Book review: World Religions and their Missions

Anvil journal of theology and mission

Aaron J Ghiloni (ed.), World Religions and their Missions (2nd Edition), (New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2022).

by Tom Wilson, St Philip’s Centre, Leicester

I’m presuming that readers of this review are mission-minded Christians interested in what they can learn about mission (broadly understood) both from their fellow Christians as well as followers of other world religions. I certainly found plenty of food for thought in this book. After an opening and orientating chapter, World Religions and their Missions is divided into two parts: reflections on particular belief systems and then discussion on the work of comparison of approaches.

Part one works alphabetically through seven belief systems in eight chapters. Rather than summarise the whole argument of each, I will instead note points that particularly struck me.

First, the reflection on mission in the Baha’i faith made me consider the challenge not of winning new adherents but the far greater struggle of deepening their faith. Second, on a related theme, the chapter on Buddhism explored the aim of a conversion of the mind rather than recruitment of numbers. Third, the chapter on Christianity reminded me of the sheer breadth and variety of expressions of faith in Jesus that have existed and continue to exist in the world today. Fourth, I really liked the explanation of Hinduism as “a complex network of closely associated religious traditions” (p.111), as well as the exploration of spreading dharma through proselytization and conversion, sitting in contrast with the process of awakening communion with the divine through bhakti. Fifth, I was slightly surprised by two chapters on Islam, but both were interesting, covering between them the example of the Prophet in da’wah, the history and practice of debate with Christians, the notion of justice as mission, rooted in the Qur’an and Islamic philosophy, as well as active in practice. Sixth, the potted history of Mormon mission was instructive. I found the discussion of the apocalyptic consciousness of the first Mormon missionaries especially enlightening, with the duality of either winning converts for baptism, or shaking off the dust from one’s feet as a sign of eternal rejection and damnation for those who refused to accept the Mormon teachings. The explanation of the current systematic Mormon mission, including the ancestor searches and vicarious baptism of the dead was also interesting. Finally, it was refreshing to see the mission of atheism, or “nonreligion” as the book terms it, discussed in some detail. I found the analysis that nonreligion has two missional aims: critique of religion and support for the views of the nonreligious, to be entirely convincing.

Part two is much shorter, with only two chapters. Chapter ten discusses how the study of mission has developed over time. The particularly useful parts of this chapter, from my perspective, were the discussions of religions not covered so far, acknowledging that Sikhism and Judaism both have missional aspects, as well as the missional focus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The final chapter, on mission and interreligious dialogue, provides a robust framework for continuing the conversation in detail.

World Religions and their Missions is an interesting, if specialist, read. For Christians who work in interfaith, such as myself, it is a useful resource for nuancing and advancing what can sometimes be an overly simplistic and polemical conversation about mission. For those who train others for Christian mission, it is a useful way in to such discussions. It should therefore be on the shelves of mission training college libraries, for students to use as they develop their own practical and ethical frameworks for twenty-first century mission.

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