The Concerns of Missiology
These days, we are happily publishing unthemed issues under the heading “Sundry Articles.” Themed issues offer unique benefits, but the “random” submission of articles from diverse corners of the church gives Missio Dei the opportunity to represent the scope of the field of study with which we are concerned. This brings us back to an open question: What is missiology?
Elsewhere, I have curated answers from numerous perspectives. Still other recent answers move in distinctive directions.1 In part, of course, the question persists because of the divergences of these understandings. But in part, these divergences persist because the question should remain open. The boundaries, methods, and questions of any field should remain open, even if periods of relative stability have their advantages.
For lack of a better term, my own thinking moves in a “systematic” direction. As a systematic theologian (or so my degree plan has it), I am less skittish about systematic than some. But I do recognize the connotations of closure that modernity’s infatuation with systematization has entailed. For me, closure is not in view.
To the contrary, I would affirm, with regards to the Thomist tradition, that theology is the study of “all things in relation to God” (omnia sub ratio Dei). This definition does not, as it may sound to the wary, imply an attempt to construct a totalizing system. Rather, its impulse is to open theology to all things, to explore the whole world through faith seeking understanding. Totalizing theories are a different matter, bound up with secondary epistemological and methodological questions.
In turn, the missio Dei calls the church to an equally broad and open conception of our exploration of mission. Accordingly, I conceive of missiology as the study of all things in relation to God’s mission.2 This issue of the journal represents such breadth. Church planting, international relations, contextual theology, missionary training, homiletics, and racial reconciliation all fall within the bounds of our careful investigation of all things in relation to God’s mission. The diversity of interests and approaches these articles represent are not to be pursued except in relation to the work of the Triune God in every dimension of life. Each is distinctively missiological.
This issue’s lead article, “Formation, Continuity, and Multiplication of Churches within Australian Church Planting Movement (CPM) Paradigms,” is an important study of church planting movements (CPMs) in the Australian context. David Milne and Darren Cronshaw walk us through an in-depth qualitative study featuring CPM practitioners, which results in critical insights and questions. Given the rapid and exuberant embrace of CPM methods in many quarters, Milne and Cronshaw have embarked on a vital research program. Hopefully, others will follow their lead.
Jayson Georges’s article “Mission as ‘Foreign Policy’: The Historical Influence of US International Relations on North American Protestant Missiology” offers “a fresh historical hermeneutic approach” to the relationship between Christian mission and national foreign policy. With this opening salvo, Georges raises intriguing possibilities for further research. Not least, this is an important angle on the pernicious effects of nationalism in contemporary missions.
Next, Aubry Smith’s study “The Evil Eye: A Contextual Theology for the Arabian Peninsula” examines the importance of the “evil eye” commonly overlooked by Western theologians and glossed in contemporary biblical translations. The bulk of the article is a survey of the concept in biblical literature followed by suggested theological, contextual applications. It is a poignant reminder that what we perceive in the biblical text is, in part, a function of where we are reading—and who we are reading with.
In “A Phased-Hybrid Training Approach for Frontier Missionaries,” Henry Vermont and Johannes Malherbe offer us a glimpse of one highly plausible future, in which missionary training is holistic, integrated with field work, and digital. Theirs is a comprehensive look at the conjunction of cutting-edge twenty-first century pedagogy and established missionary training needs. A compelling vision of affordably training workers “in-place and closer to the ideal time” emerges.
“Preaching for Formation as Participants in the Mission of God” is an argument for narrative homiletics in a missional ecclesiology. K. Rex Butts writes in conversation with his tradition, Churches of Christ, tackling the hermeneutical obstacles to preaching that might form “the gathered church as disciples who live as participants in the mission of God.” The essay should prove provocative for those who preach regularly as a part of leading churches into God’s mission.
The last article is James C. Black’s “Racial Reconciliation and the Opportunity of the Lord’s Supper.” Also writing with Churches of Christ in mind, Black has penned a timely piece (but, of course, racial reconciliation is always timely in the United States) that is both hopeful and practical. If churches are willing, the opportunities and practices suggested here may indeed help them “more fully embody the mission of God in bringing believers of all ethnicities together around the Table of the Lord.”
As always, there are too many new books to read. Most of us consider Amazon reviews or take the recommendations of friends on social media before buying a new volume, but there is something wonderful about the formal book review. As a form of discourse, it accords an author’s labor the consideration it deserves (though not always the regard an author hopes!). As guidance to readers, it provides deeper insight about how to use our time wisely. In that spirit, I commend the four reviews that round out Missio Dei 12, no. 1:
- “Review of Melani McAlister, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals” by John Young
- “Review of Tim J. Davy, The Book of Job and the Mission of God: A Missional Reading”by Lance Hawley
- “Review of Martha E. Farrar Highfield, A Time to Heal: Missionary Nurses in Churches of Christ Southeastern Nigeria (1953–1967)” by Dyron B. Daughrity
- “Review John G. Flett and David W. Congdon, eds., Converting Witness: The Future of Christian Mission in the New Millennium” by Greg McKinzie
A New Website Design
I should note for posterity that this issue also marks the launch of a new website design. This is, if memory serves, the fourth iteration of missiodeijournal.com. For most of that time, the inner workings of the site have depended on the patient support of a web developer who wishes to remain anonymous. Having donated a decade of consulting and last-minute troubleshooting that is way below his pay grade, he insists that this is kingdom work and will not be credited for it. That much, at least, deserves to be written down. Let it remind us that when we relate all things to God’s mission, participation may take many forms.
Soli Deo gloria.
1 E.g., Dana L. Robert, “Forty Years of the American Society of Missiology: Retrospect and Prospect,” Missiology: An International Review 42, no. 1 (2013): 6–25; Craig Van Gelder, “The Future of the Discipline of Missiology: Framing Current Realities and Future Possibilities,” Missiology: An International Review 42, no. 1 (2013): 39–56; Ross Langmead, “What Is Missiology?,” Missiology: An International Review 42, no. 1 (2013): 67–79; Charles Fensham, ed., “Group Discussion Conclusions on the Future of the Discipline of Missiology: Annual Meeting of the American Society of Missiology,” Missiology: An International Review 42, no. 1 (January 2013): 81; Dwight P. Baker, “Missiology as an Interested Discipline—and Is It Happening?,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 38, no. 1 (2014): 17–20; Jehu Hanciles, “The Future of Missiology as a Discipline: A View from the Non-Western World,” Missiology: An International Review 42, no. 2 (2014): 121–38; John Roxborogh, “Missiology after ‘Mission’?,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 38, no. 3 (2014): 120–4; Pieter Verster, “Missiology: Rise, Demise and Future at the University,” Nederduitse Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif 55, nos. 3–4 (2014): 879–93; George Yip, “The Contours of a Post-Postmodern Missiology,” Missiology: An International Review 42, no. 4 (2014): 399–411; Kenneth Nehrbass, “Does Missiology Have a Leg to Stand On?: The Upsurge of Interdisciplinarity,” Missiology: An International Review 44, no. 1 (January 2016): 50–65; Stefan Paas, “The Discipline of Missiology in 2016,” Calvin Theological Journal 51 (2016): 37–54; Petros Vassiliadis, “Mission and Theology: Teaching Missiology on the Basis of Together towards Life: Mission and Theology,” International Review of Mission 106, no. 1 (June 2017): 51–58; B. Hunter Farrell, “Re-Membering Missiology: An Invitation to an Activist Agenda,” Missiology: An International Review 46, no. 1 (January 2018): 37–49.
2 Because God’s mission is not a limited set of operations or, much less, ecclesial tasks but rather designates the life of the Trinity, I would further affirm that missional theology is a necessary corrective to the streams of traditional theology that have screened out the implications of this Trinitarian point of departure. In this sense, although my frame of reference is different, I agree with Stan Nussbaum, “A Future for Missiology as Queen of Theology?,” Missiology: An International Review 42, no. 1 (2013): 57–66, that missiology should be considered “queen of theology” in the way theology was once “queen of sciences.” Perhaps it is simpler to say that, for the church, theology is still the queen of sciences, and God is missional.