Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, A Study of the Church in the Four Provinces

By: Roland Allen

Missionary Methods is an important book in the history of cross-cultural missions.  It has had an impact on the way overseas missions is done and thought about all the way into the 21st century.  As the title makes clear, the point of the book is to examine Paul’s missionary methods and ascertain if we should be using his methods, or our methods.  In the book he advocates for the former, pushing against the colonial missions ideas that were prevalent in his day.  Ronald Allen was an Anglican missionary to China from 1895-1903.  As a missionary, he saw the problems with the colonial missions methods that were being utilized and returned to Scotland.  He began pushing for indigenous missions practices that would be used to more effectively share the gospel in the unreached and begin church planting movements.  This book flows out of Allen’s experience and struggles as he sought to determine how missions was to be done in his day.  After writing Missionary Methods in 1912, he went on to write The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hindered It in 1927, both of which are still used by missionaries and assigned in seminary classes.

Allen makes his thesis clear from the very start.  Paul’s missionary methods, primarily recorded in Acts, informs us on how to do missions and missionaries need to conform to his methods.  He states, “It is impossible but that the account so carefully given by St. Luke of the planting of the churches in the Four Provinces should have something more than a mere archaeological and historical interest.  Like the rest of the Holy Scriptures it was ‘written for our learning’” (6).  The most important obstacle to this thesis that Allen focuses on proving wrong, is the claim that Paul’s situation was different than ours so his methods are not as effective as our modern methods.  He makes clear, that the real reason Paul’s methods in the four provinces is undermined is because, “St. Paul’s method is not in harmony with the modern Western spirit” (9).  After the introduction in chapter one, Allen continues with ten chapters dealing with individual aspects of missions and how we learn from Paul how they ought to be handled.  Each of these chapters has a similar format and goal.  They seek to show how Paul’s situation and circumstance did not give him anymore of an advantage than we have.  Allen highlights the negative effects of doing missions our own way to point the reader to consider Paul’s way.  For example, when addressing the issue of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he explains that when we try to select only a few people to do everything in a new Christian community, we end up running into several problems that Paul did not have when he trained leaders from within congregations to replace him (83-85). Furthermore, after explaining what Paul did in detail, he applies it to the modern missionary situation. His goal is the same throughout these sections; Paul’s method of doing missions must take presence over our own ideas and methodology. The book draws to a close with five rules for missionaries that he argues are essential to missions based off of Paul’s method explained in the preceding ten chapters.

Overall, Missionary Methods is a well written book that is greatly helpful for Christians seeking to understand how missions are to be done effectively and faithfully.  Though we live 2,000 years after Paul, Allen does a superb job in showing that his methods still work.  In fact, Paul’s methods are the only ones that are faithful.  The book’s thesis is biblically sound and argued practically.  Below, I explain that strength is primarily seen in its boldness, historical aptitude, sound overarching argument, insight into the barriers to missions and faithful use of the biblical text.

It is understandable why this book is still used and respected today.   As long as this book is read, it will continue to positively lead people away from faulty human based strategies to missions and towards the effective biblical pattern set forth by Paul.  No matter what someone’s background on missions, anyone who reads this book will have a hard time disagreeing with Allen.  He did a great job in showing how Paul’s missionary methods can work today as they worked in his day.  I would recommend this book to any Christian who is contemplating or doing cross-cultural missions.  The truths of the book had a large impact on me and the way I think about every aspect of missions from finances to authority.  Though the book is old, the truths are timeless and we should be thankful for the impact that Allen has had on the way people have thought about missions.

Book Review by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren

You can buy the book here.