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Review of Jonathan J. Bonk, J. Nelson Jennings, Jinbong Kim, and Jae Hoon Lee, eds., Missionaries, Mental Health, and Accountability: Support Systems in Churches and Agencies

Jonathan J. Bonk, J. Nelson Jennings, Jinbong Kim, and Jae Hoon Lee, eds. Missionaries, Mental Health, and Accountability: Support Systems in Churches and Agencies. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Publishing, 2019. Paperback. 325 pp. $13.99.

Missionaries, Mental Health, and Accountability is an informative and inspirational compilation of essays and papers from forty Korean and Western authors. It is the fifth book in a series produced by the Korean Global Mission Leaders Forum. It includes writings and case studies that were presented at a symposium held in Sokcho, Korea, in June 2019. Essays in the book are divided into four sections, as the editors chose to address these important topics: (1) disillusionment, discouragement, and depression; (2) relational dynamics and tensions; (3) contextual contributory factors in missionary mental illness; and (4) helpful insights to resources for missionary mental health care. I was glad I did not skip the forewords (as I oftentimes do), as I found the following words of Timothy Tennent, Professor of World Christianity at Asbury Theological Seminary, to be major catalysts for me to keep turning the pages of this book: “The insights of this collection of essays and research is a clarion call to the church that we have done a far better job in inspiring and sending out workers into the harvest than we have in caring for and sustaining the ministries of those who respond to the missionary call. Healthy recruitment and sustainable retention should be an important concern for the whole church” (xvi). This is not, however, one of those books wherein the authors critically scold the church for a job poorly done. I agree with Tennent’s appraisal that this book presents “clear, positive pathways offered to the church in these essays” (xvi).

The first section of the book presents case studies of “spiritual giants” in the Old and New Testaments who received healing from mental health problems. The authors of these introductory chapters deal candidly, yet sensitively, with Elijah’s healing from depression and fear, Jeremiah’s struggles with bitterness, disillusionment, and self-pity, and Peter’s self-doubts and faith crises related to his failures and guilt. These powerful stories from Scripture lay a credible, biblical foundation for the validity and value of the book.

Topics covered in the section on “Missionary Relational Dynamics” include marital conflict, neurodevelopmental disorders in missionary children, and sexual addiction. Chapters in the section on “Contextual Factors” address these mental health issues: stress, appropriate care, trauma, and organizational happiness. In the “Resources” section, one gets information about organization-centered mental health, research on emotional stress in retired missionaries, and retirement plan suggestions. The book closes with workshop papers that deal with the following topics: depression in the Old Testament, missionary kids, and building a multicultural mission. Jung-Sook Lee, President of Torch Trinity Graduate University in Seoul, wrote a challenging closing chapter entitled “Our Pain is Not in Vain,” in which he wisely outlines responsibilities of organizations and sending churches. Jonathan Bonk, President of the Global Mission Leadership Forum and Professor of Theology at Boston University in Winnipeg, Canada, closes out the book with a gracious chapter, filled with encouragements and words of gratitude to contributors, aptly entitled “But We Have This Treasure in Jars of Clay. . . : Mental Health and God’s Servants.”

Most of the 23 chapters include case studies and, although many of them relate to the Korean church and missionary works, their applicability to the worldwide Christian missionary movement is obvious. Some of the case studies deal with familiar heroes of the faith, while others address mental health problems encountered by more contemporary missionaries who have served faithfully but are unknown to most of us. Seventeen of the chapters have both an author and a respondent, and they are always from different cultures. This affords the reader at least two cultural perspectives on the issue, and sometimes engages different clinical and/or theological perspectives on the problems. I learned so much from reading Korean cultural perspectives about many mental health issues, for example, the many types of “anger” outlined in the chapter on “Missionary Anger: A Korean Cultural Perspective.” One is reminded of the critical importance of understanding indigenous psychologies and sociologies before making assumptions about the mental health (causes and cures) of missionaries from cultures other than one’s own. I recommend reading the writings of scholars such as Alvin Dueck, Professor Emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Psychology, and Gladys Mwiti, clinical psychologist and CEO of Oasis Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, to gain insights into indigenous psychology. Their co-authored book Christian Counseling: An African Indigenous Perspective (Nairobi: Evangel Publishing House, 2008) presents well-researched and clearly articulated information about this important issue.

Stephen Allison

Robert & Mary Ann Hall Endowed Chair of Psychology & Intercultural Studies

Professor of Psychology

Abilene Christian University

Abilene, TX, USA

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Review of Graham Joseph Hill, ed., Relentless Love: Living Out of Integral Mission to Combat Poverty, Injustice and Conflict

Graham Joseph Hill, ed. Relentless Love: Living Out of Integral Mission to Combat Poverty, Injustice and Conflict. Cumbria, UK: Langham Global Library, 2020. 402 pp. Paperback. $27.10.

This book is a collection of lectures and summaries of consultation tracks delivered at the 7th Triennial Consultation of the Micah Global Network held in the Philippines from September 10th to 14th in 2018. The presentations are connected, for the most part, to the theme of “integral mission and resilient communities addressing poverty, injustice and conflict” (xxv). The chapters average less than ten pages each, making the book user-friendly for busy practitioners. The Micah Network is “formed by over eight hundred members from more than ninety-five countries around the world” (xxix). It was founded by an international group of Christian organizations to campaign for delivery of the millennium development goals (MDGs) (137). The group’s name refers to Micah 6:8, which also provides its mission statement: “to act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” The members want to ensure that this mission is not set aside for a ticket-to-heaven gospel that does no earthly good.

The book is too broad to summarize concisely; this review instead highlights a few especially noteworthy chapters. Other chapters are packed full of general principles, programs, policies, steps, stages, definitions, citations, and acronyms. These are not riveting reading, but even here some sentences sparkle with perfect clarity. For instance, the phrase “the scandal of poverty, injustice and conflict” (xxv) is spot on. Imagine if a starving family was discovered to be living in squalor in your basement. Their toddler has just died of an easily preventable disease. The newspaper article covering this story reveals that you not only knew they were down there, but that you invested in an expensive home security system to keep them out of the main house. The money you spent on locks, alarms, and guard dogs could have fed them for eighteen years. That would be a scandal.

I was challenged by Chapter 4: “Dangerous Resilience? The Institutional Church and Its Systemic Resistance to Change.” There, Thandi Gaedze argues persuasively for the urgent need to include new people and perspectives in the teaching format and governance of the church. Similarly, in Chapter 9, Amy Reynolds and Nikki Yoyama-Zseto address gender-inclusive leadership. Henry Ford once said, “The question, ‘Who ought to be boss?’ is like asking ‘Who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?’ Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.” In this sense, Reynolds and Yoyama-Zseto call for the inclusion of an alto and soprano in the leadership quartet. Is such inclusion a matter of “gender justice” (102), or is the demand for male/female leadership parity just one of the more recent expressions of Western cultural imperialism? Perhaps, following Henry Ford’s advice, we should look at giftedness rather than gender. Perhaps “it does not do any good to promote a universal solution, when gender is very culturally specific” (105). Leadership structures and ideals are also culturally bound. As missionaries, should we not allow and encourage churches in all cultures to select their own leaders? Yet, is there not also a need to let God’s word challenge “the culture’s ‘leadership narrative’” (111)? This is a thought-provoking chapter.

In Chapter 12, Sandra Maria Van Opstal gives an excellent, lively discussion of “Worship and Justice.” At one point she bemoans how “global worship practices are currently shaped by a small group of worship movements on three Western continents (North America, Europe, and Australia), continuing the patterns of theological colonisation that impacts the heart of the entire church” (154–55). I would point out, nonetheless, that the globalization of music styles also happens in society at large, and Western styles of music are popular among many young people who are becoming Christians around the world. Perhaps we may give up aiming for a mythically pure and unchanging indigenous style of worship music and just encourage Christians in all countries to write whatever lyrics and tunes they feel help them communicate their hearts to God.

I underlined passages on every page of Chapter 16, which discusses “the necessity of lament for spiritual resilience in contexts of poverty and injustice” (189). Denying or downplaying suffering and injustice in an effort to protect God’s reputation actually hurts God’s reputation with the poor and those who love them. We may even find that as we scream for God to intervene, we are actually “building solidarity with Yahweh in declaring that the world is not as it should be” (199). If we refuse to lament we will likely either burn out or develop strange compensatory behaviors, one of which is emotional withdrawal (201). A different reviewer would likely have chosen to highlight different chapters.

Sean Todd


Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Review of Paul Grant, Healing and Power in Ghana: Early Indigenous Expressions of Christianity

Paul Grant. Healing and Power in Ghana: Early Indigenous Expressions of Christianity. Baylor University Press, 2020. Hardcover. 341 pp. $60.00.

The title of the book, though broad, matches with the extensive content in this well-researched and important addition to the history of Christianity in Ghana. Paul Grant, a lecturer in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides an in-depth understanding of pioneering Ghanaian expressions in the face of a new religion brought by European missionaries. He presents the reception of Christianity by inhabitants of the kingdom of Akuapem as a veritable case study of the reformulation of Christianity into useful tools of social and physical healing as it competed and compromised with long-existing sociocultural practices and belief systems. Thus he argues for a pervasive indigenous form of Christianity establishing itself in the nineteenth century that was “epistemologically and ontologically continuous with Pentecostalism” that has come to dominate Christianity’s African ascendence in the twentieth century (3).

Grant scores high points in his discussion of a number of issues. First, he insightfully introduces the context of the Akwamu kingdom that ruled in Ghana (c. 1600–1730). Incidentally, the beginnings of the Basel mission in Akuapem coincided with attempts by the Akuapem state to sustain itself by preserving the Akan-type chieftaincy. The chieftaincy had been established in the 1730s following the defeat of the Akwamu Kingdom. Thus the success of the missionary work in Akuapem in particular and in southern Gold Coast in general was, in part, a result of the people recognizing the benefits derived from the mission agents toward the ongoing political and social evolution of Akuapem. This is best understood from Grant’s insightful discussion of hitherto obscure aspects of Akwamu’s high-handedness in the treatment of its subjects, the Guan communities on the Akuapem hills. In addition, Grant’s penetrating explanation regarding the relocation of the Akwamu capital from its former place at Nyanawase nearer to the hills (Aburi) proves more illuminating than arguments made by earlier writers (e.g., Ivor Wilks and Kwamena-Poh) who postulated a political reason as a result of a battle for succession between Basua and Addo. While the capital’s original location at Nyanawase was conducive to the Akwamu trade in gold, the shift to the hills provided a good opportunity for the state to make more profit from the slave trade; hence, the relocation in spite of Addo and his forces’ victory over Basua.

Second, Grant sheds new light on historical figures and customs. For example, he illuminates the life and contributions of Okuapehene Addo Dankwa I (1816–1836), the Akuapem ruler who welcomed the consequential Basel missionaries. Other scholars have portrayed him as a weakling and continually challenged by his own subjects, but Grant shows that some aspects of his activities prove otherwise. For instance, his performance of rituals to invoke rains in his state certainly demonstrated that he fulfilled his duties as the paramount ruler of the Akuapem state. Grant is able to explain various Akuapem rituals, most of which were performed secretly. These included human sacrifice before, during, and after the reign of King Kwadade I (1846–1866). His accounts of certain chiefly titles and their functions are also well explained. Above all, he establishes firmly the fact that African Christians expected deeper, more practical engagement between orthodox forms of practices and everyday realities, and this accounted for the initial setbacks the early missionaries encountered in their efforts to convert Africans to Christianity.

Third, Grant’s painstaking attempt to distinguish between the Akan and Guan cosmology at the formation of the Akuapem state brings to the fore some basic differences between the Akan members of Akuapem society vis-à-vis their Guan counterparts. Such important nuances are most often not seen or are ignored by most scholars. Understandably, the Akuapem people in general make reference to “one another” as menua (kinsman), a form of address which would seemingly indicate the state was made up of two distinct groups (i.e. Akan and Guan) when it actually included many other, lesser-known people of different regions.

Additionally, Grant provides the beginnings of Akuapem’s transition from a traditional African kingdom into a society syncretizing with Christianity and colonialism. He wisely traces the root cause of the development to the emergence of—for want of a better expression—the “post-Riis era,” that is, the period of young missionaries and colonial institutions and their officials. Thus, Akuapem society became the host of foreign agents (i.e., Christians/Colonialists) who were convinced of “their right and responsibility to impose on indigenous social life” (113). The success of their work was made possible–in my view, but somewhat contrary to Grant’s appraisal–by the flexibility of the Akuapem (and to a large extent, the broader Ghanaian) sociocultural practices and belief systems. Such flexibility made it possible for the people to embrace, adopt, and adapt new things, including religious beliefs and practices.

I noticed a factual error in the dating of Akuapem Odwira (see last paragraph on p. 11). It should read Akuapem Odwita was only nine years (and not seven years). Historically, Akuapem Odwira was introduced after the Akatamanso War of 1826 while Riss arrived on the Gold Coast in 1832 and established the Basel mission in Akuapem in 1835.

Grant’s excellent exposition is highly recommended as a source for scholars and students of the history of Christianity, cross-cultural studies, comparative religion, sociocultural and general studies on Africa.

Ebenezer Ayesu

Head of Department, General Studies

Heritage Christian College

Accra, Ghana

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The Missional Calling Paradox

This paper discusses the primary data produced in an initial round of interviews inquiring into the relationships between expatriate missionaries and native pastors in the country of Jordan. This research is being conducted as part of the PhD program I am completing at Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (Oxford, UK). These interviews revealed a possible correlation between individual conceptualizations of personal calling and the health of future ministry relationships. This paper argues the “paradox of missional” is that a phenomenon generally understood as healthy may present obstacles to mutuality in mission partnerships.

Nick1 grew up in a Christian home and went to a church summer camp during his second year in high school. During the camp, a missionary spoke to the youth every night about his ministry and the need to reach the “unreached”2 with the gospel. He told the campers that over a billion people had not heard the gospel and would go to hell unless someone came to tell them. Nick felt burdened by this and began praying for “the lost”; he also began reading and learning more about missions. He learned that one area of the world with the most need was the Middle East. While many people in his home country were scared of Muslims, Nick began to feel attracted to the exciting and mysterious mission field that might await him. Soon he was confident that he was “called” to missions among Muslims. He shared this with his home church, and many voiced their support. Nick attended a Bible college and spent a summer in Morocco. His affection for Muslims only increased as he learned the local language and experienced their hospitality. After college, he applied to a missions organization that specialized in “unreached fields.” After acceptance, he went through several trainings in evangelism and church planting among Muslim people. Nick left for Jordan sure of his calling to share the gospel among Muslims; he dreamed of a future of seeing his converts launching out to share the gospel and plant churches of their own. After settling into his new home, Nick learned of a small evangelical church in his neighborhood. Excited to meet local Christians, he visited, was welcomed, and was even invited by the pastor, Yusuf, to his home for a meal.

Yusuf also grew up in a Christian home in Amman, Jordan, and from an early age became aware of his family’s proud heritage as Arab Christians. “Our ancestors were present at Pentecost!” his grandfather proclaimed. Yusuf also grew up going to church camp where he learned that Arab Christianity was under threat and that his generation might be the last to live in their homeland, as so many Christians were emigrating. Yusuf was bullied in school because of his Christian identity. He became aware that Christians were often treated as second-class citizens by the Muslim majority. His grandfather’s stories influenced Yusuf. Consequently, he decided he did not want to emigrate like other friends and family members; he felt that God was calling him to become a pastor and care for his people as they struggled to exist and stay true to their faith in their homeland.

When Yusuf invited Nick to share a meal, he was excited to demonstrate the Arab Christian tradition of hospitality and get to know a new potential church member. Nick shared that he had come to Jordan to evangelize Muslims and had high hopes for the future. Yusuf shared that the church was struggling to hang on, and most church members had negative experiences with Muslims, were scared to evangelize, and had limited resources to fund outreach. Yusuf had relationships outside the church with Muslim background believers but feared bringing them into the church would invite more persecution, so he discipled them privately and secretly. Yusuf had some ideas for ministry projects that could bless church members he wanted to share with Nick, and Nick was excited to enlist Yusuf’s church in his evangelistic plans.

However, following the meeting, Nick felt that the Arab church was not interested in helping him towards his calling of evangelizing Muslims. On the other hand, Yusuf felt that Nick cared more about Muslims than his Christian brothers and sisters. Nick felt that Yusuf was closed-minded, and Yusuf felt that Nick was too caught up in his plans. They maintained casual contact for the next few years but never achieved a deep personal or ministry partnership. Furthermore, they never became close friends. Eventually, Nick and his family left Jordan after seeing a few individuals convert but coming short of the widespread movement of which he dreamed. Yusuf and his small church are still trying to survive; a couple more move away every year.


The research discussed in this paper looks at mission partnerships in Jordan between foreign evangelical missionaries and their local Arab counterparts. The problem identified is a breakdown in the formation and practice of mission partnerships primarily due to each party’s insufficient relational basis in missional partnerships. Local Jordanian churches have built cooperatives amongst themselves, and there are several examples of successful collaboration in the community of expat workers. However, cross-cultural mission partnerships between foreign missionaries and local believers have been weak and problematic.

For eight years, I ministered in Jordan and maintained membership in a local Jordanian evangelical church. During this time, I continually observed foreign missionaries and Jordanian Christians struggling to relate to each other and collaborate in shared ministry endeavors. I have experienced a range of successes and frustrations in my personal and ministry relationships in Jordan. Further, many missionaries are choosing to pursue their mission goals outside of a relationship with local Christians, and conversely, many local congregations are hesitant to fully welcome missionaries into their congregation. Only one of the five missionaries I interviewed regularly attends an Arabic-speaking church service. One Jordanian pastor, the district supervisor of his denomination, remarked that “Missionaries are not much of a help to us.”3

My research in the mission studies literature and an initial round of interviews in Jordan revealed four major components of mission partnership: (a) calling, (b) perceptions and memories of the other, (c) power dynamics, (d) mission goals. This paper, however, limits itself to discussing the theme of missional calling.

My research has shown that missional calling arising from personal experience is a dominant impetus in forming missional partnerships. The experience of calling to mission often predates, by years, practitioners’ entry into the mission field. Yet this calling informs and molds their understanding of missional partnerships even before establishing their first missional relationship. Relational considerations have become subservient to the fulfillment of personal calling. The concept of calling is a dominant theme that emerged from interviews. While a common perception may assume that a clear missional calling will result in relationships that form healthy partnerships, it appears that individual calling to mission often stands in the way of building healthy relationships that result in successful partnerships. Thus, the paradox identified is that the missional calling experience commonly understood as foundational and helpful can result in paradoxically unhealthy and unsuccessful relationships.

This research is timely because Christianity in the Middle East continues, in most places, to decline as a percentage of the overall population.4 In Jordan, Christians equaled 9% of the population in 1952 and 2.2% in 2011.5 Lebanese Christian academic George Sabra writes that the future of Arab Christianity looks “bleak.” And that foreign missionaries must support and cooperate with local believers rather than circumvent them: “Mission to the Middle East must support and cooperate with the Christians of the region, not bypass them.”6 Sadly, the legacy of twentieth-century Western missions to the Arab world may be dominated more by the resultant divisions of the Christian community rather than the intended conversion among Muslims.7 I have witnessed that partnership between foreign missionaries and Arab Christians is a complex and difficult endeavor. My conversations over the past eight years have revealed that both sides are willing to form partnerships, and they feel that ministry in partnership would be ideal but is not the reality. In other words, the current model and understanding of partnership in mission are not sufficient to inform mission practice in Jordan.


Since the early 1900s, the mission community has become increasingly aware of the persisting ill-effects of the colonial era in which mission was often synonymous with the imposition of Western cultural preferences, resulting in paternalism and dependency.8 With the end of the colonial era, the mission community sought to redefine the relationship between the older and younger churches. “Partnership” became the popular term to speak of a “new relationship between the ‘South’ and the ‘North’ in terms of mutual covenant and reciprocal cooperation.”9 This definition, from Samuel Cueva, has two components that I find helpful. First, that mission partnership is a “mutual covenant,” speaks to the nature and quality of the relationship. The idea of covenant is central to mission: “One specific way that God pursued his mission was by making a covenant with his people to make himself known to them.”10 Therefore, the covenant relationship between Christians in mission follows the covenant relationship between God and his people in pursuit of his mission. A covenant relationship is committed, loyal, and gracious. A theological understanding ties the relationships Christians have with one another to their relationship with God. Second, Cueva speaks more practically: a mission partnership engages in “reciprocal cooperation.” In mission partnership, believers from different backgrounds collaborate and give to each other. Kirk picks up on this: “Within world Christianity, ‘partnership’ expresses a relationship between churches based on trust, mutual recognition, and reciprocal exchange. It rules out completely any notion of ‘senior’ and ‘junior,’ ‘parent’ and ‘child,’ or even ‘older’ and ‘younger.’ It is a term designed to show how different parts of the Church belong to one another and find their fulfillment through sharing a common life.”11 A three-fold understanding of mission partnership as theological, relational, and practical is a helpful framework for this research.

Partnership in mission addresses a theological understanding of believers from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds relating together in unity. Partnership is, therefore, not a nice slogan that some clever committee has dreamt up; it is the expression of one, indivisible, common life in Jesus Christ.12 In mission, the functional aspects of partnership must build on a more profound commitment to living and ministering in partnership. In the former, completing a task is paramount; in the latter, it is the biblical call to unity. A commitment to and practice of mutual relationships ought to then see mission initiatives co-birthed through healthy partnerships.

The mission community has been talking about partnership for a century, but old habits persist, and many relationships are trying to achieve the ideals of partnership. Walls relates that “the original organs of the missionary movement were designed for one-way traffic; for sending, for giving. Perhaps there is now an obligation of Christians to ‘use means’ better fitted for two-way traffic, fellowship, for sharing, for receiving, than have yet been perfected.”13 Kirk is more direct than Walls: “Partnership is a great idea; pity about the practice!”14 We must recommit ourselves to struggling towards missional covenant relationships.

Martin Buber’s Theory of Relationship

Martin Buber’s work on relationship and dialogue as a philosophical lens is highly useful for inquiry on mission partnerships. He presents a model of relationship that can lead to wholeness, mutual learning, and genuine collaboration. Buber proposed that human existence is only defined by how we relate to other humans, creation, and God. He believed in two types of dialogical relationships defined by two basic attitudes a person can take. He used what he calls “basic words” to describe these two attitudes: “I-it” and “I-thou.” “I-thou” designates a relation between subject and subject in reciprocity and mutuality. “I-it” is a subject-object relationship of utilization or control, the object being wholly passive.15 Newbigin explains, “it is the difference between two ways of understanding the world, one in which the self is sovereign and the other in which I understand myself only in a relation of mutuality with other selves.”16 This dichotomy of mutuality vs. control is a central problem in the mission partnership discussion.

In contemporary mission literature, mutuality arises as a major theme concerning mission partnerships.17 Various authors propose that the way forward in post-colonial missions is to develop relationships between expat and local Christian mission workers that respect each other’s contributions, abilities, customs, and thoughts. These authors and our experiences also admit that the practice of mission partnership often does not live up to such ideals, and an unequal power dynamic often persists. Therefore, a relationship that most agree should be defined by mutuality is, in practice, non-mutual. I believe that Buber, therefore, is useful as this research seeks a foundational understanding of relationship in mission contexts. Although Newbigin’s explicit use of Buber has already brought Buber into the mission studies discourse, there remains little systematic engagement of Buberian thought in the discipline. Further, it is not out of place to use Buberian thought within the context of cross-cultural work because Buber himself was involved in dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Israel/Palestine.18

Relationship with Oneself

For Buber, the “basic words” fundamentally determine first the nature of one’s relationship with his or herself. For him, these basic words are central to one’s self. They are “primal,” “Basic words are spoken with one’s being.”19 Hence, while the second word of the pair changes, the I is different in orientation between the pairs. In Buber’s view, one always engages the world from one of these primal stances towards others. That stance defines oneself rather than the other. “I” can only understand myself in relation to others being either a “you” or an “it”: “There is no I as such but only the I of the basic word I-You and the I of the basic word I-It.”20 For Buber, a person is defined by relation to others. However, he admits that all people exist in a dynamic interplay between these attitudes.

If we take a stance that human beings are inherently relational, any study of mission partnership must, therefore, begin with the self and the factors it perceives to have defined itself. If I have to identify an idea that would serve as a base for a theology of partnership, it would be our intrinsic relatedness within the web of life. Relationship is our fundamental reality. In the beginning, is relationship. Relationship is constitutive of who we are and of what we can become.21 In trying to understand partnership, we realize that we first must understand the self and its orientation as it enters into relationship.

Understanding the Other

An I-It relationship meets the other in a subject-object transactional nature. The other person is an It. They are a means to meeting one’s needs and pursuing one’s priorities. The I engages in a monologue whereby they are in control and not changed by the relationship. Its functional role defines the relationship. Lingenfelter describes a case of a dysfunctional partnership between African and American mission partners he was called in to consult on: “Each of these partners was more focused on achieving the ends that each had for partnership than on developing effective relationships together.” Lingenfelter has described an I-It relationship dictated by a subject-object attitude. He has also identified Buber’s counter-argument, dialogue, through “developing effective relationships together.”22 Assuming an I-Thou attitude engages one in a mutual connectedness with the other. Buber explains, “The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The basic word I-It can never be spoken with one’s whole being.”23 This attitude is subject-to-subject and does not limit oneself to specific and limited traits. It acknowledges that each is a dynamic being only known wholly through dialogue and wholly opening oneself.

Newbigin uses Buber to answer the epistemological question of how we know God and other people. Newbigin warns against an attitude that approaches others as objects to be studied and analyzed. Taking a Buberian I-Thou attitude, he relinquishes the control of modernity and attributes Buber as clarifying to him the difference between reason and revelation in relationships: “The difference is not between the use of reason and its abandonment; it is the difference between two ways of understanding the world, one in which the self is sovereign and the other in which I understand myself only in a relation of mutuality with other selves.”24 For him, “the posture of humble and submissive listening is appropriate.”25 He does not reject reason but makes it subject to a mutual relationship in which the other also has a voice and equal contribution.

Relationship with the Other

A discussion on letting others into our lives can lead to the vocabulary of hospitality. To Westerners, hospitality generally evokes visions of inviting friends and guests to our home for a meal or party. In Arab culture, hospitality is a core cultural value: “The value of hospitality is impressed upon Arab children from an early age.”26 Arab culture generally sees hospitality as an extension of generosity, a social guard against the accumulation of wealth, and a division between rich and poor. A Christian concept of hospitality, however, is rooted in the conviction that God, through Christ, has invited humanity into his fellowship. The proper response is for Christians to extend this invitation to others, even to strangers and those who could not repay it.27 Russell defines hospitality as the practical embodiment of this truth: “I understand hospitality as the practice of God’s welcome, embodied in our actions as we reach across differences to participate with God in bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis.”28 Practicing hospitality opens up one’s life to another and, in a state of vulnerability, says, “I need you too.” We stop seeing others as objects and see them instead as fellow subjects. This is a useful way of approaching our understanding of power in relationships and partnerships. To Koenig, hospitality is “partnership with strangers,” and for him, even those we know become “strangers” as we open ourselves to them, and they to us, we see each other in new ways.29 Inviting others in genuine hospitality is “the catalyst for creating and sustaining partnerships in the gospel.”30 While arguing against false hospitality that perpetuates a colonial hold on power, Letty argues that “hospitality” is reframed “as a form of partnership with the ones we call ‘other,’ rather than as a form of charity and entertainment.”31 As a theologically driven practice, hospitality opens one to another and forms the basis and means of a mutual relationship that breaks down traditional power barriers.

In Buber’s understanding, an I-Thou attitude positions one to give and receive, change and be changed by the other. “Relation is reciprocity.”32 Approaching another as an object constrains and controls within the limits of oneself. “Rather than serving as an object of experience, ‘Thou’ points to the quality of genuine relationship in which partners are mutually unique and whole.”33 Taking an I-Thou attitude into mission partnership expects and works for a relationship with other whole persons, not just a means of achieving one’s goals.

Relationship with God

Of course, mission partnership has a goal: participation in the mission of God.34 Newbigin keeps this discussion of relationship on track by arguing that “we cannot be Christ’s ambassadors, beseeching all men to be reconciled to God, except we ourselves be willing to be reconciled one to another in Him.”35 Participation in God’s mission demands that Christians live in unity with each other in relationship with God. A relational model of mission subordinates the perceived task to participation in a holy relationship, first with God and then with each other.

The local trend of missionaries and churches purposely living and working separately from each other elicits questions about the nature of the relationship between the church and mission. Advocating for a “missionary ecclesiology,” Newbigin consistently argues that the church and mission are inseparable from each other.36 He rejects a separation between the two as unbiblical and asserts that “the church and mission belong indissolubly together.”37 Newbigin believed that separating church from mission would lead to an inwardly focused church and a mission without foundation. Returning to the language of hospitality, Koenig claims the practice is “expected to stimulate a mutual giving and receiving that will bear fruit for all sides within the plan of God.”38 Bosch warns that subject-object thinking objectifies the Bible, and some Christians “apply it mechanically to every context, particularly as regards the ‘Great Commission,’ ” and in turn, they “treat peoples of other cultures as objects rather than brothers and sisters.”39 It is not that a relational model disregards results; it sees them as the product of a mutual relationship.

Speaking specifically of the Middle Eastern context, Sabra brings the missionary ecclesiology of Newbigin together with an example of a Buberian relational divide: “Let us first of all be clear on whose mission we are talking about: Christian mission to the Middle East, or the mission of Christians in the Middle East?”40 Sabra has articulated two different approaches to mission, which I believe also represent the two sides of Buber’s I-It or I-Thou. The first model is one in which foreign Christians are the subjects. The people of the Middle East are the objects of mission. The second model envisions foreign and Middle-Eastern Christians relating to each other wholly as fellow-subjects. This is made all the more possible by unity as fellow Christians across cultural bounds. “As we confront one another—divided by our sundered traditions of speech and practice, yet drawn together by the work of the living Holy Spirit so that we cannot but recognize Christ in one another—we are forced through the crust of our traditions to a fresh contact with the Living Christ.”41A relational model of mission and mission partnerships envisions a mutual relationship that expects to see God working through the other to bring one into a deeper relationship with himself.

The Paradox of Missional Calling

The questionnaire I used during this round of fieldwork began each interview with the question, “Would you tell me the story of how you came to be in ministry?” With this question, I intended to understand what forces, factors, and motives contributed to the decision to enter vocational ministry, how they chose their place and role in ministry, and how they prepared or trained. It became apparent to me that each of my interview subjects identified, usually at the beginning of their answer, the experience of a “calling” to ministry and that this experience set them on the path that led to either missionary service or, in the case of the Jordanians, vocational ministry as pastors. The personal experience of calling was a critical component of their development as either missionaries or pastors. In the case of the missionaries, the fact that these Christian foreigners are living in Jordan is unnatural. The normal course of their lives would not likely have placed them there. Some phenomena occurred in their lives that interrupted the normal course and compelled them to make the changes necessary to move and settle in a foreign country. Indeed, mission motivation must be seen as a complex phenomenon.42 However, early in every interview, a supernatural calling was identified as a primary factor. Pastor Boutros (Jordanian) told me that when he was a teenager,

One day, I had this like a crisis. And I started, you know feeling down and I even, I think I cried that day, but in that moment when I was like going through this hard time, I felt something divine. I felt empowerment by the Holy Spirit. It changed me. I stopped, I turned from sadness into laughter and started to rejoice, and I felt that it’s a turning point in my life and from that moment, I started to even speak out and talk to people, Christians, Muslims, students in my school. . . . So yeah, this is how I met my calling.43

I began to see that my respondents identified these experiences as major instigating events that would eventually put them on course to be in vocational ministry in the same locales as their foreign missionary or Arab pastor counterparts.

Calling is a term in common usage, and we should not be surprised that a discussion on a variety of mission subjects should include references to callings. Despite its ubiquitousness, however, trying to understand the nature of calling is more complicated. In reviewing relevant research, I found references in popular missiological books that felt insufficient yet reflected the attitudes I have encountered. For instance, in a chapter titled “Spiritual Formation and Missions,” Ellif writes that “The call of God into ministry, especially for mission service, should be accompanied by an inescapable sense of certainty. . . . Effective missionaries operate from the sense that their call to missions is no less genuine than Paul’s.”44 Some understandings of calling in mission appear deduced from biblical accounts. In this case, the dramatic and supernatural experience of the Apostle Paul has been generalized to all Christians. Many mission organizations view a strong sense of calling as an important component in guarding against attrition during challenging ministry and life experiences. I recall that when I was preparing for missionary service, I was repeatedly told that I must be sure of my call lest I become discouraged when ministry became challenging. As Hay puts it, “By ensuring a firm call at the beginning, and testing that conviction in ministry, we will definitely contribute to resiliency after trauma.”45 These authors opine that missionaries certain of their call persevere and are effective in ministry tasks. In the writers’ minds, “effective missionaries” are certain of their call.

Another important aspect of the missionary calling is that it may be specific in focus: “God often burdens those he is calling with a deep concern for the lost and for the world to know and glorify Christ.”46 For instance, calling among many missionaries is often expressed in terms of evangelistic goals. Again, the missionary is the actor as he or she responds to God’s direction. They bring the answer as Western missionary culture assumes that the members of the “receptor culture” have needs that they consider themselves called and equipped as Westerners to meet.47 This type of calling is task-focused or subject-object in orientation.

This surety and focus on the evangelistic task constrains relationships with other Christians that the missionary encounters, who may not express their calling in the same way. Lingenfelter found in his research on a pair of dysfunctional partnerships that “the Koreans and Westerners in our case studies strove to achieve outcomes that fulfilled their personal sense of calling, ownership, and security.”48 Lingenfelter’s observation has mirrored my own in some of the subjects of my research.

At first glance, one might not identify calling as a significant component in the formation and practice of mission partnerships. Therefore, a specific line of questioning on the theme of calling was not prepared or pursued in this first round of my research. However, this theme emerged as a dominant topic in the majority of respondents.

So, what is mission calling, and what role does it play in mission? For Stamoolis calling is the foundational force that puts Christians on the course of missionary service: “At the root of the missionary vocation is a sense of being called by God. That call may be direct, or it may be mediated through another agency, but underlying the Christian vocation is the concept of offering service to God. It is the conviction of a sense of God’s leading that has motivated individuals to endure great difficulties to carry the message of Christ.”49 Stamoolis gives us five important components of calling that I find useful for organizing my analysis.

1. Calling Is Internal

First, he uses four ideas to describe the nature of calling: Sense, Conviction, Leading, and Motivation. All four ideas describe what is happening within the self. The focus of calling is, therefore, an internal experience of the missionary self. Interestingly this resonates with Buber’s philosophy that the first component of relationship is the centrality of the self.

In my research, six out of seven respondents explicitly described internal experiences that led them to enter ministry. Phil describes “hearing” God: “I remember hearing God so clearly, probably the clearest time I heard him as a kid. . . . I felt more of a calling than a decision.”50 Phil was the only one who said he heard God. The others described their calling as an internal feeling or conviction that God was leading them or desired for them to enter missionary service. Certainly, mission literature speaks of a corporate call on the church, yet these missionaries primarily speak of calling in terms of the individual.

2. Calling Has Two Sources

God is the originator of the call: “God chooses, calls, and sends particular people. God is always the initiator.”51 The above definition, however, allows that calling is either direct or mediated. There is an understanding that developing a calling is a part of the discipleship experience in which God uses the voice, example, and influence of other people. Calling is, therefore, a dialogical experience. Even as they described the internal process of calling, the respondents identified people who had affected them:

“I think particularly as a child growing up in Sunday school I remember, all of these different visits we used to have from workers [missionaries] coming, showing their snakeskins from Africa. But there was one particular lady that made a particular impression on me, and she worked in northern India and Nepal for many, many years. And she told us stories about how she went into mountain villages where probably no other white person had been before. And she just went to all these places just to share with people who had never had the chance to hear. And I was a believer from a very young age, and I love Jesus, and I wanted people to know, and when she came and told us about all these places where people didn’t know, I thought, well, that’s what I’ll have to do.”52

Elizabeth shared further experiences as a youth in a church that frequently taught about the need to evangelize in “frontier” areas. Another respondent claimed that he felt his call after listening to sermon cassette tapes. Thomas clearly illustrated the dual-source of calling: “It was an inner calling as well as an affirmation from my church that I was going to go overseas.”53 Consistently, respondents admitted that the voice of other Christians in their home country was an important part of reinforcing that the call they felt came from God. Todd said that he was working in ministry in the USA when a colleague prayed for him, “and then out of nowhere he just said, you’re called to the southern Middle East.”54 So we see that mission calling originates from God but is often mediated through the example and voice of others.

3. God-Centered

Missionary service is primarily understood as a service to God, who is active in his mission. Our mission “is wholly derived from God’s mission.”55 This claim is relevant to our topic because it entails that God is dynamically involved in mission. If he is calling believers to join a mission in the past, present, and future, it follows that the missionary’s understanding of God and his mission is always growing. The disciple-making missionary should admit that he or she is also continually being made a disciple: “The Church participates in the mission only by virtue of its participation in the Holy Spirit. . . . When we are working together, the effect is that witness is to Christ as Lord.”56 When he became convinced of his call, Yousef prayed, “Jesus, you are alive. You are alive. You are real, and if you keep giving me this feeling. I will serve you forever.”57 Mission calling is focused on serving God in a relationship in which he is active not only in his mission but also in the missionary’s growth.

4. Calling Is an Anticipation of Difficulty

Interview respondents readily shared stories of persevering in a difficult time because of a commitment to their calling. Elizabeth shared that her initial mission experience in the Middle East was challenging, and she returned to her home country questioning her call. She said to herself, “I’ll stay in Sweden, just live a normal life. This was not God’s call on my life; this is just my own idea.” However, after a period of further reflection on her calling, she says she was “filled with this passion for the people who just haven’t had the chance to hear, and who am I to decide that I just want to stay in Sweden for my own comfort, you know, and then letting people perish.”58 Conviction of a calling anticipates difficulties and helps missionaries keep their focus on God.

5. Evangelistically Focused

Stamoolis’s definition points to the result of mission calling, “to carry the message of Christ.” The evangelistic goal of mission was consistently and strongly reflected in the interviews. Phil told me he heard God say, “I’m going to send you to the Muslim people.”59 Respondents consistently pointed to the need to evangelize as a primary aspect of their call. Their primary goal for entering mission and enduring difficulty was evangelism. Respondents pursued evangelism through several platforms, including physical therapy, counseling, development work, and agriculture. They could, however, clearly articulate how those roles facilitated evangelism. For example: “I try to share the love of Christ. Some, not always the whole Gospel, but some of the Gospel in all my counseling sessions. That’s the way that we use counseling as a means of evangelism.”60 Jordan is over 90% Muslim, and the missionaries I interviewed were primarily concerned with evangelism as the basis of their calling and the need to be in Jordan.

Therefore, in summary, a missional calling is understood as personal and individual, from God yet sometimes mediated by other people, focused on God as part of a dynamic relationship with him and his mission, anticipating difficulty, and focused on evangelism.

Calling Developed Outside of Cross-Cultural Relationship

If missionaries in Jordan are living and working out of a sense of strong calling, and the contemporary thrust of mission is towards unity and partnership, how can we understand the difficulties of partnership in Jordan? The problem and the answer may partly lie in the understanding of calling.

We have established that mission partnerships are built upon mutuality, which can be understood in Buberian language as an I-Thou relationship. A relational model of mission partnership expects to see the parties affecting and changing each other. When missionaries enter the field with such a strong and specific sense of calling, which they expect not to change, they often exhibit an I-It attitude in which the people they encounter are a means to achieving their calling. This problem has been described by Lingenfelter when he examined a case of dysfunctional partnership in Africa: “The Koreans and Westerners in our case studies strove to achieve outcomes that fulfilled their personal sense of calling, ownership, and security. . . . Each of these partners was more focused on achieving the ends that each had for partnership than on developing effective relationships together . . . and they readily judged and condemned the partners.”61 Hence, each person’s commitment to their calling created an obstacle to relationship. We expect that a missionary who perceives their calling primarily in terms of task places themselves in the place of I-It and control. In an I-It calling, the other is passive, and they have not contributed to the calling. A relationally informed call would more closely reflect an I-Thou attitude and expect mutuality.

Lingenfelter has described what is called, in Buberian terms, an I-It relationship dictated by a subject-object attitude. He has also identified Buber’s counter-argument, dialogue, through “developing effective relationships together.” We have already established that a missional calling originates with God but is often mediated through other people. Respondents in the interviews consistently identified people who played a role in developing their calling. Those calls were, however, seemingly developed prior to entering missionary service.

This was illuminated for me as I sought, through the interviews, to understand how missionaries decided to move to Jordan. The respondents often shared that missionaries already in Jordan played a vital role in the decision-making process. Thomas shared that he and his wife visited Jordan and met with an experienced missionary who invited them to join their team and proposed a ministry role for Thomas. He says he does not think they would have moved to Jordan if the other missionary had not said, “We want you, and here’s what we want you to do.”62 I asked the other missionaries if any Jordanian had been a part of the decision or recruiting process prior to their move to Jordan. All answered that there had not been. Ben reported that the decision was due, “almost exclusively, to the members of the team that we joined.”63 Further, he explained that he wanted to join this group of missionaries so much that if they had been in another country, he would have gone there. So we see that even as missionaries are moving to Jordan, foreign Christians play critical roles in developing their “calling,” yet this process is void of the voice and influence of local believers.

We have seen that partnership is an answer to the mentality of colonial missions. Mission in partnership is marked by mutuality and shared responsibility; all churches, therefore, are to be “full participants and partners in the cross-cultural missionary calling of the church.”64 The local church is as equally called to mission as the missionary. In addition, the relational model asserts that one cannot fully know God outside of relationship: “The place where the Christian is directed to meet his Lord is in his neighbor.”65 We have already seen that other believers play a role in developing the missionary call. The question of why some missionaries are not extending this truth in Jordan towards Jordanian Christians merits further examination.

A relational model of mission and partnership indicates that mission calling co-developed in cross-cultural mission relationships could lead to effective mission partnerships: “A partnership that involves thoughtful, mutual listening among Christians from every tradition and culture within the worldwide Church is indispensable for faithful and united witness to Jesus Christ.”66 Pastor Boutros, speaking about the lack of a positive relationship with missionaries, opined: “That’s why we don’t have that relationship because each one thinks that he has the vision and the calling himself. So he’s doing the right thing. If you have the money, I have, you know, that’s why I always say, do you come because you can, or you are called to many people? They come to Madaba because they can afford it. Their passport allows them, their organization allows them, and people they even live better life in these countries or these areas.”67 While the missionary’s path to Jordan is marked by calling and active sending actions on the part of their church and organization, the act of receiving on the part of Jordanians is almost entirely passive. Missions, therefore, often places local Christians into a subject-object relationship from the outset. The decision that their community will receive these missionaries is made for them; there is no opportunity for evaluation, no shaping or guiding, and no opportunity to determine whether the addition and presence of missionaries is helpful or harmful. Sending churches are active and deliberate, and the receiving churches are passive and reactionary. Missionaries appear to be highly influenced by Christians in their home country and other missionaries when they decide to move to Jordan. Jordanians themselves, however, seem to play a minor role. My argument is that missional callings, however personal, need to continue to be co-developed and co-grown in multi-cultural missional relationships on the field to form successful mission partnerships.


The insight this research suggests is that potential partnerships are harmed in part because missionaries enter with strong convictions as to what type and focus of ministry they have been “called” to yet have not opened themselves to a mutual relationship with local Christians. When they meet Jordanian Christians, a task-focused or I-It-oriented relationship prevents them from entering into dialogue, thus allowing their sense of calling to evolve based on the contributions of Jordanian fellow believers.

Missiological literature consistently calls for partnerships based on mutual back and forth relationships. In the Middle East, the need for unity is all the more urgent. Sidney Griffith concludes his book, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, with the following statement: “Now is the time for westerners to consider the lessons to be learned from the experience of the Christians who have lived in the world of Islam for centuries.”68 This claim echoes the voices of Jordanian pastors I interviewed. For example: “I personally believe we are one body in Christ; we should be working together. I believe in God’s gifting to people, to different people from different backgrounds. So I am positive when I talk about missionaries because I believe there are different giftings in the body of Christ, but being positive doesn’t mean that things are going in the right direction, you know.”69 Missionaries believe their calling is an outworking of their relationship with God; however, they place limits on God’s continued work in them through cross-cultural relationships by siloing their call as they enter cross-cultural service. They feel called to engage in disciple-making yet fail to allow for a two-way discipleship relationship in their own lives. This is in conflict with the standard belief that all Christians, regardless of position, are on a journey of personal growth and discipleship. “The covenant relationship of church life is the God-appointed context for disciple-making.”70 These missionaries agree that Christians from their home cultures affect their discipleship, but they often fail to enter equally influential covenant relationships with local believers.

Matt Nance is a graduate (BA and MA) of Johnson University and is currently completing a PhD at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. He and his wife, Susan, worked in social work in Knoxville, TN, before moving to Madaba, Jordan, in 2012. They lived in Jordan for 8 years, focusing on aid and development ministry to Syrian and Iraqi refugees through partnership with a local church. They returned to Knoxville in 2020, and Matt now works as the executive director of the Christian HolyLand Foundation, a 35-year-old Restoration Movement organization focused on supporting the Arab church in the Middle East. He and Susan have two daughters, Annabelle (8) and Blessing (5).

1 All names are pseudonymous. This vignette draws from my own personal experiences and those of others I have observed.

2 Scare quotes have been added to highlight common buzzwords that appear repeatedly in secondary and primary sources, often with little critical engagement of the inherent cultural biases.

3 Boutros Interview, 2018. All interviewee names are pseudonymous.

4 Huma Haider, “The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East,” in K4D Helpdesk Report: Institute of Development Studies, February 16, 2017, 1.

5 Jiries Habash, “Evangelical Churches in Jordan,” MEATE Journal 6, no. 1 (2011): 1–15.

6 George Sabra, “Christian Mission in the Wake of the Arab Spring,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research (2014): 118.

7 Sidney Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 179.

8 J. Ingleby, “Colonialism/Postcolonialism,” in Dictionary of Mission Theology (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2007) 63.

9 Samuel Cueva, Mission Partnership in Creative Tension: An Analysis of the Relationships in Mission within the Evangelical Movement with Special Reference to Peru and Britain between 1987 and 2006 (Carlisle: Langham Monographs, 2015), 173.

10 Keith Whitfield, “The Triune God: The God of Mission,” in Theology and Practice of Mission: God, the Church, and the Nations, ed. Bruce Riley Ashford (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 31.

11 J. Andrew Kirk, What Is Mission?: Theological Explorations (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1999), 184.

12 See Whitfield, “The Triune God.”

13 Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996) 260.

14 Kirk, What Is Mission?, 191.

15 Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufman, Kindle ed. (New York: Scribner, 1970); see also Kenneth Kramer and Mechthild Gawlick, Martin Buber’s I and Thou: Practicing Living Dialogue, Kindle ed. (New York: Paulist Press, 2003).

16 Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Kindle ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), Kindle locs. 1199–1200.

17 E.g., Paul Borthwick, Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 150; David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 20th anniversary ed., American Society of Missiology Series 16 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011), 467; Kirk, What Is Mission?, 21–46.

18 See Martin Buber and Paul R. Mendes-Flohr, A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

19 Buber, I and Thou, 53.

20 Ibid., 54.

21 Eleazar Fernandez, “A Theology of Partnership in a Globalized World,” Review & Expositor 113, no. 1 (2016): 26.

22 Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Leading Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 48.

23 Buber, I and Thou, 54.

24 Newbigin, The Gospel, Kindle loc. 1200.

25 Michael W. Goheen, The Church and Its Vocation: Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 34.

26 Raphael Patai, The Arab Mind (Tucson, AZ: Recovery Resources Press, 2014), 92.

27 Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 4–6.

28 Letty M. Russell, Just Hospitality: God’s Welcome in a World of Difference, ed. J. Shannon Clarkson and Kate M. Ott (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 1.

29 John Koenig, New Testament Hospitality: Partnership with Strangers as Promise and Mission, Overtures to Biblical Theology 17 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 9.

30 Ibid, 10.

31 Russell, Just Hospitality, 82.

32 Buber, I and Thou, 58.

33 Kramer and Gawlick, Martin Buber’s I and Thou, 335.

34 Michael W. Goheen, Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History, and Issues (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 26.

35 J. E. Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God (Chester Heights, PA: Friendship Press, 1954), 173.

36 See Goheen, The Church.

37 J. E. Lesslie Newbigin, One Body. One Gospel. One World: The Christian Mission Today (London: International Missionary Council, 1958), 26.

38 Koenig, New Testament Hospitality, 9.

39 Bosch, Transforming Mission, 350.

40 Sabra, “Christian Mission,” 117.

41 Newbigin, The Household of God, 173.

42 Richard H. Niebuhr, “An Attempt at a Theological Analysis of Missionary Motivation,” Occasional Bulletin 14, no. 1 (1963): 1–6.

43 Boutros interview, 2018.

44 Thomas Elliff, “Spiritual Formation and Missions,” in Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions, ed. John Mark Terry, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2015), 510.

45 Rob Hay, ed., Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention, Globalization of Mission Series (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2007), 318.

46 M. David Sills, “Missionary Call and Service,” in Missiology, 297.

47 John Corrie, “The Promise of Intercultural Mission,” Transformation 31, no. 4 (2014): 294.

48 Lingenfelter, Leading Cross-Culturally, 48.

49 James J. Stamoolis, “The Nature of the Missionary Calling: A Retrospective Look to the Future,” Missiology: An International Review 30, no. 1 (2002): 3–14.

50 Phil interview, 2018.

51 Newbigin, The Gospel, Kindle loc. 1544.

52 Elizabeth interview, 2019.

53 Thomas interview, 2018.

54 Todd interview, 2018.

55 John R. W. Stott and Christopher J. H. Wright, Christian Mission in the Modern World, updated and exp. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 36.

56 Newbigin, One Body, 19–21.

57 Yousef interview, 2018.

58 Elizabeth interview, 2019.

59 Phil interview, 2019.

60 Thomas interview, 2018.

61 Lingenfelter, Leading Cross-Culturally, 48–49.

62 Thomas interview, 2018.

63 Ben interview, 2018.

64 Goheen, Introducing, 159.

65 Newbigin, One Body, 23.

66 Vinoth Ramachandra, Gods that Fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 203.

67 Boutros interview, 2018.

68 Sidney Harrison Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam, Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 179.

69 Boutros interview, 2018.

70 Doug Coleman, “The Agents of Mission: Humanity,” in Theology and Practice of Mission: God, the Church, and the Nations, ed. Bruce Riley Ashford (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 44.

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Review of Kenneth Nehrbass, Advanced Missiology: How to Study Missions in Credible and Useful Ways

Kenneth Nehrbass. Advanced Missiology: How to Study Missions in Credible and Useful Ways. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2021. Paperback. 338 pp. $30.53.

In Advanced Missiology: How to Study Missions in Credible and Useful Ways, Kenneth Nehrbass (PhD, Biola University) attempts to create a resource in which the critical connection between theory and practice, between the work of the scholar and the work of the missionary, can come together to inform the thoughts and actions of cross-cultural disciple making. Not only does Nehrbass accomplish this goal but he is able to clarify the concepts behind the fuzzy world of missiology in a volume that should help inform graduate students of missiology and intercultural studies moving forward.

His stated purpose is to “help you integrate the multiple academic fields in order to increase your understanding of how Christianity spreads across cultures” (1). Put another way, Nehrbass is aiming to equip his readers with the foundational concepts and theories from a variety of fields that filter into the world of missiology with the express purpose of helping students and practitioners go about the work of global discipleship. It is my conclusion that this purpose is realized on three main pillars: an improved conceptual metaphor for missiology, a comprehensive scope of missiological scholarship, and helpful organization of the material.

First, Nehrbass offers a much needed critique of the “three-legged stool” analogy for missiology. This model argues that the foundation of missiology consists of theology, social sciences, and history. Nehrbass is correct that this metaphor misses the mark. Instead, he argues that missiology “is the use of an interdisciplinary approach for the sake of making disciples that describes how missiology is done” (12). Missions is a complex and sometimes ambiguous concept, and so the academic discipline born from it will have a hard time fitting into a simple box. Nehrbass states, “As the study of Christian mission advances, it incorporates countless disciplines, ranging from biblical exegesis to cultural anthropology, to computational linguistics, to the use of psychology in member care and cultural adjustment” (13). Thus, a new framework that both incorporates this complexity but also draws boundaries on what does and does not fit within the disciplines is needed.

To this end, Nehrbass suggests the metaphor of a river, which has multiple tributaries that flow into its existence and a variety of distributaries that flow out of it. The tributaries of the missiology river are core theories of theology, history, anthropology, intercultural studies, development theory, and education, while the distributaries that flow from it address core practices, theories, and future trends that help define how it is done. The book, then, is organized around these two aspects of the river’s flow. This concept is exceptionally helpful for students and practitioners of missiology to grasp the interdisciplinary complexity that makes missiology what it is.

The second major strength of this book is its comprehensive scope. Nehrbass leaves few major stones unturned in the theory and scholarship that the discipline of missiology has covered over the last hundred plus years. He brings a wide array of major voices, theories, and works to the stage while also highlighting some lesser known sources. This book can thus serve as a foundational textbook for graduate level courses in missiology. As a word of caution, however, one should set appropriate expectations for this strength. While its reach is wide, it comes at a necessary cost to depth. The book should not be taken as a definitive statement on any one discipline or topic but rather a beginning point at which further study can embark. Nehrbass anticipates this need by providing numerous resources for the student to follow at a future time.

The third major strength of this work is its organization. The decision to begin each chapter with knowledge, action, and heart goals not only sets an appropriate tone but is immensely helpful for reference when wading through the more detailed pieces of each topic. Each chapter, then, concludes with ideas for further research, review questions, and reflection questions that help to tie the main themes back together while setting up future opportunities for external scholarship and internal reflection. It is likely that multiple dissertations and theses will be born out of these suggestions. Additionally, within each chapter are small, vignette biographies of key missiologists throughout history. These not only give refreshing breaks in the reading but also flesh out theories with reference to the men and women who created them. Additional praise should be given for the diversity of the people Nehrbass chooses to highlight, both in terms of demographics and theology.

Certain areas could use improvement. The chapter entitled “Connecting Theology to Cross-Cultural Discipleship” had the commendable goal of explaining “the way missiologists think theologically in order to inform best practices of making disciples across cultures” (35). There are a number of strengths to this chapter, especially in the way that the difference between “mission” and “missions” informs theological conclusions. But the chapter could have been tighter and more focused. In particular, using “missiological implications” as the connection between theology and missiology can be a thin foundation to work from. Implications, if stretched, can be found almost anywhere, and at times it seems like that stretching reached its limits. Another area of improvement is that, while Nehrbass is to be commended for inviting co-authors into the chapters on development theory and education, it is unclear why those topics were singled out over others. A further application of this same strategy to each chapter could have provided a platform for other voices. And in what will likely be a core textbook for schools of missiology, this could prove to be an important improvement.

Overall, Nehrbass’s Advanced Missiology is an exciting and necessary contribution to the field that deserves a full recommendation to any serious student of the discipline. It not only contributes to an advancement in thinking of what missiology is and how it is done but also provides countless resources for students and practitioners to further their work. Colleges and universities, as well as organizations and mission boards, would do well to use this book for years to come.

Aaron Wheeler

Adjunct Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship

Ozark Christian College

Joplin, MO, USA

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The Horizon of Theological Education (Editorial Preface to the Issue)

In keeping with our custom, the Summer–Fall issue of MD features papers presented at the Christian Scholars’ Conference (hosted in June 2021 at Lipscomb University). The journal’s parent organization, The Missio Dei Foundation, convenes the sessions that generate this content. This year, however, the majority of these sessions was dedicated to a forthcoming Festschrift titled Missional Life in Practice and Theory, in honor of Gailyn Van Rheenen, the doyen of missiology among Churches of Christ. Apart from these, one session in particular sets the theme for the present issue. A rich conversation about theological education in the Majority World followed from the articles by S. Twumasi-Ankrah, Daniel Salinas, Melinda (Mindi) Thompson, and C. Leonard Allen. Incidentally, another of the articles in this issue, Joshua Robert Barron’s “Andrew F. Walls: Apostle of World Christianity,” extends the conversation by introducing the life and work of one of the leading lights of Majority World theological education.

The conversation about global theological education is urgent, and I hope that it will be ongoing at the Christian Scholars’ Conference, in MD, and in other venues that might engage with the state of affairs among Churches of Christ and other Stone-Campbell churches globally. Walls and his colleagues and students represent a shift of focus toward theological education among Majority World churches that is now decades old. To say that Churches of Christ are behind the curve is an understatement. The tradition’s radically independent polity has led to not only the lagging development of theological higher learning institutions but a more basic inability to assess the state of affairs in the first place. A great deal of research needs to be undertaken to describe the realities that face theological education among the Majority World churches that, unlike those of the West, are rapidly growing and, by all accounts, in search of more robust ministerial equipping.1

As Twumasi-Ankrah points out, in the African context, schools of preaching and other such programs are the prevailing model of ministerial training among Churches of Christ throughout the Majority World. Opportunities abound for Western colleges and universities (and churches!) to collaborate in the development of higher education that might serve churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Thompson’s article indicates the new possibilities presented by the digital revolution. No doubt, these possibilities hold many implications for scholars and administrators who wish to serve God’s mission globally from their locations in the West. Accordingly, new conversations about what counts as mission and financial support of mission work must ensue.

Salinas’s article, written from the perspective of a leader in evangelical theological education development, highlights a paradigm shift in the conception of the missionary vocation: Western scholars who serve cross-culturally in theological education institutions—missional scholars—are no less missionaries than church planters and development workers. They will be essential front-line personnel in the next era of Christian mission, which has already begun. As God calls young scholars to this work, churches must come alongside them just as they have done for missionaries of generations past, supporting missional scholars and educational institutions alike. This paradigm shift in regard to vocation leads me to reflect on the final contribution to this issue, Matthew Nance’s “The Paradox of Missional Calling,” in a different light. Alongside Salinas’s discussion of “theological partnership,” Nance calls for “cross-cultural mission partnerships between foreign missionaries and local believers” in his Jordanian context. What should missional partnership look like on the horizon of theological education? Undoubtedly, answers to this question will be contextually specific. We must seek them with the same diligence that other contextual questions require.

I conclude by commending the perspective offered in Allen’s article. The deep mutuality of participation in God’s mission means that partnership in theological education presents the best chance for Western institutions of theological higher learning to survive the secularizing forces that beleaguer them. This is not an argument born of the impulse toward self-preservation but a recognition that Western theological education must not make the mistake of assuming that what it has to offer is the only issue. The vibrant faith and life of Majority World churches stand to lead Western schools back to their reason for being: the mission of God. Moreover, “Christians in the South have much to teach Christians in the West, including theology,” writes Allen. There is hope for struggling Western churches in the world-spanning project of mutual teaching and learning, if only we have ears to hear. Participation in God’s mission may yet infuse the theological academy with new life.

Soli Deo gloria.

1 The World Councils of Churches’s “Global Survey on Theological Education 2011–2013” found, “There are not enough theological schools in the region of the world where Christainity is growing rapidly (Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia),” yet “86% of all respondents indicated that theological education is ‘most important’ for the future of world Christianity and the mission of the church” (“Global Survey on Theological Education 2011–2013: Summary of Main Findings,” WCC 10th Assembly, Busan, October 30–November 8, 2013,, 2, 8; see also Joint Information Service of ETE/WCC & WOCATI, “Challenges and Opportunities in Theological Education in the 21st Century: Pointers for a New International Debate on Theological Education,” Edinburgh 2010 – International Study Group on Theological Education World Study Report 2009, October 2009, Of course, there is no easy way to tell whether the status of or the sentiments about theological education are similar among Churches of Christ, whose institutions are prone to refuse participation in surveys conducted by the World Council of Churches.

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Review of Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page, eds., No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities

Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page, eds. No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021. 224 pp. $18.67.

The world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis as over 80 million people are now refugees. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, recently reported that 1 in every 97 people in the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes.1 We are living in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Immigration remains at the forefront of American political discourse and has rightly made its way into church pulpits. Despite the fearmongering and lack of nuance that always seem to infect headlines about immigration, many members of the body of Christ are unable to ignore those that God has brought to our cities; one does not have to travel to another land to encounter the other. No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities, edited by Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page, draws on the experiences and practices of eight contributors to offer a framework for evangelism that heals.

No Longer Strangers is primarily for Christians in the United States who are often unaware of the factors that can hinder, disrupt, or harm their Christian witness. American Christians are often well-intentioned in their discipleship and evangelistic efforts to immigrant communities but lack cross-cultural awareness, which can lead to harmful evangelistic practices. In the introduction, editors Cho and Page share their stories and credentials to speak to this subject from their life experiences and as practitioners currently serving refugees. Cho is an immigrant and CEO of Bread for the World, a Christian advocacy group committed to ending hunger. Page is a former refugee and founder of Gateway of Grace, an outreach ministry to refugees. This book seeks to correct misconceptions regarding immigrants, refugees, evangelism, and discipleship; it is honest and acknowledges the imperialist legacy of mission and the harm that it has caused. It is aware of and sensitive to the trauma, oppression, and grief that immigrants and refugees face. No Longer Strangers seeks to forge a better path moving forward, along which immigrants and refugees are honored as image-bearers and full partners in the mission of God.

From the first page of the book, the editors affirm the importance of evangelism, meaning the verbal proclamation of the gospel. They argue that this is a necessary part of discipleship as it fulfills the Great Commission. Although at times redundant, almost every contributor devotes a portion of their chapter to bridging the gap between evangelism and social justice, indicating that this remains a dichotomy for many churches. This book will be a helpful resource for those trying to reconcile the integrated relationship between evangelism and social justice as it brings social, emotional, and economic considerations concerning evangelism in conversation with Scripture. The book contains eight chapters, with testimonies woven between each chapter. The book’s strength lies in its diverse representation. It relies on pastors, theologians, former refugees or immigrants, and licensed counselors to present a framework for holistic evangelism. Although the contributors cover a lot of important ground, No Longer Strangers does not address issues such as contextualization or reflexivity, some basic principles for cross-cultural ministry. For example, the contributors seem to presume that the enculturated, Western gospel typically preached within the United States, will be good news for all people. While it is not possible to address all issues surrounding cross-cultural ministry, what was notably missing was any conversation surrounding honor-shame dynamics. Granted that most refugees come from the Majority World, which is honor-shame oriented, an essay devoted to this topic would be useful for those seeking to share the good news with immigrants or refugees. Not only does an understanding of honor-shame dynamics help us in any verbal proclamation of the gospel, but it also helps us to understand how to interact with immigrants and refugees in ways that are honoring and dignifying. Additionally, we miss out on opportunities for transformation when we assume that our worldview and interpretation of Scripture is the correct way.

Two of the chapters were especially impactful. The first is Issam Smeir’s chapter, “Evangelizing the Hurt and Trauma,” which focuses on evangelism to the traumatized. Many, if not most refugees, experience symptoms of PTSD, and Christians seeking to love and serve their neighbors must be aware of how trauma affects one’s spiritual wellbeing. Dr. Smeir writes about the ways that a relationship with God and a supportive church community can lower the risk of developing PTSD for those who have experienced trauma. However, those who have been traumatized are also at risk of manipulation and coercion. Therefore, we must be all the more cautious in our relationships with those who have experienced trauma. Smeir advocates for an approach to evangelism that is highly relational, transformative, and noncoercive when working with those who have suffered.

The second chapter that stood out was Sandra Maria van Opstal’s “Beyond Welcoming.” She argues for the necessity of moving beyond hospitality to solidarity and mutuality. This chapter was notable for its call to reciprocity, an element often missing within evangelism. Hospitality, although important, can still perpetuate a power dynamic of “you need me” if not approached with the intention of relationship. Evangelism practiced in a relational and transformative way is an invitation into a community, to belong as equals. Solidarity is “the act of being with people in all their joys and needs” (76). Solidarity runs counter to the power dynamics often at work within transactional modes of evangelism. It seeks to listen first and ask what others need rather than assume. Solidarity creates a space for mutuality and reciprocity as we relate to our immigrant and refugee neighbors as friends, not projects. We must learn to embrace the stranger as someone we can learn and receive from, someone with whom we can share life. True love requires mutuality, and the words of Jesus remind us that our ultimate witness comes from our love of one another (John 13:35).

No Longer Strangers is a helpful resource for churches, mission organizations, nonprofits, or individuals who seek to welcome immigrants or refugees. Although the book’s intended audience will more than likely be working in their home cultures, one of the book’s shortcomings is that it does not address important considerations for cross-cultural ministry that, if not addressed, can ultimately cause offense or harm. Although this book is for Christians in the United States, it offers insights for anyone who works with refugees or immigrants. While affirming the importance of the verbal proclamation of the gospel, this book provides guidance and important considerations for those who work in intercultural settings with the world’s most vulnerable.

Meredith Thompson

Graduate Student (MA in Global Services)

Graduate School of Theology

Abilene Christian University

1 UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, “1% of Humanity Displaced: UNHCR Global Trends Report,” June 18, 2020,

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Plenty for Supply (2 Cor 8:12–15): Theological Higher Education and the Majority World

This essay is a response given at the 2021 Christian Scholars’ Conference to papers presented by S. Twumasi-Ankrah, Daniel Salinas, and Melinda (Mindi) Thompson, which are also published in this issue of Missio Dei. Writing as the dean of the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University (Nasvhille, TN), the author highlights the implications of each paper for the “adapt-or-die season” in which Western theological education finds itself.

A Response to Sam Twumasi-Ankrah, Daniel Salinas, and Melinda Thompson1

These three papers all address specific and important matters pertaining to the West’s missional relationship to the Global South. Sam Twumasi-Ankrah makes a case for a strong shift in the kind of leadership resources from the West that are needed in Africa in this new season of partnership. Daniel Salinas underscores the shortage of qualified faculty for seminaries in the Global South, the surplus of qualified faculty in the West/North, and the urgent need for a larger pipeline of faculty who will make this missional shift. And Melinda Thompson tracks the growing proficiency in online education—forced to a new level by the COVID quarantine—and its rich possibilities for educating church leaders while minimizing their displacement from the places where they were called and most needed.

I want to frame these specific issues in the larger missional context of our time. There has been dramatic change in the nature of Christian mission and in the relationship between the West and the South.

It is well-known that the West is becoming increasingly post-Christian and that Christianity is becoming increasingly post-Western. This represents nothing less than a revolutionary shift in Christianity’s center of gravity. The new center is South America, Africa, and the Pacific Rim. Since 1950 or so, Christianity has been expanding at breakneck speed in these regions. By the early twenty-first century, sixty percent of all Christians were in Africa, Asia, and South America. And Philip Jenkins says that at Christianity’s current rate of growth, it will have 3.2 billion adherents by 2050, but only one-fifth of those will be non-Hispanic whites.2

Recent decades have brought a big move beyond the paternalism of the “wealthy” Western churches toward the “poor” churches of the Global South. The deep disparities between Western Christians as “donors”—of money, education, leadership, and other resources—and Christians of the Global South as “recipients” of all those gifts is giving way to a new sense of interdependence and mutuality. In all places, the church is both gifted and needy. The churches of the Global South have deep needs and possess great gifts, while the churches of the West also have deep needs and possess great gifts. And it may be that the needs of the Western churches are greater than the needs of those in the South. In the (post)modern West, Christians are beset by rationalism, by deep skepticism toward the Spirit of God, by the snare of affluence and consumerism, by their own version of cultural syncretism (the deep blending of the faith with secular ideologies), and by the heritage of cultural dominance that is the legacy of Christendom. So the churches of each region need the strengths, gifts, and correctives of the other.3

It is helpful—even necessary—for us in the Western academic context to name the gifts to be received. Foremost among them flows from the fact that churches of the Global South have a more missional theology. The churches of the Christendom centuries were not fundamentally churches on mission. And their theologies, understandably, were not missional theologies. Missions may have been one department in the seminary curriculum, one chapter in a book of theology, or one ministry of a congregation—but mission did not animate, infuse, and shape the whole enterprise of Christian faith. In the Global South, the situation has changed. As the noted missiologist David Bosch said more than twenty years ago, “Third World theologies are missionary theologies, whereas First World theologies are not”; for this reason, “Third World theologies may become a force of renewal in the West.”4 That has been happening. This renewal is one of the Global South’s gifts on offer to the church in the West.

Donald Miller, a Christian sociologist, reflects something of this powerful gift of renewal when he writes in consideration of his many travels to study churches in South America and Africa, “I have come back humbled by my lack of faith, my own failure of imagination, and my resistance to commit myself to the high standard of being a servant of Christ.” He adds that “we in North America live in a bubble of affluence and convenience, and this [deeply] affects our theology.”5 In these extensive travels, Miller rightly identifies what churches in the West could receive from the missional theology of churches of the Global South.6

Churches in the West still have much to give as well. Daniel Salinas notes the shortage of “qualified faculty” for seminaries in the Global South and a surplus of qualified faculty in the North. This is a very telling fact of our time. But note that the focus here is on qualified faculty—and it is important to be clear about what that means. It does not (and should not) refer simply to those who have PhDs in biblical or theological studies and are willing to teach overseas. Daniel crucially emphasizes that candidates from the West must be carefully vetted for evangelical commitments, for a posture of humility and learning, and for a deep awareness that no longer reflects “the West knows best.” I strongly second these qualifications. The South does not need Western biblical scholars and theologians who are ensconced in the modernist paradigm and strongly schooled in and attached to the higher critical approaches to the Bible, where naturalistic assumptions about how to approach the text have tended to predominate and where deistic readings of Scripture are the norm. Nor does the South need those who think that the West’s more “enlightened” views of social morality need to be brought to the more traditional and “backward” outlook of the South.

We should certainly affirm—with reservations—the value of critical biblical scholarship. Academic biblical studies have helped people of faith to understand the Bible in richer, more accurate ways. It has brought the world of Scripture to life and shed much light on how both the background and foreground of Scripture enable and enrich its faithful interpretation. It enables us to read Scripture in context and to reveal ways we too readily contemporize the text due to our own cultural assumptions.

But much “higher” critical biblical scholarship tends to be shaped—if not overwhelmed—by naturalist assumptions and, thus, to embrace the deep-seated modern convention that “all texts are simply natural, historical entities.” John Webster calls this a “ruinous, even ludicrous” assumption.7 This assumption drives apart the natural and the supernatural, so that modern Western readers of the Bible tend to inhabit a world where God is not present and active, that is, a deistic world. In sharp contrast, the deep assumption of the Great Tradition—and of the churches in the South—is that in and through holy Scripture one encounters the living God.8

The “higher” critical methods should be subordinated to the church’s focus on and participation in the mission of God. As Joel Green insists, the various critical Bible study methods must all be “tamed in relation to the theological aims of Scripture and the ecclesial context in which the Bible is read as Scripture.”9 Missional scholars recruited to teach in the seminaries of the Global South must understand this and be able to practice this kind of interpretation. If not, they will be a dampening force, not an empowering force for the mission of God in the region. Geoffrey Wainwright’s observation seems telling in this regard: “Where, geographically and culturally, the church holds fast to the Scriptures, interpreted according to the classic tradition, it appears that the Christian faith is spreading. Revisionism seems to thrive only amid decline.”10

Jenkins notes that amid the great diversity of churches in the Global South, one of the most visible common features is “the critical idea that God intervenes directly in everyday life.”11 The strong emphasis upon God’s daily activity in everyday life distinguishes the ascendant Christianity of the global South from a dis-Spirited Western Christianity. This burgeoning global Christianity has not been through the travails of the Enlightenment and Western modernity. It has not had two centuries and more of being shaped by the West’s “subtraction stories” (philosopher Charles Taylor’s term for secularization). “Africa has never had an Enlightenment,” says Peter Leithart. “There is no African [David] Hume, with his rejection of miracles; no African [David] Strauss, with his ‘mythological’ interpretation of the gospels; no African [René] Descartes or [Baruch] Spinoza or Kant or Galileo or Newton.”12

As a result, “Africans are not the least embarrassed by the world picture of the Bible—a world of angels and demons, of miracles and exorcisms, of virgin births and life after death, of heaven and hell. . . . They see and hear things in the text that are lost to jaded post-Christian readers in the North.” According to Leithart, “Africans read the Bible in a way that is free of the rationalisms of modern method. They are not content to read the Bible as a source of doctrine, or an account of ancient history, or even as a practical manual that tells them what to do. For African believers, the Bible is a book to inhabit, a narrative to participate in.”13

Christians in the South have much to teach Christians in the West, including theology. Africa is holding up to Western Christians a way to do Christian theology without the confining restrictions of the Enlightenment.

Jenkins, who has been a major chronicler of the rise of global Christianity, sees continued rapid growth throughout the Global South. “Christianity should [continue to] enjoy a worldwide boom in the coming decades,” he wrote in 2011, “but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American. . . . The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes, and the day of the Southern [global] churches is dawning.” The Christian movements that are “triumphing all across the global South are stalwartly traditional”; their dominant theological emphasis is “traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural.”14 And the influence of these vibrantly missional churches is spreading to the West. As the church in the West has gone “lite,” God is raising up vast new expressions of the faith, committed to the spiritual and doctrinal effulgence of the Great Tradition.

Let me close by putting Mindi Thompson’s report on the status of online theological education in the context of this new situation. A key aspect is the deep challenge facing seminaries in the West or, at least, in North America. Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Seminary, said in 2018, “[This is] a time of industry-wide disruption so great that many seminaries are closing. . . . During this era of profound disruption, we believe we must take bold risks and have a bold vision in order to transform for the next season of theological formation. . . . We must reinvent ourselves in order to do it.”15 Frank Yamada, the new president of the Association of Theological Schools, spent his first year listening to most of the 270 member seminaries; he concluded “that schools are changing rapidly and profoundly, perhaps in unprecedented ways; and while these challenges appear daunting, this environment is also generating creativity among schools’ faculties.”16

Yamada observes that two themes run through this new creativity in seminaries: the use of technology, particularly in distance education, and the ongoing need to rethink student formation. The emerging technology and pedagogy for distance learning has changed the landscape. And the COVID quarantine has forced the issue. The new online capacities can be a game-changer for the global South; but not without an important theological and spiritual shift—away from the confining restrictions the Enlightenment has imposed upon the West. To put it differently, the value of ministry training contained mostly within seminary walls is declining and will continue to decline. Mostly closed and isolated academic programming will have a limited shelf life going forward.

North American seminaries are in an adapt-or-die season. As Ben Witherington says, “Those seminaries will survive that are well-grounded in their biblical roots, missionally minded, and future focused, looking for increasing ways to train people to be global Christians who are focusing on partnering with Christians around the world to do theological education.”17

Each of these three papers has lifted up specific ways that seminaries in the West can do that.

Leonard Allen serves as dean of the College of Bible & Ministry at Lipscomb University (Nashville, TN). He taught theology, ethics, and philosophy for over twenty years, serving as visiting professor at Biola University (La Mirada, CA), adjunct professor at John Brown University (Siloam Springs, AR) and Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, CA), and professor at Abilene Christian University. He holds a PhD in History of Christian Thought from the School of Religion at the University of Iowa and is the author of numerous books, including The Cruciform Church: Becoming a Cross-Shaped People in a Secular World (3rd ed.; ACU Press, 2016), Poured Out: The Spirit of God Empowering the Mission of God (ACU Press, 2018), and, most recently, In the Great Stream: Imagining Churches of Christ in the Christian Tradition (ACU Press, 2021).

1 Several paragraphs in this paper are adapted from Leonard Allen, In the Great Stream: Imagining Churches of Christ in the Christian Tradition (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2021).

2 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 2–3.

3 See Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), ch. 9; idem, “Can the West Be Converted?” Princeton Seminary Bulletin 6 (1985): 25–36; and Alan Kreider and Eleanor Kreider, Worship and Mission after Christendom (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2011), 196–98.

4 David Bosch, Believing in the Future: Toward a Missiology of Western Culture (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity International, 1995), 36.

5 Donald E. Miller, “Emergent Patterns of Congregational Life and Leadership in the Developing World: Personal Reflections from a Research Odyssey,” Pulpit and Pew Research Reports 3 (Winter 2003): 9.

6 With the recent and growing sense of North America as a mission field, a strong movement toward a dynamic missional theology has emerged among more than a few theologians in the West. Lesslie Newbigin helped pioneer this focus in the last season of his life, and it has been furthered by a growing body of literature since the 1990s. Two key works were Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America, ed. George R. Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996); and Darrell L. Guder, ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). A missional theology has been emerging alongside the traditional theology that may have been limited to a chapter on missions.

7 John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 28–29. For the long history behind this approach to the Bible, see Michael Legaspi, The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

8 See J. Todd Billings, The Word of God for the People of God: An Entryway into the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 86–90; and Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).

9 Joel Green, Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 125. David Steinmetz ended his controversial and now famous article of 1976 with this sentence: “Until the historical-critical method becomes critical of its own theoretical foundations and develops a hermeneutical theory adequate to the nature of the text it is interpreting, it will remain restricted, as it deserves to be, to the guild and to the academy, where the question of truth can be endlessly deferred” (“The Superiority of Pre-critical Exegesis,” in Taking the Long View: Christian Theology in Historical Perspective [New York: Oxford University Press, 2011], 14).

10 Geoffrey Wainwright, “Schisms, Heresy, and the Gospel,” in Ancient and Postmodern Christianity, ed. Kenneth Tanner and Christopher A. Hall (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2002), 198.

11 Jenkins, The Next Christendom, 98.

12 Peter Leithart, “What Africa Can Teach the North,” Leithart, November 1, 2018, 11/what-africa-can-teach-the-north.

13 Ibid. See also Philip Jenkins, The Face of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1–18, 182–86.

14 Jenkins, Next Christendom, 2, 3, 11.

15 Mark Labberton, “The Future of Fuller: The Way Forward,” Fuller Blog on Patheos, May 22, 2018,

16 Frank Yamada, “Living and Teaching When Change Is the New Normal: Trends in Theological Education and the Impact on Teaching and Learning,” The Wabash Center Journal on Teaching 1, no. 1 (2020),

17 Ben Witherington III, “Ancient Future: The Future of Seminary Education,” The Bible and Culture: A One-Stop Shop for All Things, October 21, 2011,