Friday, February 10, 2012

Andrew Walls

Book: Understanding World Christianity: The Vision and World of Andrew F. Walls. Edited by William R. Burrows, Mark R. Gornik, and Janice A. McLean. Orbis Books, 2011.

We need Andrew Walls. Never in my academic study of theology was I introduced to the work of Professor Andrew Walls. But in recent years I have read widely in the area of mission studies to understand, bolster and support my commitment to Presbyterian World Mission. I believe that our work in World Mission is the shining light in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) today; I am motivated to participate in and support this work. In doing so I have sought to develop a solid theological foundation for our international mission work. I have found that theological foundation in the work of Andrew Walls.

It may be a unique tribute to the remarkable influence of Professor Walls that there is a new book gathering a collection of essays which seek to explain and define his lasting influence. And this new book is now available while Professor Walls is still alive. Walls is still teaching from his position at the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World at Edinburgh, which he founded, but also in Ghana and regularly in the United States through the Yale – Edinburgh Group.

I believe every theological student, and our seminary curriculum, and our church leaders need to seriously engage the important work of Andrew Walls. To simply summarize the work of Andrew Walls is to say that we must live and work today within the context of World Christianity. For many of us, this insight has become common sense. But Andrew Walls is the scholar who first named this truth for the western Christian academic world.

This quote from Wilbert Shenk’s essay expands the point:
“It was impossible to understand either the contemporary world or the church without the aid of mission studies. A survey of the changes in church and world between 1568 and 1868 showed that distribution of the Christian population worldwide had changed little. But in the century since 1868 a momentous transformation had occurred. In 1900 Christianity in Africa was still negligible but by 1967 the trends were that Africa was rapidly becoming the continent with the largest Christian population. Failure to understand this massive shift was to misunderstand the emerging new world. Historical Christendom as a territorial reality was rapidly disintegrating.”

Indeed Andrew Walls has himself argued, “That we will begin to grasp the ‘fullness of Christ’ only as we bring together the insights that can be gained through comparative historical and comparative theological studies – Greek and Hebrew, Germanic and Latin, second-generation Africa Christian experience and second-century Gentile Christian faith.”

If we seek to understand the reality of the church in our world today, I believe that Church leaders must add the work of Andrew Walls to our reading lists.