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Missions Books That Will Mess With You

I’ve always appreciated the work of missions, but until the last few years I’ve generally thought of myself as an onlooker. I didn’t embrace the reality that missions is the responsibility of every believer, regardless of where we live—and certainly a major interest of every pastor. If I’m not to go as a missionary, I should at least be an informed and passionate missions advocate. To that end, over the last several years I’ve worked into my reading several missions books. I recommend that you do the same, reading at least one per year. Here are some books that have captured my heart for the work of world evangelization:

Let the Nations Be Glad!
by John Piper. The influence of this book on the modern missionary movement is immense. Almost every missionary who has visited Tri-County Bible Church over the last decade has been inspired by Piper’s doxological (God-glorifying) perspective on missions, which he captures in his inimitable way with the very first sentence: “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” That sentence alone is worth the price of the book, but the rest is informative and motivating, as well. (Another book by Piper that’s helpful for the cause of missions is Don’t Waste Your Life, which we’ve intentionally given out to young people for events like graduation.)

For the Sake of His Name by Dave Doran and Pearson Johnson. This book, written for Student Global Impact, continues the doxological focus of LTNBG. (Hence the name, an allusion to Romans 1:5 and 3 John 7.) It provides a thorough but concise philosophy of missions (highlighting gospel proclamation and church planting as the primary responsibility of the church, rather than social causes) and challenges some of the trends in modern missions. Appropriate for its original college-aged audience, it also highlights the grass-roots Student Volunteer Movement that grew among college students in the late 19th century, championing the cause of missions. This book (along with John Pollock’s The Cambridge Seven) has been an inspiring reminder of the potential our college campuses hold for world evangelization. And on a side note, it was the inspiration behind the missions hymn For the Sake of His Name, which Greg Habegger and I wrote for SGI 2010 (PDF / MP3).

Behold the City by Matt Recker. Matt is a New York City church planter, so he has the credibility to write the book, having invested himself and his family into reaching one of the great cities of the world. The book is filled with challenging expositions of Scripture and personal examples of gospel triumph. The lingering lesson for me is the heartbeat of God for mammoth cities throughout Scripture—whether Nineveh, Antioch, Corinth, or Rome. I’m grateful for Matt’s boldness and example.

Radical by David Platt. This is the most recent of the books listed here and was shared with me by my good friends Dick and Holly Stratton. It’s a “punch you in the mouth” book, challenging the materialism of the American Dream that we just assume coincides with biblical fidelity. It’s a quick read, more accessible than many of the others I’ve mentioned. I’ll also note that it’s a controversial book, earning rebuttals like this workshop from Shepherd’s Conference. Nevertheless, we studied it together last summer at TCBC and found it immensely helpful. Put it this way: If the people I pastor start taking missions too seriously and start making unsustainable sacrifices that border on irresponsibility, I’ll let them know. For now, getting people to rethink their view of normal Christianity, to consider doing something radical for the sake of the kingdom, and encouraging them to get their feet onto foreign soil is a great thing. The lingering influence of the book in my life? Platt’s urgent reminder that “There is no Plan B.” God has entrusted the gospel to His church. If we fumble it, there’s no backup strategy.

To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson. This is a missionary biography that reads like a classic novel—and I love classic novels. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. Absolutely riveting. I was moved to tears multiple times, amazed at what Adoniram Judson, his three wives (he was widowed twice), and their teammates suffered for the sake of gospel advance in Burma. His commitment to Christ is illustrated well by an incident I recorded here. The church needs to be acquainted with missionary heroes of the past, and this book is a great starting place.

A Biblical Theology of Missions by George W. Peters. This book was recommended to me by missionary friend David Hosaflook. It’s a comprehensive treatment of missions from the Scriptures—the most thorough of the books listed here. It’s thought-provoking; my copy has notes on almost every page. It traces the Bible’s teaching on missions throughout both Testaments, demonstrating that missions isn’t something that was pinned on to Christianity. Its roots are in the nature of Christianity itself, and even in the character of God, the Great Missionary. It’s instructive as a philosophy of missions and inspiring as a call to missions. I heartily recommend it.

Dispatches from the Front by Tim Keesee. I realize that I’m shoehorning videos into a list of books. However, the value of the four Dispatches videos for the cause of missions justifies their inclusion in classical missionary literature. I’ve been moved by each of them, which I’ve viewed multiple times. We’ve watched them together as a church on Sunday evenings. And we’ve purchased extra copies to pass around, especially to our students. I thank God for Tim Keesee and the team at Frontline Missions. (Peter Hansen and Brannon McAllister have done a magnificent job; the quality of the films is stunning.) Tim is a pioneer and a poet. The Lord is using him to demonstrate the gospel’s progress around the world in heart-wrenching and inspiring ways. Order a handful of each and pass them on.

The lack of interest American Christians take in world evangelization is scandalous. It’s time for us to open our eyes to God’s redemptive plan for the world. Reading isn’t the whole solution, but it’s a start. It’s been great for me.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on these resources or with other recommendations I should add to my own reading list. Grace.


13 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting this, Chris. I have most of these books and read most of them.

    May I recommend the following as well:
    1. Anything by David Hesselgrave. I have read “Communicating Christ Cross-culturally” as well as “Paradigms in Conflict.” Can’t believe I never read these in seminary. Shame on us.
    2. I am reading Paul Hiebert’s book, “Anthropological Insights for Missionaries.” Halfway done. Chapter 5 is a must read–very helpful for Stateside pastors to understand their own culture.
    3. For missions philosophy: John Nevius’s book is a gold mine though it is very short as well as Melvin Hodges “The Indigenous Church.” Those are both required reading for interns that come.
    4. Last year read a book in the Encountering Missions series called “The Changing Face of World Missions.” Some chapters are useless but some are very thought provoking about changes going on in the world.

    I too would say that Piper’s book is one of the best books I have ever read.

    P.S. This morning when running, I was listening to Soundforth’s newer CD and received a great blessing praying through your song “The Triune Prayer.” I have done that a number of times over the past couple of months. Just wanted to share that blessing with you.

  2. Tom Wells, “A Vision for Missions,” is very brief and helpful. His thesis is that God is worthy to be known and proclaimed for who he is. Wells then notes that this is both the task and the motivation for missions.


  3. Goforth of China is much in the same vein as To the Golden Shore. Written by Goforth’s widow after his death, it will grab you heart and never let go. Well worth taking the time to track down.

  4. Excellent, all. Thanks!

  5. Good stuff Chris.

    One book that has been particularly challenging to me is “Have We No Rights?” by Mabel Williamson (forward by James Montgomery Boice).

  6. Great reads, all of them. Thanks for this.

  7. I’ve really enjoyed the Dispatches series and I’d like to share a new song with you based off of “Dispatches from the Front” you can view it at http://michtammusic.blogspot.com/2011/03/introducing-he-will-make-his-mountains.html

    If you don’t want to post this comment up that’s fine :) I just wanted to share this link with you

  8. Here’s another, rarer title by Robert Hall Glover that I enjoyed several years ago.

    Always glad to see new, God-focused missions hymns, Taylor!

    (Also, glad you enjoyed A Triune Prayer, Chris. Thanks for letting me know.

  9. Add Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Life” to the list, as well. Necessary.

  10. Thanks Chris for your post; it is an honor to have Behold the City listed with these, especially To the Golden Shore, which to me the the zenith of missionary reading, along with the two volume set of Hudson Taylor’s work in China by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor. Have a blessed day!
    Matthew Recker

  11. […] not a great reader, but I love to read. I finished 2011 reading some mission books and several older novels (Moby Dick, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Scarlet Letter). I’m […]

  12. […] read his book on audacious missions, Radical. I blogged about it here. My quick summary: This is the most recent of the books listed here and was shared with me by my […]

  13. […] was very helpful. Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something was liberating. A number of books about missions and risk-taking were troubling, albeit in a good way. Some Christian biographies talked about transitions that the […]

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