Book Review: MissionShift, ed. by David Hesselgrave and Ed Stetzer


I don’t know about you, but I’m generally a fan of roundtable discussions. Sometimes the cut and thrust of live interaction can uncover issues which wouldn’t surface in a monologue. It can also reveal agreements—and disagreements—which otherwise might not have shown themselves.

On the other hand, roundtable discussions can sometimes be frustratingly shallow, just scratching the surface of a topic before jumping to something else.


The recent book MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium, edited by David Hesselgrave and Ed Stetzer, is basically a lively roundtable discussion on current issues in mission.

Imagine that seventeen Christian scholars and leaders get together for a couple day long summit on the subject of mission. (The editors don’t mention any in-person meetings that went into this book’s production—remember, we’re imagining.) There are presentations on the past, present, and future of mission by distinguished senior missiologists: Charles Van Engen, Paul Hiebert, and Ralph Winter (the latter two have since died). Four scholars are invited to respond to each proposal, and sometimes to the other respondents. At the end of each round, Ed Stetzer provides a summary and evaluation of the conversation. Finally, David Hesselgrave evaluates the proceedings of the entire conversation.


It would be tedious to track too many details of individual essays, so I’ll try to sketch the conversation in a few broad strokes.

Charles Van Engen examines mission’s past through the lens of the search for a definition of mission. Issues raised in Van Engen’s chapter and the responses to it include the relationship between evangelism and social action, the history of the ecumenical missions movement, and the theology and missiology of Karl Barth.

Paul Hiebert’s chapter provides a simple taxonomy for thinking through the issue of contextualization, advocating a stance of “critical contextualization” between the extremes of “minimal contextualization” and “uncritical contextualization.” Responses to Hiebert address issues of epistemology, linguistics, translation philosophy, and the contentious recent discussion of contextualization in Muslim cultures along the “C-1 to C-6” paradigm proposed by John Travis.

Ralph Winter was tasked with forecasting the future of evangelicals in mission. However, as his respondents almost uniformly note, his essay was more an appraisal of the history of evangelicalism and an apologetic for the “kingdom mission” which Winter came to advocate in his later years. One of Winter’s key contentions is that evangelicals must give far greater attention to destroying “all forms of evil, both human and macrobiological” (190) in order to make the gospel credible to contemporary people. And so, from a slightly different angle, the respondents to Winter’s essay return to the issue of the relationship between evangelism and social action. They also discuss the nature of the gospel itself and the extent to which Christians should expect to be able to undo the effects of the fall in this age.

Finally, David Hesselgrave’s concluding chapter traces the personal trajectories of Donald MacGavran and himself in order to shed further light on the issues in play in the book. He then provides his own assessment of the three main essays along with some thoughtful prescriptions for future evangelical missiological efforts.


The great strength of this volume is that it serves as a fairly accessible introduction to a number of critical issues in contemporary evangelical missiology. Further, the diversity of viewpoints represented charts the spectrum of opinion among evangelicals on some of these issues and points toward further reading.

One area where I would have liked to see greater depth and specificity was the discussion of contextualization in Hiebert’s essay and the responses to it. Here it seemed the format was most limiting, though it was still a useful introduction to the current state of the conversation.

In my opinion, the essays by Andreas Köstenberger and Cristopher Little were particularly compelling, as were David Hesselgrave’s concluding reflections. Without taking anything away from the other contributors, I would suggest that Hesselgrave’s evaluations of the three major essays were the most theologically incisive.

Hesselgrave and Stetzer have performed a helpful service to the evangelical missions community—and evangelical churches more broadly—by facilitating and evaluating this conversation. While cross-cultural missionaries and other vocational mission workers will likely profit most from these discussions, this book could also sharpen pastors’ missiology.

Contextualization, the relationship between the gospel and social action, and the role of the church in mission are all issues that are relevant to local church ministry. David Heselgrave’s Paradigms in Conflict and Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s forthcoming What is the Mission of the Church? may provide more detailed biblical analysis of some of these issues, but for a look at the state of the conversation from a wide variety of perspectives, MissionShift is a helpful starting point.

Bobby Jamieson

Bobby Jamieson (PhD, University of Cambridge) is an associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Most recently, he is the author, with Tyler Wittman, of Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis (Baker Academic, 2022).

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