Missionary – Theologian

I was quite excited to receive a copy of this book to review. I have lived on the mission field, my parents are missionaries in Romania, so I naturally have an interest in the topic of missions. I’ve also thought for a very long time that the people we send on global missions should be trained and equipped theologians (as, I would argue, every Christian should be).

With a book like this (most books for that matter) my first question is always ‘who is written for?’ and then I try read it, as best I can, with them in mind. Burns says…

“The audience I have in mind is generally the Western-educated graduate student and missionary-in-training, the missionary-sending pastor, the mission agency leader, and ultimately the missionary on the field.”

Burns draws on his experience of the mission field and the classroom to help missionaries see the importance of having their work based on the Bible and God’s work. He draws on many historical figures that bring this to the forefront of the readers mind. I’ve known many missionaries over the years and many of them have had a sense of ‘calling’ from particular experiences that they’ve had or emotions that they’ve felt at certain times. There is nothing wrong with experiences or emotions, but it can lead to missionaries who aren’t good theologians.

“Most missionaries in church history have, in preparation for the field, committed themselves to rigorous study and extraordinary theological training that, compared to our educational standards today, seem draconian and excessive. However, increasingly the sentiment is that the less you are theologically trained, the closer you are to Jesus; the logic goes that knowledge quenches the Spirit and puts God in a theological box, which is blamed as the fruit of European rationalism and American fundamentalism.”

Burns isn’t saying that every missionary must have a phd, or that they have to be a published author, he’s saying that they need to know their Saviour, their doctrine and their Bibles.

“This book is a clarion call to stir up a new breed of Pauline missionary-theologians, who rest in Christ’s work alone, standing on sola scripture in the face of any new missions methods that supposedly ‘really work this time’ and of any new spiritual experience that promises real power, inner-healing, and freedom from brokenness, and of any Christian leaders who claim to speak on behalf of God and know God’s secret will.”

One thing that I like about this book is how Burns honestly speaks about his experiences on the mission field and some of the dangers that arise. He is honest and very reflective on the dangers of not being theologically stable before going on the mission field.

“Any attempt to serve the Lord in the pressure cooker of the mission field that is not resting in Jesus and His victorious work can easily devolve into a form of works-righteousness. Missionaries need to remember and remind each other that the gospel both saves and sanctifies. God is neither more pleased with them for how hard they work and how effective they are, nor is He displeased with them for how they struggle and underperform.”

The book covers some theological content and some of the definitions and methods behind missions, but it is also very practical. Burns has helpful chapters on what it means to be a ‘sending church’ and some of the more specific missionaries (such as church planters and pastors). There are also three appendixes that are very practical for missionaries, one by Burns himself, one by Adoniram Judson and one by Spurgeon.

I think that this could be a helpful book. I do however have two slight criticisms…

  • There doesn’t really seem to be a thread that runs through the book. Burns says that this book is the product of many little books that he has written over the years of his missionary career. This does mean that there are points where he is more academic and others where he is more devotional, points where it’s more Bible exposition and others where the focus is more on church history. Therefore, the book felt a little bit disjointed at points and it felt as if Burns was using different voiced throughout.
  • This one is maybe a bit more nitpicky; It isn’t the most straightforward reading all the time. Burns is obviously a very well educated man and he certainly knows his stuff. But there are times the in the book where the sentences were a bit long. This is important to note because it can make for clunky reading. I read a lot of books, many of them academic, so I’m used to long sentences but they aren’t always necessary.

I wholeheartedly agree with the call of this book for missionaries to be well equipped and trained to go out into global missions to serve the Lord. If you are on the mission field and you’re wanting a book that might help you get back to the roots of Scripture to think about your work, this book could help. If you’re thinking of going onto the mission field, I think that you would benefit from Burns’ experience as he portrays it in this book.

You can buy a copy of it here from Christian Focus. If you do read it, I would really like to hear your thoughts on it too.


E.D. Burns, PhD, has been a missionary in the Middle East, East Asia, Alaska, and currently Southeast Asia, where he develops theological resources and trains indigenous pastors and missionaries. From his international location, he also directs the MA in Global Leadership at Western Seminary. He is the author of ‘A Supreme Desire to Please Him: The Spirituality of Adoniram Judson’.

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