Walls, Andrew F. 2005. The missionary movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Andrew Walls (hereafter AW) is a former missionary to Sierra Leone and Professor Emeritus of the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World at the University of Edinburgh.

The book is comprised of a series of articles or presentations that AW has given over a period of several years. AW divides the book into three parts: 1) The transmission of the Christian faith; 2) Africa’s place in Christian history; 3) The missionary movement.

Chapter one, “The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture” reminds us that we ae pilgrims, regardless of nationality and that this is a “universalizing” factor that brings together Christians of all cultures and ages. AW states that when thinking of African theology that we must act on their agenda, even when “it is likely either to puzzle us or to disturb us” (11).

Chapter two, “Culture and Coherence in Christian History”, moves through six ages: 1) Jewish; 2) Hellenistic-Roman; 3) Barbarian; 4) Western Europe; 5) Expanding Europe and Christian Recession; and 6) Cross-Cultural Transmission. AW closes the chapter with comments on diversity and coherence in historic Christianity, such as: The worship of the God of Israel, the ultimate significance of Jesus, God in action through believers and how they in turn are a people of God who transcend time and space. There is “no abiding city: in the transmission of the Gospel (25).

Chapter three is called “The translation principle in Christian history” and would be of particular interest to Bible translators. AW notes how the translation process is continually hampered by structural and cultural differences, so that “the words of the receptor language are pre-loaded and the old cargo drags the new into areas uncharted in the source language” (26). Christ is contextualized through translation and “The principle of translation is the principle of revision” (29). “Among the new Christians there was no indigenous literary culture, no large literate community, and no market-oriented book production” (37), nor was there a particular strategy for evangelism.

Chapter four, “Culture and conversion in Christian history” begins with a brief description of what constitutes culture, the moves to the necessity for Christian diversity and the faith in the incarnate Word with the result that “There can be no single Christian civilization” (47) because the Christian Scriptures  must speak in a particular language and go beyond mere nationality. Twin forces in Christian history have been the indigenizing principle, such that the Church belongs to the people, and pilgrim principle, where the community realizes that it does not belong to the world.

Chapter five, “Romans One and the Modern Missionary Movement” underscores the power of the Gospel throughout the world.

Chapter six, “Origins of Old Northern and New Southern Christianity” recounts the effect of the conversion of the royalty in Norway and how this change was a factor in further widespread conversions.

Part Two includes several chapters dealing with Africa: 7) The Evangelical Revival, the Missionary Movement and Africa; 8) “Black Europeans—White Africans: Some Missionary Motives in West Africa”; 9) The Challenge of the African Independent Churches: The Anabaptists of Africa? 10) Primal Religious Traditions in Today’s World.

Part Three is the heart of the book and begins with 11) Structural Problems in Mission Studies in which AW outlines why mission studies are critical. They form the backbone of Christian theology. AW believes there is a renaissance taking place in such studies because “the resources of which workers in mission studies are trustees are the equivalent of the archeological and literary discoveries of the last century, of the Greek texts of the Renaissance” (159).

Chapter 12, “Missionary Vocation and the Ministry: The First Generation” provides examples of those who “in order to reach the mission field, or in order to be more effective there, set themselves to intellectual effort and acquired learning and skills far beyond anything which would have been required of them in their ordinary run of life” (172).

Chapter 13, “The Western Discover of Non-Western Christian Art” summarizes the discovery and contribution of art in the non-western context.

Chapter 14, “The Nineteenth-Century Missionary Scholar” points out that the early missionaries did not need to be formally educated, nor ordained, and were practical, not theological, people. Nevertheless, the London Missionary Society produced missionaries like Williams, Moffat, Livingstone and Ellis, none of whom had a university degree and yet 22 of the 115 early missionaries in LMS produced linguistic studies on a variety of languages. For example, Robert Morrison, with the assistance of William Milne, published six volumes between 1815 and 1822 (189). AW provides a long list of missionaries who contributed to anthropology, language studies, hymnody, and mission studies. CMS promoted scholarship, as did the Church of Scotland and “It was probably the linguistic work of missionaries which first gave rise to the recognition that they were opening up new branches of scholarship” (196).

Chapter 15, “Humane Learning and the Missionary Movement” confirms that by the end of the nineteenth century the number of missionaries had vastly increased and that the typical missionary was well educated. Again, AW lists scores of such missionaries and summaries their contributions. They became involved in social issues and were able to meet scholars of other religions effectively.

Chapter 16, “The Domestic Importance of the Nineteenth-Century Medical Missionary” reminds the readers of the outstanding contribution of medical missions, especially in less responsive areas, like Islamic societies and in China. In so doing “the doctor—and increasingly the doctor might be a woman—moved over into a sphere once unchallengeable the preserve of the minister” (219).

Chapter 17, “The American Dimension of the Missionary Movement” is not complimentary to the Americans. It begins with a section and quote from Kanzo Uchimura, a Japanese scholar. He notes that for Americans “big churches are successful churches” (221) and “oh, how they value numbers!” (222). AW observes that “the word American conveys, first of all, immense energy, resourcefulness, and inventiveness—a habit of identifying problems and solving them—and, as a result, first-rate technology”. He also mentions a particular theory of government “one that does not grow naturally in most of the world’ and “an uninhibited approach to money and a corresponding concern with size and scale” (222). AW also mentions individualism, a premillennial thinking, “a curious political naiveté” and expansionism as American missionary traits.

Certainly WBT and SIL have displayed “readiness of invention; a willingness to make the fullest use of contemporary technology; finance, organization and business methods; a mental separation of the spiritual and political realms combined with a conviction of the superlative excellence, if not the universal relevance, of the historic constitution of the values of the nation’ and an approach to theology, evangelism and church life in terms of addressing problems and finding solutions” (235). In fact, AW mentions that such methods have been “demonstrated, for instance, in the emergence of such enterprises as the Wycliffe Bible Translators” (236).

“They [mission agencies] can fly people around the country and in and out of it; they can bring in machinery and service ailing plants; they have radio telephones that work; they can arrange currency, get foreign exchange, and send an international message quickly” (238). AW wrote all this before email and computers were prevalent.

In Chapter 18, “missionary Societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church”, AW remarks “There never was a theology of the voluntary society” and calls it one of “God’s theological jokes’ because “The men of high theological and ecclesiastical principle were often the enemies of the missionary movement” (246). He also discusses the new recruitment strategy—from within the country and church. “The voluntary societies have been as revolutionary in their effect as ever the missionaries were in their sphere” (254).

Chapter 19, “The Old Age of the Missionary Movement” chronicles the struggle the early church and subsequent missionary movements have had. These cross-cultural movements have not ended because in many parts of the world the gospel is still a penetration of culture by means of cross-culture contact.