Book review: Global Migration & Christian Faith

Anvil journal of theology and mission

M Daniel Caroll R and Vincent E Bacote (eds.), Global Migration & Christian Faith: Implications for Identity and Mission, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2022)

by Joseph Ola, Missio Africanus, Liverpool

The Yoruba people of Nigeria have a saying: “The conflagration that destroyed the king’s palace only makes it more palatial.” In other words, there are blessings hidden in every disaster. Such is the story behind the publishing of this book, born out of a 2020 Wheaton Theology Conference that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a Nigerian involved in missionary work in Britain in both church and academic contexts, this reviewer – along with millions of other diaspora Christians – lives in the reality of the tensions of global migration and its intersection with the Christian faith. In many of the migrant churches in Britain I have encountered in the course of my study and research, immigration issues are top of their prayer list and often the highlight of the “testimony time” (a time when church members give a praise report on an answered prayer) in their church services. Many pastors, church members and Christian scholars are understandably concerned with the refugee crisis both in their own immediate contexts and globally. While being aware of the different perspectives on (im)migration that are shaped along political lines, our Christian faith demands that we think Christianly about the intersection of our faith and the volatile subject of migration. This book definitely is a helpful resource in that regard.

The diverse disciplines of the contributors resulted in a rich variety of perspectives presented in the volume which are neatly categorised into four sections: Historical Perspectives (two authors), Biblical Foundations (four authors), Theological Reflections (two authors) and Ecclesiological and Missiological Challenges (three authors).

The Historical Perspectives section dwelt mainly on the Reformation era by reconsidering two writings of Martin Luther (Leopoldo A. Sánchez M.’s essay) as well as the Bible translation endeavours of the Reformation refugees as they took the Bible “on the run” with them and endeavoured to vernacularise across language frontiers (Powell McNutt’s essay). I found Sánchez M’s proposition insightful – that we are not only saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone based on scripture alone to the glory of God alone (the five solas of the Reformation) but also because of God’s generosity alone (sola hospitalitate).

The Biblical Foundations section begins with editor M. Daniel Carroll’s fresh consideration of the Book of Genesis both to reconsider the concept of the image of God and the various strands of migration in the Book. Likewise, C.L. Crouch, in his contribution, considers the concerns of involuntary migration from the prophetic books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the “emergency theology” that emerges from such contexts. Joshua Jipp, through the books of Luke and Acts, and Nelson Morales, through the books of James and 1 Peter, offer a lens that glorifies the cross-cultural mission of the gospel of Christ.

In the Theological Reflections section, Peter Phan makes both literal and figurative use of the terms “home land”, “foreign land” and “our land” as raw materials to tease out a theology of place that reflects the stages of the migration experience of many migrants. Then Daniel Groody creatively theologises on illegal border crossings by identifying Christ’s miraculous conception in the womb of a betrothed virgin as a somewhat “illegal border crossing” in its own right.

In the final section on Ecclesiological and Missiological Challenges, Mark Douglas links climate change with migration and international law. George Kalantzis’ vivid account of Europe’s largest refugee camp in Lesbos suggests new ecclesiologies that can help in rehumanising people living in Lesbos-like realities, to the point where they can begin to consider themselves not only as refugees but also as people capable of hosting others with what they have to offer to the wider Body of Christ and the society. In the final contribution in the volume Sam George adapts the Missio Dei missiological terminology to remind readers that God is always on the move (Motus Dei), thus defining mission as following God on the move with a continuous intentional realignment of our steps with God’s.

In its entirety, the volume is an attempt to use the Bible, Christian theology and church history as collaborative tools in shaping a missional response to the global migration and refugee crises. While the editors and most of the other contributors live and work in the United States of America (four from Wheaton College and eight from elsewhere – mainly from institutions in the United States), the book contains helpful and provocative insights for church leaders, mission partners, students and anyone involved in cross-cultural ministry from across the world – at least, those who are able to afford it.

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