Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Is Scholarship Missions?

The question came to mind while reading of the death of Kwame Bediako, a theologian/scholar from Ghana. In this tribute of Kwame’s life, Andrew Walls recounts,
“During his time in France he underwent a radical Christian conversion – so radical that at one state he thought of abandoning his studies in favor of active evangelism. Happily, he was persuaded otherwise; the time was coming when he would recognize scholarship as itself as a missionary vocation.”

I grew up in a home that did not value scholarship, indeed, didn’t even understand what that means. I came out of a denomination that believes the only true missionaries are those involved in church planting. I’m presently teaching students who are in pursuit of their Masters of Arts or Masters of Theology degrees. It is an environment of scholars and potential scholars, but the question is, is scholarship missions?

The short answer is, of course, yes. There is no argument of this in the academic world, but certainly they are biased. Those who are not scholarly and more inclined to practical ministry see little value in advanced study, especially in comparison of the real world of life, death, heaven and hell. It’s true; many students would rather remain in the ivory towers of intellectual theory and debate other intellectuals than wrestle with tough issues, which comes with trying to communicate the gospel to a Hindu or Muslim. It’s also true that the vast majority of pastors and missionaries do not need a graduate degree and, in fact, probably most of God’s faithful servants working in the most remote and unreached areas of the world today don’t even have a high school education. But the question remains, is scholarship missions?

Paul Hiebert, anthropologist, professor and scholar, as far as I know, never planted a church. I have no idea how many people or if he personally led a person to Christ or baptized anyone. However you would be hard pressed to find a Western missionary who is on the field today who has not read some of Hiebert’s work, unless they ascribe to the ignorance is bliss theory. I suspect Bediako, had the same impact on African missions. C.S. Lewis wasn’t even in the ministry, but his insights and scholarship continues to influence the church a quarter of a century after his death.

My next assignment will be in the bush of Kenya. No libraries, no PowerPoint presentations, no degrees offered. Just me and a people who don’t even know how to hold a book, much less read one. For some people that’s real missions, but in the grand scheme of things so is scholarship.