16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
George P. Wood
- Published on Amazon.com
Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008). $32.00, 518 pages.
As a pastor, I am constantly in danger of getting so caught up in the maintenance of my church that I forget its mission. To avoid this danger, I read widely in theology, biblical commentary, and spirituality rather than in leadership and management. Leadership and management are important disciplines, of course--spiritual gifts, even. But American society is so permeated by consumerist assumptions and management techniques that pastors must be wary lest in their stewardship of the church, they become conformed to the world rather than transformed by the renewal of their minds.
The renewal of pastoral minds, and through them the renewal of the church, requires focused attention on Scripture. What does it say about the mission of the church? How should the church go about accomplishing that mission? In Early Christian Mission (2 Volume Set), Eckhard J. Schnabel set out to study the theology and praxis of Christian as it is portrayed in the literature of the New Testament. Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods narrows its focus to see what can be learned about Christian mission from the career and theology of the Apostle Paul. This entails a close reading of Paul's missionary journeys in Acts as well as of his thirteen canonical letters.
In the Preface, Schnabel tips his hat to Roland Allen, who published Missionary Methods: St Paul's or Ours in 1912. Like Allen, Schnabel exegetically mines the biblical text for contemporary application. Unlike Allen, however, he has a better understanding of Second Temple Judaism and Greco-Roman culture. He also draws different conclusions here and there and applies his learning to a radically different contemporary social context than did Allen.
Schnabel works with several assumptions that some New Testament scholars will disagree with. First is the basic historical reliability of Acts. Second is the authenticity of Paul's canonical letters. And third is the factuality of Paul's release from Roman imprisonment and mission to the West. Each of these assumptions is defensible, although Schnabel does not engage in a defense of them. No scholar can reconstruct the history of early Christianity without relying on Acts. Schnabel's close reading of Paul's missionary journeys in that book seem to me to confirm Acts historicity (unintentionally) by providing a plausible account of the social background of the events in Acts with reference to extrabiblical information. And while critical New Testament scholars typically do not consider Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and the Pastorals as authentic, a plausible case can be made that they are based on Paul's admitted use of an amanuensis, the changed circumstances under which he was writing, and the personal details offered in the Pastorals, which are too incidental and unimportant for a forger to fabricate whole cloth. Schnabel's supposition of Paul's release from Roman imprisonment and mission to the West follows from the good reception Christians received from Roman hands in Acts as well as from the authenticity of the Pastorals. There is slight extracanonical support for Paul's mission to the West, so this third assumption is Schnabel's weakest, from the standpoint of historical evidence.
In the Introduction, Schnabel asks a basic question: What is mission? Here's his answer:
"The term 'mission' or 'missions' refers to the activity of a community of faith that distinguishes itself from its environment in terms of both religious belief (theology) and social behavior (ethics), that is convinced of the truth claims of its faith, and that actively works to win other people to the content of faith and the way of life of whose truth and necessity the members of that community are convinced."
For Schnabel, missionaries are concerned with three realities: (1) They "communicate the news of Jesus the Messiah and Savior to people who have not heard or accepted this news"; (2) they "communicate a new way of life that replaces, at least partially, the social norms and the behavioral patterns of the society in which the new believers have been converted"; and (3) they "integrate the new believers into a new community."
If you are familiar with current missiological debates, you will recognize that Schnabel's definition of mission and enumeration of missionary realities firmly place him on the good news side of the good news/good works continuum. (I borrow this terminology from Ron Sider.) The mission of the church is to evangelize and disciple people within the context of an ecclesial community. This does not mean that Schnabel discounts poor relief and humanitarian works as an integral part of Christian life. It does mean, however, that there is no mission without conversion.
Chapter 1 outlines the missionary work of Paul, based mostly on Acts, beginning with his conversion and call on the road to Damascus and ending with a mission on Crete, which arises from evidence in the Pastorals. Schnabel's close reading of Acts situates Paul's actions and speeches within the religion, culture, and politics of each city Paul is reported to have visited.
Chapter 2 outlines the missionary task according to Paul's articulation of it in his letters. If Acts describes Paul's actions, Paul's letters describe his self-understanding of those actions.
Chapter 3 outlines Paul's missionary message, returning largely to Acts. Schnabel shows how Paul presented the gospel differently to Jewish and Gentile audiences, based on their differing background assumptions. He also shows what great care Paul took not to run afoul of the law when he presented the gospel in civic settings. Paul's presentation of the gospel nonetheless included an element of ideological and cultural confrontation with his audiences. But much of his presentation also aimed at pastoring new converts and providing an apologetic for the gospel.
Chapter 4 outlines Paul's missionary goals. For Schnabel, Paul's goal was to convert individuals, establish churches, disciple converts, and train church leaders, including new missionaries.
Chapter 5 outlines the missionary methods of Paul. For me, this was the most interesting chapter in the entire book. As a pastor, I struggle with two big questions: Where do I go to find people who need to hear the gospel? And how do I present the gospel to people who do not currently believe it? Schnabel refutes Allen's contention that Paul focused on provinces rather than cities. Indeed, according to Schnabel, Paul had no "geographical strategy" at all, instead going to whatever city or village presented an open door for ministry. In each city, he sought out whatever venue he could use to accomplish his goals: synagogues, the agora or forum, lecture halls, and private homes. How does the pastor find people who need to hear the gospel? Go wherever they are.
How should the pastor present the gospel to unbelievers? In the ancient world, rhetoric was a highly prized discipline. Unfortunately, the rhetorical strategies of Greco-Roman thinkers were useless to preachers whose message centered upon a crucified Jew. Reading 1 Corinthians 1-4 with classical rhetoric in mind, Schnabel notes how Paul self-consciously rejected rhetorical strategies in order "to know nothing among [the Corinthians] but Jesus Christ and him crucified." The theology of the cross determines which methods are and are not appropriate for Christian mission.
Chapter 6 outlines "the task of missionary work in the modern world." Schnabel applies the learnings from his study of Paul's theology and praxis of mission to current questions. Among other things, he rejects the "homogeneous unit principle" of the Church Growth Movement. And he warns about the tendency of evangelical missions to expect that the right methods will produce results automatically. If Paul rejected classical rhetoric as a method inappropriate to the proclamation of the gospel, modern Westerners need to be cautious in their use of reproducible methodologies, whether Willow Creek-style seeker sensitive churches of Purpose Driven models. God converts people. Our role is prayer, proclamation, and authentic living. No method assures conversion results.
The book concludes with an extensive bibliography, author index, subject index, and Scripture index. Together with a three-page table of contents, these tools make it easy to find Schnabel's conclusions on particular topics and his discussion of particular Scriptures.
Although Paul the Missionary is not a quick read, it is a rewarding one. New Testament scholars, missiologists and missionaries, and local pastors like me will profit from Schnabel's focused attention on Scripture. And ministers of the gospel will profit through extended reflection on the theology and praxis of Paul, whose example is well worth imitating.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Schnabel, professor of New Testment at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, presents a distinctive and thorough treatment of the Apostle Paul by focusing on Paul as a missionary. There can be no doubt that keeping Paul's missionary motivations in mind helps illumine Paul's thinking and writing, and furthermore, that investigating the way Paul carried himself as a missionary has bearing on what it means to be a Christian and more specifically a missionary in our twenty-first-century context.
Relying heavily on what must be an even more exhaustive treatment in his two-volume Early Christian Mission, Schnabel first sets out to describe the mission Paul undertook (dividing Paul's "travels" into fifteen different "periods" of mission), the task he set for himself (or maybe better, the task he saw himself as being given), and the message he preached. He then synthesizes this material in two chapters that discuss Paul's strategies and his methods for carrying out that mission. In the final chapter, he brings the study to bear on questions of mission in the current context, both in understanding why and how a church should grow and in what way current missionary endeavors should be informed by Paul.
I found the descriptive portions of the book to be informative, and though keeping track of fifteen "periods" of mission over Paul's career is cumbersome, it also helpfully breaks up the more traditional missionary "journeys" in a way that better reflects the reality of Paul's undertaking. Easily lost in the old scheme are the significant periods spent in various locations in sustained ministry, whether the two years in Ephesus or the six months in Athens, the sorts of durations that are more obscured than illumined when talking about "travels" or "journeys."
Schnable focuses repeatedly in the book on a couple important themes. One is the primacy of God in Paul's mission. Paul saw himself as called and appointed by God, in his service, dependent upon him, and ultimately accountable to him. No other responsibility, no other obligation, and no other message could supplant this one in the apostle's thinking. A second emphasis is that it is the gospel itself that dictates Paul's strategies and methods, not a grand itinerary or a finely-honed rhetorical presentation. Paul understood the deep need of all humanity to come to faith in Jesus Christ, and he undertook whatever ministry was expedient to bring about that end. He may have developed some patterns of ministry (such as going first to the synagogue), but these were always subservient to the message he proclaimed.
Schnabel's final chapter is an application of the study to the modern situation in the church and in missions. Some of the critique, such as his discussion of the "homogeneous unit principle" or of church planting, proves quite insightful, as is his caution against the search for the right "method" for church growth or evangelism instead of focusing on the gospel message. But at other points, his critique seems quite disconnected from the five substantive chapters on Paul, such as his discussion of "seeker-driven" churches or "atonement," where very little discussion of Paul is actually brought to bear on the matter at hand. While I would agree with many of his comments regarding "mega-churches," his discussion is very heavily dependent on David Wells and Os Guiness, and I think unfairly equates mega- or seeker-sensative churches with a dearth of theology. Criticism aside, though, the final chapter ends with some very helpful discussion of how study of Paul can and should inform how we do "missions" in the twenty-first century, and much wisdom can be gleaned here by pastors and missionaries. In all, Schnabel has written a detailed study of Paul that focuses on his missionary context and undertakings and it is helpful both in illuminating Paul and his thought as well as in guiding our application of the gospel message in our own day.
A final, reluctant but necessary note is in order here. This book desperately needed a good proofread before going to press. I was distressed by how many errors remained in the printed edition, and though I was just annoyed by inconsistencies in the footnote style or confused punctuation, there were numerous instances were the sense of a sentence was indecipherable. While I'm usually annoyed when reviewers point out one or two typos in a book, in this case, it really did detract from this worthwhile book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Dr. Marc Axelrod
- Published on Amazon.com
Like Schnabel's two volume magnum opus Early Christian Mission, this book is loaded with sound exegesis of the salient Pauline texts. In a nutshell, the message of this book is that Paul didn't follow cleverly devised strategies or use rhetorical and emotional speaking techniques. He simply preached that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead, and he was willing to preach anywhere the Spirit led him. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is a key text for Schnabel: Paul has become all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some.
In the introduction, Paul defines mission or missions as the activity of a community of faith that tries to win people over to the content of their faith and to their way of life.
In chapter one, Schnabel discusses Paul's missionary work. Rather than the time tested division of Paul's work into four distinct missionary journies, Schnabel cogently argues for 15 distinct phases in Paul's ministry, beginning with his conversion and preaching in Damascus and ending with ministry in Spain (phase 14) and in Crete (phase 15). During this section, Schnabel argues that when Paul went into Arabia (Galatians 1), he wasn;t going there for training or preparation. He was going there to preach the gospel, though we have no record of thr result sof this ministry, or of any ministry that Paul did from 33 AD to about 42 AD, though we know he spent a number of years ministering at the church in Antioch before the fifth phase of his ministry in Antioch and his departure with Barnabas for Galatia, Lystra, and Cyprus.
The second chapter describes Paul's missionary task. He describes his call in Galatians 1 with similar language to the calls of Jeremiah and Isaiah, In 1 Corinthians 3:5-15, he describes his ministry tasl as watering seeds, but that ultimately, God is the One responsible for conversions, not the preachers.
In chapter three, we have a discussion of the missionary message of the apostle Paul. Before Jewish audiences, he let them know that everything in the Hebrew Bible pointed ahead to Jesus the Messiah (Acts 13:16-46), and to Gentile audiences, he described the need to turn from idols to the living and true to God (1 Thess 1:9-10), and to believe in Jesus and in His resurrection (Acts 17:16-32).
In chapter four, there is a discussion of Paul's missionary goals. His goals were simply to preach the gospel to the poor and the privileged, to Jews and Gentiles, to everyone who would listen. His goal was also to establish Christian communities, to teach new disciples, and to train new missionaries.
The next chapter is a description of Paul's methods. He ministered in cities, regions and provinces. He preached in synagogues, marketplaces, meeting houses, lecture halls, and theatres if he could.
But in reality, he didn't have a planned strategy. He simply did whatever was necessary at the time to communicate the gospel of Christ, relying on the Spirit for guidance and power and results.
The last chapter deals with the ramifications of this study for 21st century missions. This is the most controversial section of the book, because Schnabel critiques the Purpose Driven Movement, the signs and wonders movement, and the spiritual warfare movement and says that in some ways, they emphasize their methods over the sovereign work of the Spirit. Paul's life and ministry reveals that it's not about methods and techniques and strategies, it's about the supernatural and sovereign power of God at work that causes conversion and growth. The message of the cross is foolishness to Jews and Gentiles, and people receive it only because of a revelation of Christ through the Spirit.
This is a great book! Highly recommended!