Ten Years of Missio Dei: A Reflection from the Editor
This issue marks the tenth anniversary of Missio Dei. I take the opportunity to reflect on the labor of love that has made the journal possible and the meaningful work we continue.
A Labor of Love
I am proud of the rigor, inclusiveness, and significance of the work MD features. Perhaps chief among the journal’s virtues, however, is the fact that we provide content free of charge, as the board of the Missio Dei Foundation remains committed to an open-source model. To that end, everyone involved in the publication process donates their time and expertise. While the authors who submit their work are obviously indispensable, the unsung heroes of this story are the editors who have given thousands of hours to produce a decade of content. These champions of twenty-first-century missiology deserve to be celebrated.
Chris Flanders, associate professor of missions at Abilene Christian University, began as a content editor and quickly became MD’s assistant editor. His brilliant and energetic leadership stands behind some of our most robust issues to date, including the present one. There is no substitute for a generous partner who is a leading missiologist in his own right. We owe Chris a debt of gratitude.
MD contributors can attest (some with less enthusiasm than others) to the rigor of our editing process. Our content editors do an amazing job at everything from ensuring clarity of expression to cleaning up footnotes. The current lineup of content editors includes Nathan Bills (Lecturer in Theology, Heritage Christian College, Ghana), Jeremy Daggett (Missionary, Peru), Jeremy Hegi (Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity, Lubbock Christian University), Alan Howell (Visiting Professor of Missions, Harding University), and Martin Rodriguez (Associate Professor of Practical Theology, Azusa Pacific University). They give painstaking attention to the writing of others each issue amid their primary work in both ministry and scholarship. I continue to be astonished by these gifts. Nathan deserves special recognition as the only content editor who has been on board from the start. In the last ten years, he has become a Doctor of Theology (Duke Divinity School) and moved with his family to Ghana to serve African church leaders. All the while, he has helped MD authors put their work in the best light.
In like manner, our copy editors donate their outstanding talents. Danny Reese (Missionary, Angola), Nick Faris (MDiv, Director - Thoracic Oncology, Memphis, TN), and Stephen Mead (MDiv student, Abilene Christian University) do the tedious work of combing over each article to ensure it conforms to our style standards. In the early days (though no longer), we gave each author a list of minor corrections to their articles before publication. One memorably responded, “Wow, you guys are amazing.” I have to agree. Like Nathan, Danny has been at it since the first issue, working the whole time as a missionary. I have been humbled by his dedication to MD through the ups and downs of cross-cultural ministry.
I must also thank our deep bench of twenty regular consulting editors (to say nothing of the many others who have helped along the way). They are on call to peer review formal submissions but have also provided critical help in putting together themed content. These missiologists from across the Stone-Campbell tradition have played a pivotal role in serving our stated purpose: to be “a medium for exploring the rich tradition and ongoing practice of participation in the mission of God among churches of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, particularly Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Churches of Christ (a cappella), in an open dialogue with Christian missiology” ().
Our open dialogue with Christian missiology has come to fruition in the last ten years. Not only are many Stone-Campbell authors engaged at the leading edge of missiology, but an increasing number of submissions originate from missiologists outside the Stone-Campbell tradition. It seems to me this fact marks a significant development, which MD is privileged both to record and to promote.
Finally, our work could not continue without the financial partners who ensure our shoestring budget remains feasible. Special thanks are due, therefore, to our current sponsors, , , , as well as previous partners, Abilene Christian University’s Halbert Center for Missions and Global Service, Lipscomb University’s College of Bible and Ministry, Oklahoma Christian University’s Center for Global Missions, Pepperdine University’s Seaver College, and Lubbock Christian University’s Mission Link.
All of these contributions, from editors to authors to sponsors, confirm an essential truth about MD: it is a labor of love. We move into the next decade with a deep sense of gratitude and eager anticipation of what comes next. There is important work yet to do.
On the Horizon
So what’s next? In one sense, the work needs to continue as it has. Curating themed issues that address the concerns of twenty-first century missiology remains useful and timely. And the increasing number of unsolicited submissions we receive is a hopeful sign of things to come. As the work of Stone-Campbell missiologists proceeds and our conversation broadens, MD has an important role to play. I see two particular areas in which this work may bear fruit in the next decade. The first is the intersection—and, one might hope, the reconciliation—of mission scholarship and practice. The second is the emergence of an identifiable Stone-Campbell missiology.
The , which I wrote for MD’s first issue, explained our desire to defy the expectations a publication should be either academic or popular, either theological or practical. Certainly, some readers would prefer less technical jargon, fewer footnotes, and more easily digestible articles. Others may feel that the non-peer-reviewed content lowers the journal’s prestige or legitimacy. This divide, the gulf between church and academy, is deep and wide. But it is bridgeable. More, the need to bridge the divide and, eventually, to bring the church and the academy back into one household of faith is one of the most urgent tasks facing missiology today. MD is committed to this monumental work. I take hope from the fact that missiology occupies a liminal space. The raison d’être of missiology is the church’s participation in the life of the Triune God. This is true of all theology, but it is an inescapable truth for missiology, within which theory and practice live in a uniquely urgent relationship. Without the practices of mission on the ground, in specific contexts, missiology becomes a dead language. Without the care and critical insight of the discourse that we call scholarship, mission practices become deadly. The nature of this relationship compels the efforts of all involved to hold the two together for the sake of God’s mission.
Beyond publishing both scholarly and practical perspectives under one title, bridge-building entails a more proactive work. It calls for an architecture, which I offer as a metaphor for a shared missiological imagination in which two-way traffic between practitioners and theoreticians is conceivable. I admit, as agendas go, developing a shared imagination is scarcely more concrete. Still, coming together at the drafting table is a necessary first step. We must urge missionaries with little patience for the seemingly impractical, abstract, or overly technical discussions—for example, the analysis of honor, shame, and face in its full contextual complexity and scriptural depth—to embrace the insights of their collaborators across the divide. Conversely, we must relentlessly call scholars whose work often leaves us asking, So what? to attend to the practical needs of missionaries on the front lines. We need a persistent, intentional meeting of minds. Only in such an encounter can a shared imagination emerge.
Furthermore, this type of missiological bridge-building must be a shared labor. If we can imagine a way across the divide, constructing it becomes possible but not inevitable. We have words for this work—or at least for its chief technicians: practical theologian and pastor-theologian are the most common. Such vocations are vital because the work of bridge-building needs leadership. Many missionaries are called to engage local challenges that demand their full attention. And many scholars are called to study questions that yield to nothing less than complete concentration. These foci can be mutual gifts if those who live in the space between lead the way. Perhaps a journal can play only a small role by comparison. As a journal of missional theology and praxis, though, MD advocates for these bridge-builders. Let missional theologians and missionary-scholars abound!
The second area in which I see potential for important work is the maturation and expansion of Stone-Campbell missiology. I hesitate to speak for our sisters and brothers in Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and other branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Rather, I have in mind the stream of the tradition that is closer to home for me (and the MDF board members)—Churches of Christ (a cappella)—though I suspect that my comments here might represent others as well.
Regarding maturation, MD’s role is primarily one of documentation. The long labor of missiology programs at various universities, most notably Abilene Christian University and Harding University, is presently bearing a considerable harvest among Churches of Christ. Indeed, in a variety of ways, this work made MD a possibility. Between the increasing scholarship of students shaped by these programs and the work of missionaries likewise prepared for deeper, wiser engagement with the contexts to which God has called them, a missiological tradition is emerging out of the robust tradition of mission work that characterizes Churches of Christ.
The contours of this emerging missiology are as yet unclear. But as the work of documentation continues, clarity increases. A few marks stand out. Most notable is a remarkable breadth of concerns and emphases. Traditional cross-cultural evangelism, holistic ministry, local church participation, missionary care, environmental mission, interfaith dialogue, intercultural partnership, public theology, missional and neo-monastic ecclesiologies, and more have occupied the pages of MD. Another prominent mark, which I have already mentioned, is an ecumenical stance. This is evident not just in the publication of submissions from authors outside the SCM but also in authors’ broad scholarly engagement and in guest editors’ curation of issues through their rich networks of interlocutors. A third mark is the sophistication of the missiological historiography that is gaining momentum in recent years. This is undoubtedly a repercussion of the outstanding historical theology of Churches of Christ that has appeared in the last six decades, and I am encouraged and excited by the rigorous reflection now applied to the missionary heritage of the movement.
These marks characterize a healthy, hopeful missiological enterprise. There are, however, serious shortcomings to note. I would underline the most pernicious: the voices of women are appallingly difficult to come by. This fact is a symptom of far-reaching systemic problems that Churches of Christ, for one, have only begun to address. Former MDF board member Janine Morgan (Abilene Christian University) is the first female faculty member of a school associated with Churches of Christ who holds a terminal degree in missiology.MD might celebrate our breadth and diversity so far, the conspicuously small number of women among our authors represents a major dimension of Stone-Campbell missiology yet to mature.Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are a little farther down the road, and we have been especially fortunate in two of our consulting editors, Kendi Howells Douglas (Johnson University - Florida) and Rochelle Scheuermann (Wheaton College Graduate School). For missiology, the overall failure to cultivate female missiologists is all the more troubling because, as in much of modern Christian mission history, the number of female missionaries has frequently been greater than that of male missionaries in Churches of Christ. As much as
Regarding expansion, the horizon of twenty-first century missiology unmistakably lies toward the south and east, and amid the migrant diaspora throughout the West, where Majority World Christianity is ascendant. Our recent issue on Majority World voices (MD 10, no. 1) is a nod in this direction, but little more. There is no telling how or at what pace Majority World missiology will reshape English-language conversations. The need is urgent, but the possibilities are fraught with the complex dynamics of the postcolonial rearrangement of power and intercultural communication.
One question, certainly, is the extent to which Majority World churches planted by SCM missionaries or otherwise connected with the tradition will adhere to, enrich, redefine, or diverge from that tradition. Living traditions, by definition, have both a historical coherence and a fuzzy boundary, both of which are always already contested. Perhaps the SCM—an indigenously American but also an innately missionary tradition—will prove malleable and fuzzy enough to grow into a truly inclusive and adaptive world-Christian movement. I do not think the evidence is in, though the question grows more pressing year by year. If there is any frontier of SCM theology at which this possibility will be tested, it is missiology. Because the question of who gets published is so close to the heart of this process, MD has a role to play here as well.
I will end by highlighting some of the pieces that I consider significant in MD’s catalog. Many others are also worthy of sustained attention, but I have chosen one from each issue that represents the caliber of work we are privileged to host. To the reader who might have missed one or another, I say, Tolle, lege!
Soli Deo gloria.
1 See Janine Paden Morgan, “Pan-Handle Preachers and the Pope: A Study of the Cross-Cultural Dialectic and Missionary Identity Formation of the Churches of Christ in Post-War Italy,” MD 8, no. 2 (Summer–Fall 2017): .
2 See Rochelle Cathcart, “Review of Susan S. Baker, ed., Globalization and Its Effects on Urban Ministry in the 21st Century,” MD 3, no. 2 (August 2012): ; Rochelle Cathcart Scheuermann, “Paul G. Hiebert’s Anthropological Insights for Missionaries —Thirty-Three Years Later,” MD 9, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 2018): ; Kendi Howells Douglas, “Christ Has Laid Hold of Me: A Review of Newbigin’s The Open Secret ,” MD 9, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 2018): .
3 On Protestant missions more broadly, see Dana L. Robert, American Women in Mission: The Modern Mission Era 1792-1992 (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1997). Regarding Churches of Christ specifically, see Jeremy P. Hegi, “‘Stand for the New Testament order and trust God for the consequences’: Sarah Andrews and the emergence of Churches of Christ as a global Christian tradition, 1916-1961” (PhD diss., Boston University, 2020), 14, .
4 On this note, a particularly notable contributor is Linda Whitmer, the Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Johnson University. See Linda Whitmer, “Review of Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, with Anthony Parker, 2nd ed.,” MD 5, no. 2 (August 2014): ; Linda Whitmer, “Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? ,” MD 9, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 2018): . In addition to the authors noted above, see, Kate Sullivan Watkins, “Review of Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfeich, Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence,” MD 4, no. 1 (February 2013): ; Jackie Halstead, “Encounter with God: A Theological Reflection on Missionary Care,” MD 6, no. 1 (February 2015): ; Beth Reese, “Training for Transitions,” MD 6, no. 1 (February 2015): ; Verna Weber, “Seven Reentry Challenges for Missionary Families,” MD 6, no. 1 (February 2015): ; Emily Stutzman Jones, “Review of Lowell Bliss, Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees,” MD 6, no. 2 (August 2015): ; Becky Holton and Dale Hawley, “Missionary Care among US Churches of Christ: A Comparative Study of Supporting Churches and Missionary Response,” MD (Winter–Spring 2017): ; Marnie Hoetmer, “Review of James K. A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor,” MD 8, no. 2 (Summer–Fall 2017): .