Connecting Faith and Life

A Concise History of the Christian World Mission

imagesBook Review: A Concise History of the Christian World Mission, Michigan: Baker, 1978. Pp 1-200.

This book is an attempt by Herbert Kane to provide a brief but working knowledge of Christian World mission. Kane was a missionary in China for a few years and has taught at several prestigious mission schools across the globe. The quintessence of the book thus comes out of his rich missionary experience and wide exposure in Christian missions for many years.The book is broadly divided into two parts, and each part is further divided into a few chapters.

In part one, Kane sweeps through the history of mission from Pentecost to the origin of Protestant missions in the eighteenth century in less than 90 pages. He begins with a chapter on Christianity during the Roman Empire. After identifying the key factors that favoured Christianity in its inception, Kane presents an orderly account of early expansion of Christianity taking into consideration the Biblical data and available historical traditions. He is careful enough not to make hasty claims based on some obscure traditions. Rather, he prefers to let the readers know the scarcity of information regarding early expansions.

In my perception, two stories stand out as inspiring and challenging in Kane’s account of early mission. The zealous missionary efforts of Patrick in Ireland and the commitment of two slaves in Ethiopia clearly portray the missionary spirit of early Christians. Though not entirely irrelevant, I think the author has focussed more on the life, socio-political background and persecution of the early Christians. In doing so, a few important mission endeavours of the early period like the spread of Arian Christianity among Barbarians is either ignored or marginalised for want of space. Following this, Kane discusses the Christianization of Europe and the emergence of Islam between 600 and 1200 A.D. A country-wise penetration of Christianity into Europe is presented. The author has highlighted the key role played by Monasteries and Celtic Christians in spreading the gospel across Europe during this period.

In a very engaging manner, Kane describes the emergence of Islam. The setbacks within Christendom, on encounter with Islam, are critically investigated. Some of the reasons proposed by Kane for the downfall of Christianity, particularly in regions like North Africa, are thought provoking though not fully convincing. He comments that the growing sacramental system of the Catholic church in the sixth century led to the loss of evangelical fervour among Christians, and this is cited as one of the reasons for the downfall. I think this is not a verifiable statement. It might be Kane’s evangelical bias against sacraments which is evident here. Nevertheless, Kane is right in observing that the ugly episode of ‘crusades’ left a huge breach between Christians and Muslims. This also affected Christian prospects of reaching out to Muslims later.
Kane surveys the Roman Catholic mission very briefly. The contribution of Patronato, Propagation of faith and religious orders are briefly accounted. The Roman Catholic missions are discussed no farther than 1700 A.D. The book highlights mostly the work of Protestant missions. Therefore, one wonders whether the title of the book, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission, is really justifiable. I think Kane’s work is an account of the Protestant mission.

The origin and growth of Protestant mission is thoroughly dealt in four elaborate chapters. There is a clear and systematic analysis of the factors which caused the delay of Protestant initiative in mission until the dawn of the seventeenth century. Kane’s critical thoughts at this juncture are excellent. Moreover, he meticulously traces the influence of Pietistic movement on early Protestant mission. The story of Moravians, Wesleys, and Great Evangelical awakening is inspiring. In this section, the author also helps the readers to get familiar with some of the key figures of the early Protestant mission who pioneered outside USA and Europe. Kane highlights their contribution in various aspects including social transformation.
The hardships and struggles faced by early missionaries, cited by Kane provide, immense stimulation and challenge to the readers. The legion of missionaries who died in mission fields all across the globe at different times for various reasons remind us of the huge risk and sacrifice involved in pioneering missions. Kane’s account of that is solemn and instils in us a heart of thankfulness to them and God Almighty.

The continent by continent survey in the second part of the book reflects upon the peculiar history or current status of missions and churches in those respective places. Kane follows a pattern here. First he gives a general history of a continent, dealing mostly about its religion, culture and political history. Following this, he gives a short of history of various missions in that continent, mainly Protestant, and concludes with a critical analysis of the success or failure of mission. Kane’s examination is highly insightful. He observes growth in Africa and South America, decline in Europe and resistance in Asia.
Kane’s scholarship is best evident in the last two chapters of the book. There is a masterly evaluation of Protestant mission work done until the time of writing the book. His approach is well balanced. First, he critically examines the negative aspects. Kane’s observations are well thought out ones. He does not gloss over the mistakes made by the missionaries. However, he is not judgmental. He sympathises with many of their faults. Second, Kane enlists some of the positive contributions of the missionaries. He presents missionaries as those  who committed themselves to God whole-heartedly to the upliftment of oppressed people. Kane cites the statements of many African leaders who testified to the commitment of missionaries publicly.

The last chapter, “Mission in Prospect,” discusses the trends, difficulties, and openings for Christian mission in the present and future. Kane does not give a gloomy prospect, rather he paints a positive future for Christianity. Nevertheless, he is a realist. He does not fail to identify some of the threats to the expansion of Christian faith. This is a good introductory book on Protestant Christian mission. The author does not weary the readers with mere dates and names. Instead, he presents facts along side inspiring and challenging missionary anecdotes. This makes the book appropriate for both academicians and informal readers. Moreover, Kane has been successful in maintaining impartiality. He covers almost all sections of Protestant Christian mission—the denominational, the faith missions, the evangelistic based, and the special ministries. It would have been good if the author had arranged his entire material either chronologically or thematically. The first part seems to follow a chronological pattern whereas the second has a thematic approach. This has led to some confusions and repetitions. Overall, Kane’s work is highly commendable. He has provided a good survey of World Christian mission.

Reviewed by Sam K. John

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