Structural Problems in Mission Studies
The Way in which Mission Studies Shapes Christian Theologies and Ministries
The Sinking of Cross-cultural Bridges and the Collapse of the “Western Theological Corpus”
Bridges to people and culture do not work any longer because they never touch the water of troubled cross-cultural issues. For the same reason, contextual theology does not work any more – once faced with the deep cross-cultural crises of faith and conviction, it sinks with no hope. We have long observed the collapse of the “Western Theological Corpus,” as Andrew Walls calls the structural problem in missions today. Main reason for its collapse is the failure to give answers to the theological questions emerging from the Global South. As a result, the colonial approach of doing missions, resonating in imperialistic cross-cultural ministry and ethnic conquest for assimilation of cultures, all have failed both the indigenous people and the mission sending agencies. Prayer has hence turned into a protest and prophecy for a new reality, where the encounter of missions is no less than the very cross-roads where we encounter God and others together.
- Implications for Church History
- Implications for Theology and Ministerial Studies
- Implications for Ministerial Formation
- Ministerial Formation and the Challenge of the Practice of Ministry and Mission
Second Part of 1st Class Session: Mission Studies and Christian Ministry
Assumptions of Mission Studies:
What is mission studies?
Our working definition for mission studies:
“Mission studies is an academic discipline with a strong interdisciplinary approach and method (brings together multiple academic disciplines) which explores the character and nature of the transmission, reception, appropriation, and re-transmission of the Christian religion across cultures. Given that the crossing of multiple cultural boundaries—linguistic, class, gender, ethnic, generation, etc. is intrinsic to the vitality of the Christian religion, mission studies seeks to identify, analyze, expose, and critically reflect on these processes in order to describe and explain the character and nature of the Christian religion.”
More theologically based definition,
“Mission studies is an academic discipline with a strong interdisciplinary approach and method (brings together multiple academic disciplines) which explores the character and nature of the transmission, reception, appropriation, and re-transmission of the Christian religion across cultures. Given that the crossing of multiple cultural boundaries—linguistic, class, gender, ethnic, generation, etc. is intrinsic to the vitality of the Christian religion, mission studies seeks to identify, analyze, expose, and critically reflect on these processes in order to gain insight into the communication of the Christian message and its grounding in a particular time and space throughout history and in contemporary situations.”
If we take seriously these working definitions, then mission studies is critical to the formation of Christian ministry.
The global transformation of Christianity requires nothing less than the complete rethinking of the church history syllabus. Most conventional church history syllabus are framed, not always consciously, on a particular set of geographical, cultural, and confessional priorities. Alas, such syllabuses [sic] have often been taken over in the Southern continents, as though they had some sort of universal status. Now they are out-of-date even for Western Christians. As a result a large number of conventionally trained ministers have neither the intellectual materials nor even the outline knowledge for understanding the church as she is. The only hope of such things being acquired in perhaps the majority of theological institutions is from what is currently thought of as “mission studies.”
Implications for History:
1.An awareness that most of the history of Christianity takes place in the Global South and in the East, not in the West. (33-923 CE, most in the Global South—world Christianity regions; 923-1981, concentration in the north, Global North—Global Christianity—making 1500 the lowest point in the Global South; 1950s mark the next shift).
- An awareness of the dynamics of communication—translations, use of idiomatic expressions, the polycentric character of the Christian religion. (The different modes of communication and appropriation of the Christian message).
- An awareness of the diversity of issues in one given historical period, with different implications depending on regional, cultural, economic situations. (Consider the Reformations of the 16thCentury with the Encounter of Iberian Christianity with the Amerindians and African Slaves).
- The serial nature of the movement of the Christian religion (How the religion moves?)
It is the very concept of a fixed universal compendium of theology, a sort of bench manual which covers every situation (referring to Western theological corpus), that mission studies challenges. In mission studies we see theology “en route” and realize its “occasional” nature, its character as response to the need to make Christian decisions. The conditions of Africa, for instance, are taking Christian theology into new areas of life, where Western theology has no answers because it has no questions. But Christians (non-Westerners and Westerners) outside Africa will need to make some responses to the questions raised in the African arena. As Christian interaction proceeds with Indian culture—perhaps the most testing environment that the Christian faith has yet encountered—the theological process may reach not only new areas of discourse, but resume some of those which earlier pioneers—Origen, for instance—began to enter.
“Structural Problems in Mission” by Andrew Walls in The Missionary Movement (pp.146)
Implications for Theological Studies and Ministerial Formation:
–Theology as contingent—contextual and temporal—occasional
–Discussion theology and ministry as a vocation that tries to answer questions…
A renaissance of mission studies will not be effected simply by increasing the number of faculty posts and the output of books and doctorates. It will require not just rigorous scholarship, but depth of scholarship… It will require integrated scholarship, which engages with all the existing theological disciplines and sources of which most even of the best theologians are innocent. It will need to demonstrate learning and professional competence in the phenomenology and history of religion and in the historical, linguistic, and social sciences too, for those disciplines also need the renaissance of mission studies.
“Structural Problems in Mission” by Andrew Walls in The Missionary Movement (pp.151)
What does it mean to provide ministerial formation?
–Name the disciplines…
Whatever our view of that question, I do not see that good practice is remotely likely to suffer from the quest for such transforming, mission-related scholarship as is here proposed. But I am quite sure that good people and financially influential good people, will fear that it may. It is necessary, therefore, to realize that the world of learning is a mission field too. Quality, depth, and range of scholarship are the marks of a vocation; and a collegial and demanding vocation needing all the traditional missionary attributes of devotion, perseverance, and sacrifice.
Structural Problems in Mission” by Andrew Walls in The Missionary Movement (pp.152)
Is a new way of understanding and providing theological and ministerial formation damaging to the practice of ministry and mission?
Open discussion in relation to mission:
In your experience, how do your experience of Christian mission mirror the nature and character of Christian ministry in the local congregation?
How would you describe and characterize the relationship between Christian missional practices and Christian ministerial practices in your local congregation, denomination, etc.?