Missiology or Theology? Crossing Academic Cultures for the Sake of the Nations

Missiology or Theology? Crossing Academic Cultures for the Sake of the Nations May 15, 2013

In order to reach the nations, we will have to cross cultures academically.

What God has joined together . . .

At some point in the past, missiology and theology, as split as academic disciplines.

If you examine the literature, it would seem there is a great chasm that few can ever cross. At times, theologians will write on missiology (e.g. Andreas Köstenberger, Peter O’Brien, Christopher Wright). Rarely does it work the other way. This is not surprising. Seminaries tend to train missionaries versus theologians very differently. Missionaries, for example, are not often required to learn the original languages.8717934571_e78ae8d190_zI recall once hearing one person criticize a man (who was a good student) for going overseas after seminary. The first gentleman said something to the effect to the student, “Why are you wasting your education? People who can’t hack it go overseas. The bright ones stay in America” (becoming pastors or theologians).

Missiology is Theology

One of the things I appreciated about my PhD studies at SEBTS is that the professors strongly resisted the strong dichotomy between missions and theology. This sentiment was most strongly expressed by Bruce Ashford, who once said that applied theology should be harder than theology because you should not only know what theologians know but also your particular field of application (such as missiology). I couldn’t agree more.

Missiology ought to explain the mission of God, hence theology.

A lot of good missiology has tended to focus on anthropology. This is certainly needed for sure. However, I would like to see increasing re-integration of theology and missiology at the academic level. The mission field needs integrated thinkers. Consider for a moment why Paul wrote Romans. He wanted to go to Spain. Therefore, he wrote the book of Romans in large part to secure their support. Martin Kahler was absolutely correct, “Mission is the mother of theology.”

An Integrated Approach to Saving God’s Face

One of the natural questions I can get about my book is this: What kind of book is this? Missiology? Theology? Or . . . ? Yes.

My friend, Bruce Ashford, Provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary recently sent out a tweet that captures the point: “Interested in atonement, NPP, contextualization, or East Asia? Check out “Saving God’s Face,” by @JacksonWu4China.”

I consider the book an argument by demonstration. Rather than simply argue for some abstract understanding of contextualization/interpretation, etc., the book demonstrates what theological contextualization looks like. What does it mean to interpret Scripture from within a cultural context?

The book is purposefully interdisciplinary, having something It tries to avoid some of the pitfalls of overspecialization. In addition, both the content and style of the chapters vary with the topic. Some might think the discussion on contextualization a bit provocative at times.

The chapter on salvation is unavoidably nuanced in places. The middle chapters on Chinese culture and honor-shame try to go beyond mere description. Instead, it seeks to understand the inner logic of concepts like “face,” collective identity, and guanxi.

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