Wednesday, November 14, 2012
What is mission? “the effort to effect passage over the boundary between faith in Jesus Christ and its absence.” (Jonathon Bonk, Preface to Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology, ix)
Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology is a wonderful gift.
Skreslet provides an overview of recent trends in missiology. Books like these are gold. They allow a person and an institution to locate their questions, their research, their reading. In my case, as I research popular culture, how can it find a place in missiology? As I teach mission shaped ministry, how might the mission at work be located within global mission trends?
Chapter one. Who Studies Christian Mission, and Why?
The chapter begins with a resurrection story. It notes how in the 1960s and 1970s, missiology was in decline. “At many institutions, chairs of mission studies were reoriented and then connected to more politically correct areas of the curriculum, such as ecumenical theology, comparative religion, third world theology, intercultural theology, or world Christianity.” I can see many of those pressures still at play in the Uniting Church in which I currently work.
This decline was prompted by the evaluation of the colonial era. The decline also coincided with a growth in secularity in the West.
However despite unease in the West, Christian mission has grown, often generated by churches outside the West. “The astonishing and quite unexpected vitality that now marks Christian mission worldwide invites scholarly attention.” (2) There has been an explosion, especially since the 1990s, in mission studies, in new journals and new lecturing positions (including here at Uniting College).
Skreslet suggests two current approaches to reflecting on mission are at work.
First, curricular. Introductions in mission have developed in connection with particular training courses. Examples cited include Perspectives in World Christianity, Following Christ in mission and Missionaries of Christ.
Second, theological reflection. “[M]issiology is taken to be a shorthand term for theology of mission, theology of the apostolate, or sometimes the theory of mission.” (4) Examples cited include Transforming Mission, Missiology: An Ecumenical Introduction, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, Concepts of Mission: The Evolution of Contemporary Missiology and (especially for Australian’s), Introduction to Missiology.
Skreslet is “not convinced that theology of mission [this second approach] is the best avenue by which to approach the field of missiology.” (9) He is concerned that it privileges certain data. “For modern theologians operating in the West, scripture, tradition and Christian expereince are the sine qua non of their craft … Issues of culture and the existence of other religious traditions may enter into these discussions, but they typically do in in the guise of environmental factors.” (9-10)
In other words, the abstract is more important than the particular. And theologians are more important conversation partners than historians, sociologists and anthropologists. “What we have today, by and large, are many introductions to mission theology but very few treatments of missiology as a whole.” (11)
Skreslet is encouraged by current patterns in dissertation research, younger scholars are pushing the boundaries of missiology ever wider. Every kind of scholarly enquiry can be, and is being, explored.
Having surveyed the field, Skreslet then defines missiology as “the systematic study of all aspects of mission.” (12) It is an intersection point of many disciplines, including secular. He argues for a “community of practice,” a set of “particular scholarly habits.” (13)
First, interest in crossing boundaries and how contact with cultures might transform senders and receivers.
Second, reality of faith and non-faith. It expects a critical empathy with what is being studied.
Third, an integrative impulse. “Christian mission is a social phenomenon that encompasses an unlimited number of local contexts, each of which may be affected by global trends. Every layer of culture – from the material to the conceptual – may be engaged when faith is shared across national, ethnic, and linguistic boundaries.” (14)