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Holistic Mission, A Review Essay by Tony Richie

Holistic Mission is arranged under five headings. Parts A and E are one chapter sections by Woolnough framing the overall conversation. Part A, “Introduction,” begins with arguing the good news of the Christian gospel addresses the all the needs of the world, including the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical. Woolnough laments that so much missionary work in the past has focused on either conversion or social work but rarely both together. However, this is changing, as his personal experience among African and Asian Christians amply illustrates. Accordingly, he decries a Western tendency to isolate and separate the spiritual and social, and calls for holistic integration instead. For him, shalom, the Hebrew word meaning peace, completeness and welfare, is at the heart of holistic gospel. Thus not only does it propose a way of restoring our relationship with God, but also to mend individual psyches, to bring justice and peace to the political systems between peoples, and to heal our relationship with God’s created environment. Finally, Woolnough briefly traces holistic mission from Edinburgh 1910 onward to 2010, and outlines the importance of ecumenical cooperation in doing holistic mission.

Part B, “What is Holistic Mission?” has chapters from Ron Sider, Chris Sugden, Esther Mombo, and Damon So dealing with the nature of holistic mission as demonstrated in different contexts. In Part C, “Holistic Mission, from 1910-2010,” Al Tizon, Nicta Lubaale, Samuel Jayakumar, and Tito Paredes describe how holistic mission has developed since Edinburgh 1910, across different parts of the world. In Part D, “Underlying Issues in Implementing Holistic Mission,” Bryant Myers, Vinay Samuel, Tulo Raistrick, Glen Miles and Ian De Villiers, Deborah Ajulu, Melba Maggay, Martin Allaby, Beulah Herbert, and Margot R. Hodson contribute chapters considers the issues relating to holistic mission in current days.

In Part E, “The Way Ahead with Holistic Mission,” Woolnough concludes, after the discussions in the contributing chapters and the workshop in Oxford, by drawing together the key areas relating to holistic mission which are relevant to the church today, and suggests some challenges and opportunities for the future in “Implications for the Church of Tomorrow.” The key areas include critical and practical analysis of holistic mission in relation to individual Christians, the local church, denominations and church groupings, missionary societies, Christian non-governmental organizations (CNGOs), and theological training institutions. The conclusions and recommendations include reaffirmation of the Lausanne commitment on “Christian Social Responsibility” (1974) and the Oxford Conference (2001) insistence that gospel mission integrate both proclamation and demonstration along with sundry exhortations on the pace and promise of holistic mission in the key areas mentions above. Woolnough climactically and passionately asserts that “Above all, Christian mission is not a matter of either one type of gospel or another—holistic, integrated, evangelistic or social. Jesus is our example in all we do, and in him we see holism at its fullest.”

The Selected Bibliography and Index are helpfully thorough, and the annotated series listings of the Regnum Edinburgh 2010 Series, Regnum Studies in Global Christianity, and Regnum Studies in Mission are excellent for those interested in doing more extensive research. The book concludes with a listing of General Regnum Titles that could also be helpful for readers of The Pneuma Review, especially several strong titles on global Pentecostalism.

Of course, there is no way that this brief overview does justice to the individual chapters of this wide ranging work. The only way to absorb their research and wisdom is to read and study them directly. Readers of The Pneuma Review may be particularly interested in the book’s observation that the conservative, evangelical, Pentecostal, charismatic wing of the Church, which is growing rapidly in the global south and is estimated to represent around one billion Christians, or about one half of global Christianity, has probably shifted more in relation to holistic mission than others. This is especially fascinating since the book’s editors admit that historically much of the church’s missionary strategy has been about church growth, and that it has been remarkably successful over the last century, especially in the majority world and through the Pentecostal and charismatic churches. Further complicating matters, Woolnough says that many evangelicals have argued that society could only be saved, and the kingdom of heaven brought in, by first tackling the fundamental problem of individual sin. With the growth of Pentecostalism and the prosperity gospel, and the charismatic movements within the other denominations, this increased emphasis on individualism, and the concentration on individual spirituality increased and led many evangelicals into ignoring the needs of local society. However, Sugden argues that as Pentecostals in Latin America faced the challenges of liberation theology and Marxist social analysis with their own Holy Spirit informed practice and experience of social and community change, they made significant contributions to understanding the social implications of gospel transformation.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2012

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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