Jonny Baker, director of Mission Education at Church Mission Society, recently reviewed the first two books of the Mission in Marginal Places series, The Theory & The Praxis for Anvil, a journal of theology and mission.

RS40062_United_Kingdom_Staff_98434-scr-300x300These two books are the first in a series of six books exploring mission in marginal places. It is an ambitious and welcome project and has real bite to it. That comes from a number of things that combine together well.

It is practical theology driven by real questions arising from a struggle to live out a life of faith and mission at the margins in challenging contexts in communities that seek to bring challenge to the powers and hope in the midst of struggle. What does it means to be a community of Christ followers that live out of an alternative imagination in such places? In other words it is not simply a theoretical exercise – it cuts much deeper than that and the stakes for the writers are much higher, they are about how to live life itself. But the theory engaged with is plentiful, at depth and is informed like nearly all the best missiology from a number of disciplines – theology, biblical studies, mission studies and the social sciences. These are set in conversation with one another and with the lived experience and it is this mix that is energizing. The engagement with the social sciences draws on very current ideas and conversations in a very helpful way. As you might expect with a range of views from the edges there is plenty of critique offered of current ways of framing mission, theology, ecclesiology with its tendencies to create binary oppositions and obsession with growth and sustainability.

Language makes the world in particular ways and one of things I found particularly interesting is how at pains the writers are to speak appropriately about and within the places that are marginal. Tone and posture counts for so much. Power and domination and how they are handled are a huge part of mission. This concern for speech leads to some delightful insights and theologizing. For example in the second book the way of speaking about Christ, mission and church in relation to the environment and making church on brownfield land is creative and profound. I also appreciated that this is a British series and the places and practice do not come from the USA or elsewhere. It’s grit Brit mission which is refreshing!

The titles of the two books are actually somewhat misleading as both engage significantly with both theory and praxis.  But the first is in three sections exploring mission and marginality, mission and neighbor, and mission and God (though I thought it was as much about how to live, how Christian faith is practiced) with a range of authors and then the editors discussing that section by way of a reflection on it. The second tackles five realms in which mission praxis is considered – ecomonic, political, social, environmental and creative/artistic. Each section has a more theoretical chapter followed by a couple of case studies and then a reflection from the editors.

It is clear that there is beneath this series a learning community who are researching and reflecting seriously on an area of mission practice together. There is huge energy and insight here for those with ears to ear and I hope it is not simply read by those living in marginal spaces because it is as much a book that is relevant to the wider  changing landscape of post welfare, austerity, post truth, challenges around immigration and so on that affects us all seeking to follow Christ whatever church and place we are part of. I am looking forward to the rest of the series which engages with stories, spiritual landscapes, the powers and living the peaceful way. In a word brilliant!

More info on how you can purchase these two books can be found here.