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Looking Back and Moving Forward (Editorial Preface to the Issue)

Author: Greg McKinzie
Published: 2023

MD 14

Article Type: Text Article

This is my last issue as the executive editor of Missio Dei. In such moments, nostalgia and hope arise. I relish both. But before indulging in either, let me assure readers that the Missio Dei Foundation, which administers the journal, intends it to carry on. The path forward is uncertain, and the leadership and shape of the journal remains to be determined. This transition is complicated, and I see no reason to pretend otherwise. But the women and men who steward the journal’s future are more than capable of finding a way forward. I’m profoundly thankful for their willingness to do so for the sake of our shared commitment to the church’s faithful, wise participation in God’s mission.

Now a bit of recollection, for the record. I began imagining what would become Missio Dei over fifteen years ago, as a new missionary in Arequipa, Peru. Recently graduated from an MDiv program with strict standards of composition (Harding School of Theology)—shout out to Don Meredith, the retired head librarian of the L.M. Graves Memorial Library who taught the school’s famously rigorous Introduction to Graduate Studies course for decades—I felt capable of the essential functions of an editor. More importantly, I was motivated to address the deficiency in my tradition’s missiological output and saw an opportunity in digital media. Together, capability and need compelled me to survey the willingness of Stone-Campbell historians, missiologists, and missionaries, mostly among Churches of Christ, to support and contribute to an online journal. The response was more than enough to proceed.

In June of 2009, an initial team of editors met for the first time (on Skype!) to discuss the shape and process of Missio Dei. A little over a year later, the first issue was published. Since then, we have published over two hundred articles and over one hundred book reviews. Thanks be to God! Grace has accompanied every issue. And my gratitude to the multitude of authors who have entrusted their work to us is difficult to express.

The journal has evolved over the years—website iterations, format changes, editorial board turnover, and more. And many lessons have been learned along the way. But those are stories of limited interest, perhaps for another time. The worthier recollection is how, after fifteen years, Missio Dei has become a meaningful contributor to the broader missiological discourse, as it was meant to do. This may seem like an immodest claim, but I can take little credit personally. A few years ago in a reflection on the journal’s first decade, I acknowledged the volunteers who have made the publication possible. Those words fail to represent the work they have done. But the journal’s success is itself an adequate testimony.

What, then, is Missio Dei’s future? God knows, but I can share my hopes.

My first hope is for a sustained level of openness. The output deficiency mentioned above was a consequence of multiple factors. But above all, it seemed to me that, although Stone-Campbell missiologists had a lot to offer, limiting the publication to scholarly work would be a mistake. Not only is a great deal of missiological insight to be found in the hearts and minds of potential authors who are uninterested in and, to be frank, unequipped for playing the academic publishing game, many others who are capable of playing that game find daunting barriers in the formal publishing process. It was important, therefore, to broaden the journal’s scope to include a variety of publication types and to seek contributions from authors whose work would not necessarily meet the criteria of academic peer review.

Along these lines, I initially sought to include artistic contributions, including graphic and musical pieces. It quickly became obvious that curating such well-rounded issues was more than the volunteer editorial team could manage. But I’m proud that Missio Dei has continued to include both peer-reviewed and informal articles, as well as book reviews.

For those whose work met the rigor of scholarly composition, we created a space alongside other academic journals that was no less diligent about scholarly integrity but was at least a little more welcoming to research concerned especially with the Stone-Campbell tradition. I like to think we struck a balance between maintaining a high standard of selection and encouraging inexperienced or timid scholars to share their work. Our instructions to peer reviewers even include the charge to help authors improve their writing rather than merely note their weaknesses. (If you’re unfamiliar with the blood sport of peer review: I assure you this is not common.)

For those whose contributions merited publication in another format—whether informal reflections, case studies, conference articles, or research pieces not meant to buff an academic CV—we offered an equal level of editorial care. Often, helping authors develop these types of submissions has been labor-intensive for the editorial staff. But in a world full of unedited blog posts and slapdash self-publication, it is important that Missio Dei’s commitment to openness ultimately produce missiology worthy of our readers’ attention. I believe we succeeded more often than not.

My second hope is for increased diversity. These days, the term diversity has been swept up in the American culture war. So let me clarify: I mean that a greater range of genuinely different perspectives would be positive. Having to bother with the stipulation is a little annoying when the field of study at issue is concerned with the church’s intercultural, international, and interreligious existence. Diversity is a given for missiology per se.

That said, I grant both the historical and practical difficulties that beset us. We need increased diversity because it is not actually a given in institutional expressions of missiology such as journals. We continue to resist the consequences of sexism and colonialism in Christian mission. We continue to question the limits of Western academic acceptability. We continue to grapple with difficulties of intercultural communication.

On the one hand, I am an heir of the status quo, and therefore Missio Dei has been as well. And I do not hesitate to affirm the benefits the Western tradition of Christianity has produced. We are wedded to the Great Tradition, which spans the whole history of Christian faith, East and West. The emergence of universities, a global missional vision, rigorous research methods, and self-critique—to paint in the broadest strokes—is a net good for the church catholic.

On the other hand, I am a staunch advocate of the aforementioned self-critique. Increased diversity is a function of challenging the status quo. To reiterate, I would not be able to challenge my own perspective without the Western tradition. No doubt, cross-cultural experience plays a role, but that experience was framed by Western theological education. To claim otherwise would be dishonest. And that is the reality of a publication designed by and produced primarily for Westerners. This is not an apology, or even a confession; it is a statement of fact. Only from this sort of realism can Missio Dei hope to attain greater diversity. Our willingness to question our assumptions is essential, and to do so we must first own our assumptions in good faith.

It bears noting in particular that as the Majority World church rises and Western dominance fades into history, an increasing number of Majority World missiologists are appearing on the scene. Yet, there is evidently not a similar shift in the gender ratio. Even as the deconstruction of colonialism gives rise to unprecedented diversity, the need for more female missiological perspectives remains unmet. I hesitate to speculate on the reasons for this phenomenon, but whatever the case, I can state my hope straightforwardly: that the twenty-first century would witness a great swell of missiology from women throughout the global church, and that this would reverberate in the digital pages of Missio Dei.

My third hope is for the prevalence of conscious participation in the missio Dei—the theological reality that the journal’s title centers. This concern is broader than the journal’s future, but Missio Dei is nothing more than an expression of the church’s participation in God’s mission. Therefore, I hope not for more people interested in reading missiology but for more churches whose experience generates a need for missiological resources.

Anyone paying the slightest attention to trends in Western Christianity knows that the numerical decline foretold in the sociological literature of the last few decades has become a jarring reality. I fear that many have taken the diminishment of the Western church as a forgone conclusion and turned their expectations to the rise of the Majority World church. To a certain extent, I am among them. But where this particular hope is concerned, it is not obvious how we will respond to these trends. And that is most certainly the question, because participation in God’s mission is not reducible to numerical growth. So, the declining Western church might respond with tremendous levels of participation in God’s work in the world, and the exploding Majority World church might fail to do so. Numbers are no measure of faithfulness.

Whatever the tides of history, I pray that the twenty-first-century church be marked by an ever-growing responsiveness to the purposes of the Triune God. And I pray that the gifts of those who are able to lead the church theologically into the depths of missional participation be readily available in a widening array of media, including online journals, including even Missio Dei.

Soli Deo gloria.

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