (xxix). Instead, Ott relies on a “critical realist” (Hiebert) epistemology that allows for a humble confidence that we can know what the mission of the church is. “Though we see through a glass dimly, we do see (1 Cor. 13:12)” (xxx). And thirdly, the “nations” do not feature prominently in either Bosch or Bevans. Ott, however, dedicates two chapters at the beginning of the book to God’s heart for the nations (this theme of reaching the nations also features prominently in Wright’s The Mission of God (2006) to which Ott references often).
My favorite chapter is four: The Purpose and Nature of Mission. Ott begins with a nice outline that allows the reader to keep many strands of mission theology together without unraveling (2010:80): (1) Doxology as the highest purpose of mission, (2) Redemption as the foundation of mission, (3) The kingdom of God as the center of mission, (4) Eschatology as the hope of mission, (5) The nations as the scope of mission, (6) Reconciliation as the fruit of mission, (7) Incarnation as the character of mission, (8) The Holy Spirit as the power of mission (in chapter ten), and (9) Multiplying kingdom communities as the task of mission (chapter six, my addition).
Like Bosch and Bevans, Ott does a great job of joining together complex thoughts and avoiding false dichotomies, but he does so in a manner that is easy to follow. Bosch and Bevans’ arguments are sometimes dense and very intellectual in style. Ott is to be commended for clarity, even if he lacks for sophistication and deeper scholarship. However, Encountering Theology of Mission is an introductory work, so perhaps I am comparing apples and oranges.
As an evangelical theology of mission, Encountering Theology of Mission focuses clearly on evangelism as a key aspect of mission theology. According to Ott, social action, reconciliation, and compassion are definitely part of the mission of the church. But in what way? Ott explains beautifully:
The church has not fulfilled its mission by merely being such a community [of social action] wherever it finds itself, as great a challenge at that is. Rather such communities must be multiplied among the diverse peoples of the world, and this is the task of missions.
Thus the task of missions is the sending activity of the church to create and expand such kingdom communities among every people of the earth. This will be done through evangelism and church planting that is not satisfied with superficial conversion or institutional advancement. Rather, these new communities must be nurtured and challenged to manifest the reign of God in word and deed, impacting all areas of life-spiritual, social, mental, and physical-thus furthering God's mission in the world (2010:160).
Ott integrates evangelism and social action as few other Evangelicals have been able to do. And his biblical focus on the unreached nations is refreshing. This book is highly recommended, as I said previously.