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.