Fortress Press

Constructing Mission History: Missionary Initiative and Indigenous Agency in the Making of World Christianity

Constructing Mission History

Missionary Initiative and Indigenous Agency in the Making of World Christianity

Stanley H. Skreslet (Author)


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Three master narratives currently dominate the analysis of modern mission history. One puts foreign missionaries at the heart of the story. A second emphasizes the colonial aspect of modern missions. Here, missionaries are not heroes but villains, who are implicated in hegemonic schemes of imperial domination. Thirdly, mission history is subordinated to one of its outcomes, the advent of World Christianity. In this master narrative, the concept of contextualization looms large, bolstered by Sanneh's notion of translatability and emphasis on the agency of non-Westerners, who participate in and subtly shape the complex social processes of evangelization. While all three of these master narratives are insightful, none of them adequately balances concern for missionary initiative and indigenous agency.  

Borrowing from speech-act theory, Skreslet offers a new analytical approach to the modern roots of World Christianity that differentiates between what a speaker might intend to communicate and the effects of what has been said or actions taken both in the moment and over time. Corresponding to the concepts of illocution and perlocution as these technical terms are used in speech-act theory, the book is structured in two main sections. Initially, the focus is on expressed missionary motives. Part two engages a representative set of modern-era mission performances involving many more actors than just the foreign evangelizers whose stated or implied intentions are emphasized in part one.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506481890
  • eBook ISBN 9781506481906
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 462
  • Publication Date January 17, 2023


"Employing speech-act theory in highly imaginative and productive ways, Stanley Skreslet has rendered a novel, timely, and very helpful account of the vast history of Roman Catholic and Protestant missions since 1500. Expansive in scope, probing in analysis, rich in detail, and persuasive in its argument, Constructing Mission History provides historians of Christian mission and World Christianity a valuable intellectual structure by which to organize and understand the exceedingly diverse data and phenomena they encounter in their field."

Arun W. Jones, Dan and Lillian Hankey Associate Professor of World Evangelism at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University

"In the analytical and perceptive way that we have come to expect of him, Stanley Skreslet takes apart some mission historiographies - including the growing field of world Christianity - and proposes a constructive way forward. Replete with examples from around the globe and through time, in Skreslet's hands, mission outcomes are the shared production of missions with other global and indigenous actors and rarely match missionary agendas. A fine book that is both relevant now and will stand the test of time."

Kirsteen Kim, Paul E. Pierson Professor of World Christianity and Associate Dean for the Center for Missiological Research, Fuller Theological Seminary

"With his characteristic clear prose, careful organization, and thoughtful analysis, Stanley Skreslet offers an overview of the historical study of Christian mission and a way forward for the field. Skreslet covers a remarkable swathe of recent (and strong earlier) scholarship, examining cases and studies from across two millennia of Christian history and myriad cultural settings, all the while acknowledging the value of different disciplinary approaches, to consider the past, present, and preferred future of the field. Both the comprehensive review and critique of the field as well as Skreslet's innovative speech-act approach as a way to transcend limitations in previous approaches to the study of Christian mission make this a decisive contribution to mission studies and the historical study of Christianity more broadly."

Paul Kollman, CSC, associate professor of theology, University of Notre Dame

"Stan Skreslet is a premier mission scholar of his generation. In this excellent book, he grounds mission history in a new framework that is convincing, creative, and conversant with cutting-edge scholarship. His interpretation of mission history anchors its scholarly integrity. I am adding this book to my list of essential works for teaching and research."

Dana L. Robert, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor, Boston University