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Review of Edgar J. Elliston, Introduction to Missiological Research Design

Author: Doug Priest
Published: February 2012

MD 3.1

Article Type: Review Article

Edgar J. Elliston.
Introduction to Missiological Research Design
Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011. 229 pp. $15.99.

Donald McGavran claimed that the need for research was one of the ten major emphases of the Church Growth Movement that he fathered. He claimed that research was important to “ascertain the factors which affect reconciling men to God in the Church of Jesus Christ.”1 Since missiology is worked out in the context of human interaction, there is great need to mine thoroughly the behavioral and social sciences for missional purposes. While every academic discipline brings its own unique focus and intention to the research method, Edgar Elliston’s book is one of the very few linking missiology and research design. His book capably answers the question, “How should we missiologists go about doing our research?”

Edgar Elliston was a missionary in Africa for many years. Later as professor at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission, he designed and taught courses in missiological research. He also supervised doctoral candidates in designing the research that would lead to the writing of their dissertations. He brings his years of practice and his lecture materials together in Introduction to Missiological Research Design, a book which could aptly be subtitled, “A Step by Step Guide.” The graduate student in missiology looking forward to a research project, thesis, or dissertation is in luck.

The volume revolves around the five interacting issues in research design: defining the central issue to be researched; evaluating previous research; designing an appropriate research methodology to address the central issue; reporting the findings; and finally, sharing the conclusions and recommendations. Chapters in Part One are devoted to each of these five issues.

Elliston is aware of research limitations in cross-cultural research. He writes, “When one crosses a cultural boundary, one can expect that the worldview will differ and the respondent’s assumptions will differ. . . . A questionnaire or interview guide that is valid and reliable in one culture cannot be expected to be reliable in a second culture” (65). (Would that those who practice specific evangelism methods, regardless of the location, shared this awareness.)

Chapter Seven, “Ethics and Missiological Research,” is one every missionary should read—and then read again. Table Ten lists the principle ethical concerns at every step in the research process (106-7). Then there is this powerful bit of advice: “Christian researchers should give special attention to their research not only to protect the ‘widow, the orphan, and the alien,’ but to work toward their salvation, empowerment, and nurture” (104).

As missiology is interdisciplinary, Part II of the book rightly includes chapters by missiologists who speak to research design from their backgrounds in theology (Charles Van Engen); education (Edgar Elliston); communication (Viggo Søgaard); history (Pablo Deiros); and social science (Daniel Shaw). Van Engen makes the same point as did Elliston about cross cultural dynamics: “The unrepeatability of theologizing in context is a major difference between most social-scientific methodologies and the methodologies of biblical mission theology . . . [because] each theologian is unique in his or her time, context, and worldview.” This realization does not lead to the relativism of truth but to a “multiplicity of understandings and interpretations of the same truth” (114).

The book concludes with nine helpful appendices, some of which are checklists. Particular attention should be paid to Appendix I, “Common Research Errors” (181-97). Other helpful aids are a glossary and an index.

My only complaint with the book is that it could have used more examples and illustrations. It would have helped to see samples of actual problem statements, research questions, thesis statements, and hypotheses (23-25). So, too, the book would benefit from more illustrations or case studies of the points being covered. Specific examples, like the one about the Turkana research (35), were few and far between.

Whether one is engaging in research to determine where to serve as a missionary, to decide upon a specific mission strategy, to study a specific missiological topic, or to design a dissertation proposal, Elliston’s book is one that needs space on the bookshelf.

Doug Priest

Executive Director

CMF International

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

1 In Unto the Uttermost, ed. Doug Priest (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1984), 255.

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