Review: Paul the Missionary

Eckhard Schnabel, IVP, 2008, 518 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-59-09-amFrom time to time, most missionaries have asked themselves why their ministry is not as successful as the Apostle Paul’s. “I must be using the wrong strategy,” we groan. And it is certainly understandable to search for patterns in his ministry in hopes of garnering the same triumphs. But Paul was fruitful, Schnabel argues, not because of methods but because of the Holy Spirit’s work.

This theme is among the many reasons I consider Paul the Missionary among the top five books I have read on missions. It is a challenge to missionaries to (re)evaluate the goals and methods of their ministry in light of the work of the apostle Paul.

Schnabel’s goal is to examine “Paul’s missionary work—proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and establishing communities of believers—in terms of the goals that he had and in terms of the methods he used” (30).

And just in case we were wondering what a missionary is, he defines him as one who establishes contact with unbelievers, proclaims to them the gospel, leads them to Christ, and integrates them into a local church.

Did Paul have a missionary strategy? Schnabel says no in that he didn’t use a carefully nuanced, well-formulated game plan but yes in that he did have a broad and flexible goal to preach the gospel to as many people as possible while relying predominantly upon the Spirit’s power to change lives.

Common Misconceptions about Paul and Missions

Schnabel’s greatest strength is exposing popular misconceptions about missions and Paul’s ministry. I have consolidated six of them: 

  1. Exegetical: Paul’s missionary service did not begin in Acts 13 but right after his conversion. It is incorrect to call Paul a missionary to the Gentiles and James to the Jews. Paul went to Arabia to evangelize, not meet with God. The mother church of Gentile missions was Jerusalem, not Antioch.
  2. Training: Much of Paul’s training of pastors was informal and nonformal.
  3. Sanctification: Paul did ask converts to abandon several central patterns of their culture.
  4. Method: Paul was not a cross-cultural missionary per se. He was tri-cultural essentially from youth. He didn’t have to “cross” a culture in the same way an American does in going to Indonesia.
  5. Location: The place for missionary service is secondary to the goal. Paul went where the doors were open and left when they were closed. “There is no explicit evidence that Paul ever stopped his missionary work in a city on his own initiative in order to start a new project in unreached areas—apart from his mission to Corinth and Ephesus, two cities in which he stayed for over two years” (197).
  6. STM’s: Most “drive-by” missions today should be retitled SEEP (sanctification experience in exotic places).



If Roland Allen’s classic Missionary Methods helped you, then you’ll love Paul the Missionary. Though Schnabel disagrees with Allen on a number of points (pp.282-284), this is really a modern, more in-depth version. He urges missionaries to avoid overemphasizing methods in missions. There is no full proof strategy for success. The key is the work of the Holy Spirit through the minister and the message.

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