Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Recovering Missional Ecclesiology in Theological Education

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Recovering Missional Ecclesiology in Theological Education

Article excerpt


The first part of this paper seeks to demonstrate how predominant Christiania, under Christendom, divorced mission from ecclesiology, and marginalized missiology from the theological curriculum. This is not only a problem for the west, as this model was then exported and replicated worldwide through the agency of the Protestant missionary movement. In the second part the paper explores the factors which have led us to a more adequate ecclesiology. Since we have recovered the missionary dimension in ecclesiology the paper argues that this must also be reflected in our theological curriculum.


Christianity is culturally conditioned. Not only the various expressions of our faith but also its theological presuppositions and concerns are conditioned by the context in which Christianity develops. This paper traces the theological developments which took place in Christendom which were then inherited by western Protestant nations, which, until recently, was the normative Christianity for the vast majority of believers. (1) Western theological formation arose when Europe was effectively an island, isolated from engagement with the wider world. During this time the church was developing an abnormal theology, namely a missionless ecclesiology. This time was also characterized by the "canonization" of the theological curriculum used for ministerial formation. A missionless church saw no necessity for the inclusion of missiology in the theological curriculum.

This paper argues that the Protestant missionary movement then exported this defective ecclesiology. As ministerial formation became increasingly necessary in the countries which received Protestant missionaries the pattern for formation was modeled on defective western assumptions, which marginalized missiology and created an ongoing dependency through the promotion of English-medium education. This is highlighted in the example of the Theological Education Fund.

The dominant cultural milieu determines the development of Christianity, and its theological agenda. During Christendom this resulted in the development of an introverted theology as the church did not have to contend with a pluralistic context. Assuming the adequacy of such theology, the Protestant missionary enterprise then exported it in cross-cultural transplantation, as Christianity became a truly global faith. Whilst it is acknowledged that the heartland of Christianity, has shifted southward, this paper contends that the legacy of Christendom's abnormal ecclesiology still exerts powerful influence. In particular this is exacerbated by the perpetuation of anachronistic models for theological formation and education.

The Theological Distortion of Christendom

The Evolution of Missionless Ecclesiology

The establishment of a Christianized society in western Europe left no place for mission within the empire. This led to theological introversion as the church became consumed with ministering to its members and maintaining its territorial integrity. The introversion of the church was then compounded by the rise and rapid expansion of Islam, isolating Europe from the rest of the world, and cutting off established land routes for trade. Europe in effect became an island. The only conceivable place to do mission was in distant lands, far removed from the church. Theological reflection became increasingly abstract, acontextual, intellectual and concerned with ecclesiology. The church had, in effect, divorced mission from its agenda.

The Protestant missionary endeavour arose during and subsequent to the Enlightenment. It was thus profoundly imbued with Enlightenment ideas and assumptions. "According to the Enlightenment the goal of intellectual labour was to formulate universal principles that met rigorous scientific standards and would be applicable everywhere. Since context was suspect, the goal was to derive knowledge that was independent of context". …

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