Stephan B Bevans editor, Mission and Culture, Orbis Books, 2012,

Stephan B Bevans editor, Mission and Culture, Orbis Books, 2012, £31.99 A review by Frank Regan


I kick myself that I did not cop on to the importance of Cultural Anthropology during my years of preparation for missionary priesthood. I would have had a better preparation with clearer criteria of judgment and critique. I can look back and smile at some of my “clunkers”, but I was also guilty of some serious lapses and mistaken attitudes.
The book under review is a collection of the Louis J Luzbetak lectures. Luzbetak (1918-2005) was one of the pioneers of missionary Cultural Anthropology. His book, The Church and Cultures is still a classic and a basic resource for anyone going on cross-cultural mission. Collected here are eleven lectures given at the Chicago Theological Union. The collection is ecumenical in scope. Two of the lecturers are well known in this country: Aylward Shorter and Robert Schreiter.
The basic theme engaged in each of the lectures is the encounter between Gospel and Culture as effected by Christian Mission. Luzbetak learned through experience and study that the Gospel without Anthropology was blind; and Anthropology without the Gospel was lame. The missionary needs the help of science and the light of the Gospel. The goal of Mission in the perspective of the Gospel aided by Anthropology is the Inculturation of the Faith. This is a long process and must be viewed in the long term. The average cross cultural missionary stays in a culture for seven years. Not enough, says Luzbetak, to effect a deepening inculturation. This is because the process of inculturation’s principal agent is the missionary who brings his/her Gospel message and values into contact with the message and values of the newly encountered culture.
At first there is a certain naïve acceptance on the part of the missionary of everything the new culture has to offer. In a second stage there is a growing tension as the missionary discovers elements of the new culture which are counter to living a fully Christian life. Then comes a third stage in which the missionary embarks on a long, fascinating journey of discovery of those areas of Gospel and Culture which lend themselves to encounter and synthesis and those areas which do not permit a fruitful dialogue.
I loved reading this book as it brought back many bitter sweet memories. It is also a great overview of contemporary mission thinking. Do read it.
Frank Regan