Who do Missiologists Answer to?

In an entry on “Missiology” in the Encyclopedia of Protestantism, Wilbert Shenk offers, what I take, to be a pretty broad definition of missiology. According to him it is the academic study of all dimensions of the Christian mission. He includes several aspects of what “all dimensions” actually refers to, including, “biblical and theological foundations,” “history of Christian expansion,” and “contemporary practice, theory, and strategy.” (Shenk, 1376)

One thing that struck me from his encyclopedia article was his discussion of “Missiological Traditions.” He distinguished between “Continental,” “Anglo-American,” and “Roman Catholic” traditions. His description of the Anglo-American tradition made a lot of sense to me: missiologists do their work for the sake of the church, partnering with churches and mission agencies. God has a mission, the missio Dei, and God’s people (the church) participate in that mission. Therefore, it makes sense that missiologists, as part of God’s people, would partner with the church (and other Christian organizations) to advance God’s mission to the world. Yet, Shenk’s description of the Continental tradition really baffled me.

According to Shenk, the Continental tradition emphasizes scientific standards and theoretical rigor. So far so good, I think even those in the Anglo-American tradition would want to emphasize those things (to a certain extent), when dealing with theoretical matters or when doing the social scientific aspect of missiology. But what makes this tradition stick out is that, “It answers to the university rather than to the church.” (Shenk, 1380) This let me utterly confused. Universities have missions (as do corporations), but the university’s mission is not the missio Dei. This is especially the case in universities that are not Christian institutions. I would really appreciate it if someone could help me make sense of why missiology should have to answer to the university instead of to God himself, and to the community he has formed.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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