United Methodists are part of a long line of Christians who have aspired to think “outside the box” about Christian mission. More often than not, however, the conceptual box that such leaders are trying to set aside has been some version of “Christendom” in the book Exploring Christian Mission Beyond Christendom: United Methodist Perspectives (2010, University of Indianapolis Press), edited by Dr. Michael C. Cartwright, dean of ecumenical and interfaith programs at the United Methodist-related University of Indianapolis.
The book features the research and thoughts of Dr. J. Steven O’Mallery, professor of Methodist Holiness History at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.; Radcliffe Ganda, UM youth leader scholar of Sierra Leone; Dr. Stephen A. Graham, professor of political science at UIndy; Cartwright; Dr. M. Thomas Thangaraj of Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga.; Dr. Greg Clapper, professor of philosophy and religion at UIndy; Dr. Beth Felker Jones, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College; and Dr. Scott Kisker, professor of evangelism and Wesley studies at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
As this set of United Methodist perspectives about Christian mission illustrates, moving beyond Christendom-inspired conceptions of mission turns out to be easier for clergy and laity to affirm on Sunday morning than it is to practice throughout the week.
The essays and responses in this book explore some of the ways that this aspiration to move beyond Christendom-thinking informed the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist mission endeavors of the past. The authors also explore the most significant theological challenges that United Methodists face in the 21st century as their church attempts to carry out the apostolic mandate of Jesus Christ in the changing environment of globalization.
Carolyn McMurray Marshall, who serves as executive director for the Lucille Raines Residence in Indianapolis said this about Exploring Christian Mission: Beyond Christendom, “This is the robust conversation that is long overdue in The United Methodist Church in Indiana. The people I want to read this book are those pastors who feel guilty for not being more involved in missions but who feel vaguely uncomfortable with the mental models they carry about what missionaries do. Here, our discomfort is named, and quality theological reflection challenges us to rethink our place in a global Christianity.”
The Rev. Robert Walters, president, Friendly Planet Missiology in Indianapolis, said, “Mission, heartthrob of The United Methodist Church, owes its import to the heritage from predecessor denominations. With decided emphasis on the significant role of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and its predecessors, Exploring Christian Mission Beyond Christendom defines the significance of that stream across the years. Years race on; times change. As stated in this thought-provoking volume.
“We need to find a vocabulary that invites conversation rather than one that closes the door even before the conversation begins. For the individual consumed with history and who desires to learn from that history but is also willing to move out of the box to be relevant, this volume is a must-read.”
The authors also explore the most significant theological challenges that United Methodists face in the 21st century.