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Understanding Christian Mission

Participation in Suffering and Glory

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Christianity Today 2014 Book Award Winner

Named one of Ten Outstanding Books of 2013 for Mission Studies,
International Bulletin of Mission Research

This comprehensive introduction helps students, pastors, and mission committees understand contemporary Christian mission historically, biblically, and theologically. Scott Sunquist, a respected scholar and teacher of world Christianity, recovers missiological thinking from the early church for the twenty-first century. He traces the mission of the church throughout history in order to address the global church and offers a constructive theology and practice for missionary work today.

Sunquist views spirituality as the foundation for all mission involvement, for mission practice springs from spiritual formation. He highlights the Holy Spirit in the work of mission and emphasizes its trinitarian nature. Sunquist explores mission from a primarily theological--rather than sociological--perspective, showing that the whole of Christian theology depends on and feeds into mission. Throughout the book, he presents Christian mission as our participation in the suffering and glory of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the nations.


Part 1: Suffering and Glory in History: The Mission Movement
1. Ancient and Medieval Mission
2. Colonial Missions, Part 1: Globalization of Roman Catholicism
3. Colonial Missions, Part 2: Orthodoxy, the Americas, and Modernity
4. Western Missions: Christianization, Civilization, and Commerce (1842 to 1948)
5. The Waning and Reconception of Christian Mission: Postcolonial Missiologies (1948 to present)
Part 2: The Suffering and Glory of the Triune God: Trinitarian Mission in Scripture
6. The Creator God as the Sending Father: Missional Scripture, Missional God
7. Jesus, Sent as the Suffering and Sacrificing Son: The Centerpiece of Christian Mission
8. Holy Spirit in Mission: Presence, Participation, and Power
Part 3: The Suffering and Glory of the Church: The Church in Mission Today
9. Church: The Community of Worship and Witness
10. Witnessing Community: Evangelism and Christian Mission
11. Urban Community: Mission and the City
12. Global Community: Partnership in Mission
13. Spirituality and Mission: Suffering and Glory
Appendix: Twentieth-Century Ecumenical Councils


"It is a treat to read any book that makes church history (even the ancient bits) exciting and enlightening. It is thrilling to read any book that revels in the great overarching narrative of the whole Bible with Christ-centered faithfulness. It is enriching to read any book that opens up great theological themes like the Trinity with warmth and spiritual depth. It is stimulating to read any book that tackles some of the key missional challenges in our modern world with sharp insight and practical wisdom. It is breathtakingly rare to find any book that would dare to do all of the above in the service of mission--the mission of God and the participatory mission of the church. Scott Sunquist has produced just such a rarity in this book that combines breadth of theological scope with depth of learning and life in equal measure. This wonderful compendium brings together deep biblical reflection, the wisdom of Christian ages past, and the experience of a lifetime lived in mission. And in the process it exposes how shallow, short-sighted, and reductionist some of what passes for 'mission-think' today really is. This is a book to savor, ponder, and return to again and again."

Christopher J. H. Wright, international ministries director, Langham Partnership; author of The Mission of God and The Mission of God's People

"This is a clearly written, wonderfully ecumenical introduction to missiology and, indeed, mission theology. Its value lies in conceiving missiology as deeply theological and spiritual, not simply as tips and strategies for more successful evangelism. We often speak of the importance of the missio Dei for an adequate understanding of mission. In this volume Scott Sunquist helps us understand this trinitarian perspective more deeply."

Stephen Bevans, SVD, Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD Professor of Mission and Culture, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago

"No mere pragmatic missiology, Scott Sunquist's book is redolent with theology. This book shows us that we are steeped in suffering and in glory both across time and in today's global and urban challenges. What a high calling."

Miriam Adeney, associate professor of world Christian studies, Seattle Pacific University; teaching fellow, Regent College; author of Kingdom without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity

"This is an outstanding one-volume introduction to missiology. It is creative, unique, and captivating. I will recommend this text to all my colleagues."

Charles Van Engen, Arthur F. Glasser Professor of Biblical Theology of Mission, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Three mission books in one: Sunquist provides a sweeping history, a comprehensive theology, and an impassioned call for the church to be missional. Ambitious, inspiring, and sweeping. From Polycarp to Matteo Ricci and D. L. Moody, the range of this book is simply amazing."

Alec Hill, president, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA

"This book offers a fresh understanding of Christian mission endeavor from historical, theological, and ecclesiological perspectives. It explains how the realities of suffering and glory have shaped the practitioners of mission in local, regional, and international contexts. Scott Sunquist's teaching and living in mission contexts shine through in his expert choice of peoples and events in world Christianity. This work is a must-read for all who reflect on Christian mission and its legacy and prospects."

Reverend Daniel Jeyaraj, professor of world Christianity and director of Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity, Liverpool Hope University, United Kingdom

"This is not another run-of-the-mill, practical mission sourcebook of how to effectively strategize and grow churches. It seeks to broaden missional frameworks and deserves to be carefully studied."

The Rt. Rev. Dr. John Chew, retired bishop of Singapore and archbishop of Southeast Asia

"A powerful primer on the history and theology of mission, this book brilliantly lays out a clear understanding of God's mission, which the church today needs to recover and build on. It is a must-read for students exploring Christian mission for the first time as well as a comprehensive resource for practitioners currently involved with global mission."

Tom Lin, vice president of missions and director of the Urbana Student Missions Conference, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; international deputy director for North America, The Lausannne Movement

"This is a fresh and invigorating presentation of Christian mission for our day. Scott Sunquist draws on a recent burgeoning of biblical and theological studies that acknowledges the importance of the mission of God for understanding Christian existence. He identifies the biblical foundations, traces the historical unfolding of mission over two millennia, and summarizes contemporary missiological developments. This is a rich resource."

Wilbert R. Shenk, senior professor of mission history, Fuller Graduate School of Intercultural Studies

The Author

  1. Scott W. Sunquist

    Scott W. Sunquist

    Scott W. Sunquist (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He previously served as dean of the School of Intercultural Studies and professor of world Christianity at Fuller...

    Continue reading about Scott W. Sunquist


Christianity Today 2014 Book Award Winner
Named one of Ten Outstanding Books of 2013 for Mission Studies,
International Bulletin of Mission Research

"Because missiology is a multidisciplinary field drawing from history, theology, and practice, it is exceedingly difficult to cover everything that's required. Sunquist has done an excellent job at this daunting task."

Timothy C. Tennent,

Christianity Today

"The clear, comprehensible, and accessible structure of this volume reflects maturity of thought. . . . Intended as a graduate or seminary level introductory textbook on the study of Christian mission, the book treats all essential components of the discipline of missiology. . . . This is a very good introductory book on mission. If I were to teach an introductory level course on missiology, it would be one of my top choices. It reflects an in depth knowledge of the literature, provides a fair and authoritative treatment of the most relevant themes, and sketches a realistic understanding of mission applicable to the church's everyday life."

Lalsangkima Pachuau,


"Understanding Christian Mission offers the church an indispensable resource for mission foundation, formation, and expression. . . . Navigating the checkered record of Christian history (including the history of Christian mission), exploring the biblical portrayal of God's mission, and providing an ecclesiology built on these, Sunquist offers a valuable missiology in which the church's mission flows from its inseparable union with our triune God."

Stephen V. Coertze,

International Bulletin of Mission Research

"This book is an excellent resource for instructors of missiology for the following reasons: First, the author has been sensitized to cross-cultural missions in Singapore and the Near East, and has also been a visiting professor in several other countries. Second, the book is replete with appropriate personal anecdotes which heighten interest. Third, the text has been thoroughly 'chastened' in graduate teaching situations in Pittsburgh, Cairo, Pasadena, and Sabah, Malaysia, resulting in cross-cultural clarity and nuanced delivery. Fourth, a bibliography of 420 entries is in itself a veritable library ranging from the history of missions and ecumenics to theology of mission, urban mission, ancient Christian writing, and primary sources in mission and ecumenics. . . . Readable, scholarly, and personable, Understanding Christian Mission draws one into the whole gamut of mission history. All professors of missiology and practitioners will be enriched by this book."

E. Paul Balisky,


"A comprehensive, balanced, and fresh introduction to world missions. . . . Several of the strengths of the volume: a strongly theological approach, a thought-provoking historical analysis, and bold and faithful chapters on Christology, ecclesiology, evangelism, and spirituality. Another laudable characteristic of Sunquist's writing is his ability to introduce major movements of Christianity in terms apprehensible to students. . . . Understanding Christian Mission stands as one of the most well-rounded introductions to Christian mission today. Teachers of mission would do well to consider it as a key textbook. . . . Moreover, students of any discipline who want a one-volume entrance to the world of missiology will do well to start here. Sunquist is to be thanked for this key contribution."

Danny Reese,

Missio Dei

"Drawing from his vast experiences as a teacher and missionary, as well as from his academic expertise, [Sunquist] defines Christian mission as participation in suffering and glory of God. . . . Sunquist uses an interdisciplinary approach to the subject and does so with considerable ease and extraordinary flair. . . . The succinct summaries of important literature in the field provide a window into the ongoing conversation in the study of missiology. Practical suggestions and life stories make the book accessible both to seminarians and average congregation members."

James Elisha Taneti,

Mission Studies

"[Sunquist] has written an introduction to mission that is three books in one: a wide-ranging history, a Trinitarian theology, and a practical ecclesiology of mission. . . . Many books offer much. This one delivers. . . . Due to its breadth and depth, clarity and charity, academic rigor and spiritual warmth, I will enthusiastically recommend Understanding Christian Mission to my colleagues, students, and others interested in mission and the Christian faith. While accessible to laypeople, it is best suited to use as a primary text in a course on Christian mission."

Walter L. McConnell III,


"Admirably robust. . . . Sunquist provides a comprehensive historical and theological introduction to missiology."

Jeremy B. Griffin,

Asbury Journal

"The concept of the missio Dei has become standard in missiological treatments, and so guides the treatment throughout. In this regard, I appreciated Sunquist's awareness of how the concept has been misused in the recent history of missiology. He stresses that the reality of human sinfulness should not be obscured in missio's shadow, and that the persons of the Trinity always work in concert throughout salvation history. He wisely roots suffering and glory in the cross itself. Unlike comparable introductions, Sunquist's gives more space to pneumatology, not least because of the dramatic Pentecostal dimension to modern mission. . . . The original motive for the missio was to shift the focus from us to God, and in so doing to fix our eyes on the final horizon in a hopeful way. The move sometimes lost its way in the intricacies of trinitarianism and our own desires. The same good purposes are served by organizing missiological reflection around glory, and so the theme proves in Sunquist's book to be an apt and helpful framework to present this inherently multidisciplinary pursuit."

George R. Sumner,

Living Church

"[Sunquist] appropriately emphasizes the Trinitarian character of missions, and he stresses the role of suffering in the expansion of God's kingdom. . . . His concluding section on issues deals with several popular topics in contemporary missiology: urban missions, global partnership, and spirituality. Another positive element in the book is his appreciation for and understanding of the World Christian Movement. This book will help seminary students understand the global church more fulsomely. . . . This book could serve well as a textbook on the theology of missions."

John Mark Terry,

Journal of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary

"Sunquist has given the whole church a beautiful book. Writing out of his own experience as a missionary in Asia and American-based theological educator, decades of careful study, and wide exposure to mission in the name of Christ, [he] has forged a synthesis of history, theology, and applied missiology that will benefit all sorts of readers, including both beginners and veterans. This volume combines theory and practice; general surveys and specific examples; professional reflection and personal experience; lessons from both the Eastern and Western church; ecumenical and evangelical; Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant perspectives. The style combines clarity and elegance, precision and passion, objective information and subjective response. . . . Understanding Christian Mission will probably serve as a standard textbook for a long time. We all owe Scott Sunquist a debt of gratitude for what was obviously a labor of love."

G. Wright Doyle,

Global China Center

"Whether you cringe or light up when you hear the word 'missions,' this book by Scott Sunquist just might change your ministry and your view of God. Sunquist takes on no small task as he tries to understand missions in its historical, theological, practical, spiritual, glory-connected, and suffering-filled dimensions. . . . Sunquist's approach first addresses missiological history to give context and shape to our current place in history. Next is theological reflection on missions, which begins and ends with the very nature of God in the Trinity. The final section addresses contemporary themes such as his wonderful chapter on the church, urbanization, evangelism, partnership for mission, and spirituality."

Daniel Ryan,