Missions and Anthropology

From Anthropological Insights for Missionaries

By Paul G. Hiebert

Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985

(Pages 13-28)


The Christmas pageant was over—or so I thought. Christ’s birth to Mary and Joseph had been announced by angels, dressed in pure white. Their faces were brown and their message in Telugu, for we were in South India. The shepherds had staggered on stage, acting half drunk, but herding the smaller children down on all fours as the sheep. Not quite what I was reared to expect, but something I could explain in terms of cultural differences. Unlike Palestinian shepherds, who are known for their sobriety and piety, Indian shepherds are known for their drink and dancing. But the message was not lost, for at the sight of the angels the shepherds fell to the ground, frightened sober.

The wise men and Herod had appeared on stage in regal splendor. Now we sat cross-legged and crowded, as the shepherds, wise men, and angels gathered with Mary and Joseph around the manger. A fine ending to the Christmas story. Suddenly, out jumped Santa Claus! With a merry song and dance, he began to give out presents to Jesus and the others. He was the hero of the pageant. I sat stunned.

What had gone wrong? A case of syncretism, I first thought—a mix­ture of Hindu and Christian ideas that one might expect in new con­verts. The older missionaries had warned us that if drama were allowed into the church, it would bring in Hindu beliefs. But, no. Santa was a Western idea, brought by the Westerners along with the story of Christ’s birth. What had happened?


Biblical Messages and Cultural Settings


In our preparation for missionary service, we are well trained in the Bible and the missionary message. When we go abroad, we assume that once we learn the local language we can preach, and the people will understand us. It comes as a shock that this is not so, that the task of communicating effectively in another culture is far more dif­ficult than imagined. But what do we need to improve this?

There is a gulf between ourselves and the people to whom we go in service. There is an even greater gulf between the Bible’s historical and cultural setting and contemporary life. How do we bridge these gulfs and make possible the effective cross-cultural and cross-histori­cal communication of the gospel?

Clearly we need to understand the gospel in its historical and cul­tural setting. Without this, we have no message. We also need a clear understanding of ourselves and the people we serve in diverse histor­ical and cultural contexts. Without this, we are in danger of proclaim­ing a meaningless and irrelevant message.

Too often, however, we are content to settle for only one of these goals. As evangelicals we emphasize knowledge of the Bible, but rarely stop to examine the people and cultures we serve. So the message we bring is often misunderstood and “foreign.” The liberal wing of the church, on the other hand, has underscored knowledge of contemporary human settings, but downplays the importance of solid theological foundations based on biblical truth. This group is in dan­ger of losing the gospel.

We need both approaches. We must know the biblical message. We must also know the contemporary scene. Only then can we build the bridges that will make the biblical message relevant to today’s world and its people everywhere.


Anthropological Contributions to Missions


How can we know the biblical message? Clearly, we must study the Bible, theology, and church history. As missionaries we must also de­velop the skills of our ministry, whether this be preaching, teaching, medicine, development, radio, or writing.

How can we learn about the contemporary scene? Anthropology, sociology, history, and the other social sciences can help us here. They provide tools whereby we can examine the cultural settings within which we work and supply information about the contemporary scene. They can assist us in several ways.

First, anthropology can bring understanding of cross-cultural situ­ations. For example, it can help us analyze the Christmas drama men­tioned above. Recent studies show that people organize their ideas into larger blocks or domains. In this case it is clear that North Amer­icans have a great many ideas associated with Christmas, but that they divide these into two distinct conceptual domains, resulting in two different Christmases. In one, the sacred sphere, they place Jesus, Mary, Joseph, angels, wise men, and shepherds. In the other, the sec­ular one, they place Santa, reindeer, Christmas trees, stockings, and presents. They do not mix the two in their minds. Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, does not belong in the same picture as the angels and wise men. Nor does Santa belong on the same stage as Jesus. Mis­sionaries introduced Indians to the basic concepts of “Christmas,” but failed to communicate the implicit distinction between the two Christ­mases to their listeners. The Indians, therefore, did not separate Santa from the manger scene.

Second, anthropology can provide us with many insights into such specific mission tasks as Bible translation. Like missionaries, early anthropologists had to learn new languages, many of which had no written forms, grammars, dictionaries, or teachers. They developed techniques to learn languages quickly and accurately through local informants and to translate messages from one culture to another. These methods have been invaluable to missionaries in learning new languages and translating the Bible into these languages. Anthropol­ogists have also examined the problems of cross-cultural communi­cation, and the insights they have gained can help missionaries bring their message to other societies with a minimum of distortion and loss of meaning.

Third, anthropology can help missionaries understand the processes of conversion, including the social change that occurs when people become Christians. People are social beings, influenced by the dynamics of their social environments, and a familiarity with these psycho­logical mechanisms is important to understanding the mission process.

Fourth, anthropology can help us make the gospel relevant to our listeners. As we have seen, there is a deep chasm between contempo­rary cultures and the sociological contexts in which the Bible was based. To bridge that chasm we need to understand both divine rev­elation within its historical and cultural settings and modern humans in their present-day environments. The latter we can gain in part through the social sciences.

Finally, anthropology can help us relate to people around the world in all their cultural diversity and assist us in building bridges of under­standing between them. The gospel breaks down the barriers that divide people into Jews and Gentiles, slaves and masters, males and females, First World and Third World, Americans and Russians, “us” and “them.” It calls Christians to be citizens of the kingdom of God, in which people from all nations and cultures are brought into com­mon fellowship without destroying their ethnological distinctives.

In this book we will explore some of the insights that anthropology can bring to the missionary task. Since I am assuming that my readers have acquired a thorough familiarity with the Bible and have con­structed their theological foundations upon that knowledge, we will not seek to lay these foundations again. Rather, we will look at what anthropology has to contribute to our study of different peoples in their historical and cultural contexts and examine the implications these insights have for our ministries. These are areas in which many evangelical missionaries are weak.


Before we do so, however, we need to look briefly at some of the hypotheses underlying this book. All studies are based on certain giv­ens, and it is important to know what they are. First we will look at this book’s theological assumptions and then at its anthropological assumptions, to see how both shape our thinking. Then we will seek to bring together biblical and anthropological insights to achieve a broader understanding of the missionary task. We must avoid a double vision that keeps us from seeing things clearly.


Theological Assumptions


What are the theological assumptions underlying this book, particularly as they’ relate to the missionary task? This is an important question. for we cannot divorce our anthropological models from our theologies. To do so is to imply a separation between the spiritual and eternal nature of human beings and their creaturely and temporal nature. Human history must be understood within the greater framework of cosmic events, and our anthropological models of humans must fit within our theological framework. It is biblical revelation that provides us with the ultimate foundations upon which we build our social and historical understandings of human beings.


God’s Mission


A theology of missions must begin with God, not humans. It must begin with the cosmic history of the creation, the fall, and God’s redemption of his creation. It must include God’s revelation of himself to humans, the incarnation of Jesus Christ within history, the salvation he achieved through his death and resurrection, and the ultimate lord­ship of Christ over all creation. The history of humankind is first and foremost the story of God’s mission to redeem sinners who seek his salvation, the story of Jesus who came as a missionary, and the story of God’s Spirit who works in the hearts of those who hear.

It is in this context of God’s activity within this world and through­out history that we must understand our task. The mission is ulti­mately God’s, and we are but part of that mission. Our planning and strategizing are useless, even destructive, if they keep us from seeking first the guidance and empowerment of God himself.


Authoritative Scripture


The Bible is the fully authoritative record of God’s self-revelation to humans. It is God’s Word, and we turn to it not only to hear God’s message of salvation, but also to see how he works in and through human history in accomplishing his purposes. Scripture is the stan­dard against which we measure all truth and righteousness, all the­ologies and moralities.

Because the Bible is God’s Word, it must be our message to a lost world. Our central task is to communicate it to people so that they understand and respond. We may be involved in many things—pro­grams of preaching, teaching, giving of relief, healing, and develop­ment—but these are not a true part of Christian missions if they are not rooted in the Word and do not give expression to the gospel. Bear­ing witness to the gospel through proclamation and life is the heart of the mission task.

God’s revelation is always given to humans in specific historical and cultural contexts. Consequently, to understand the Scriptures, we must relate them to the time and setting in which they were given. Even Christ came as a specific person within Jewish culture about two thousand years ago.




Scripture must be understood in the light of Jesus Christ. He is the center to which all revelation points. The Old Testament finds its ful­fillment in him, and the New Testament bears witness to him. As Son of God, he is the perfect representation of God. And as Son of man, he is the perfect communicator of God’s self-revelation to humans. Christ therefore becomes our exemplar, and his incarnation is the model for our mission. Not that we can save the world, but, like him, we must seek to identify with those to whom we go in order to bring to them the Good News of God’s salvation in ways they can understand.

Our message, too, is centered on Christ. It is both the Good News of God’s salvation through his death and resurrection and a call to Christian discipleship. It begins in a deep awareness of human sinful­ness and ends in worship, when all in heaven and on earth will bow before him and recognize that Jesus is Lord.


Ministry of the Holy Spirit


Missions cannot be understood apart from the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his people and in those who hear the gospel. He prepares our hearts to receive and respond to the message of redemption. And the Spirit works within us to bring us to spiritual maturity by pointing us to Christ. It is through his power that we minister to those who are lost, to those who are broken in body and spirit, to those who are oppressed, and to those who are starving and homeless.


The Kingdom of God


The center of Christ’s message was the kingdom of God, wherein God is still at work in creation and in history to redeem the world unto himself. The person of Christ is certainly central to that work, but it extends beyond him to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people, and to the work of God in the affairs of nations and in all of nature. The scope of God’s mission is not only his kingdom in heaven, but also his kingdom on earth. Although it has to do with the eternal destiny of humans, it also deals with their well-being on earth—with peace, justice, liberty, health, provision, and righteousness.


The Church


At the heart of the kingdom of God is the church, the people of God on earth. Through them he proclaims the Good News of his kingdom, and through them he strengthens those who enter that kingdom. In missions we need a strong theology of church as a corporate body, a community of the faithful. For the church is the discerning community within which the mission task must be understood. Missions is not first the responsibility of individuals; it is the task of the church as a whole.


Priesthood of All Believers


The church is a living body in which there are many members, each of whom has been given gifts to be used for the body as a whole. While members have different gifts, they all have the right to approach God and the responsibility to discern the message of God within the context of the church. All believers are priests!

This is a radical message, and its implications for missions are great. It means that converts in other lands have as much right as we to read and interpret the Scriptures. To deny them this is to deny the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Our task, then, is to bring them the Bible and help them discern within it God’s message to them. We are to be models for them of God’s people, living in obe­dience to his Word. Our challenge is also to allow them the greatest privilege we allow ourselves—the right to make mistakes and learn from them.

But the priesthood of believers forces us to differentiate between the Bible, God’s revelation to us, and theologies, which are human understandings of that revelation in different cultural and historical contexts. Thus we speak of one Bible but of the theologies of Calvin, Luther, the Anabaptists, and others. As we will see in chapter 8, this distinction between the Bible and theological interpretations of the Bible does not relativize theology. A Christian theology has one foot in biblical revelation and the other in the historical and cultural con­text of the people hearing the message.

Since we are all given the right to read and interpret the Scriptures, our first task is to remain faithful to biblical truth. This begins with careful exegesis, in which the message of the Bible is understood within a specific cultural and historical context. Our second task is to discover what the meaning of the biblical message is for us in our particular cultural and historical setting and then determine what our response should be. This is hermeneutics. Although the message of the Bible is supracultural—above all cultures—it must be understood by people living within their own heritage and time frame.


Anthropological Assumptions


There are certain anthropological assumptions underlying this book which need to be made explicit. Theories of cultural evolution domi­nated anthropology until the first quarter of the twentieth century. In these, as in medieval Christian theology, the meaning of human ex­perience was sought in terms of history. But in these theories history was explained purely in naturalistic rather than theistic terms. “Cul­ture” was seen as a single human creation in various stages of devel­opment in different parts of the world. Societies were thought to progress from simple to complex organizations, from irrational to ra­tional thought, and from magic to religion and finally to science.

This theory of cultural evolution was called into question after World War I. The optimism about human progress that preceded that war had been shattered. Moreover, research showed that far from being illogical, so-called primitive societies are as rational and complex as those of modern mankind, though in different ways.

A rejection of the idea of cultural “evolution” does not mean we must abandon diachronic or historical paradigms of explanation. The Bible itself explains humanity in terms of cosmic history, a drama in which there is a “plot” with a beginning, a development, and an end­ing. Scripture rejects the idea that human experience is a random set of events with no direction, no purpose, and hence no meaning. More­over, it claims that the driving force behind history is not blind chance, but God’s purposes and human responses. We need to understand peo­ple and divine revelation within the context of history.

By the 1930s theories of cultural evolution had largely been re­placed, partly by structural functional theories that focused on the diversity of human societies and saw them as self-contained, inte­grated systems. Like living organisms, societies were thought to have many cultural traits, all of which contributed to the survival of the society as a whole.

Such theories have contributed much to our understanding of social structures and the dynamics of sociological change, and we will draw upon these insights here. In the extreme, however, these theories be­come deterministic and overlook the role of the human as a thinking, acting being. They then explain human thought in terms of social organization, and in so doing they relativize all systems of belief, in­cluding all religions and ultimately the body of science. In the end this relativism undermined the claims of the social determinists them­selves. As Peter Berger notes (1970:42), “Relativizing analysis, in being pushed to its final consequence, bends back upon itself. The relativ­izers are relativized, the debunkers are debunked—indeed, relativi­zation ion itself is somehow liquidated.” Moving away from social determinism has not, as some anthropologists feared, led to a total paralysis of thought, but to a new flexibility and the freedom to ask questions of truth and meaning.

Another stream of thought that emerged after the rejection of the­ories of cultural evolution was cultural anthropology. This focused its attention upon systems of ideas and symbols. “Culture” came to mean not merely the aggregates of human thought and behavior, but both the systems of beliefs that lie behind specific ideas and actions and the symbols by which those ideas and actions are expressed. Cultures are seen as integrated wholes in which the many parts work together to meet the basic needs of their members.

Far from reducing beliefs and behavior to predetermined responses, this concept of culture makes rational human thought and choice both possible and meaningful. It has helped us to understand how people communicate with one another and build larger societies without which life would be impossible. It has also helped us to understand cultural differences, the nature of cross-cultural communication, and how so­cieties change. These understandings are invaluable in the mission task.

Anthropologists have recently focused their attention on the fun­damental assumptions that underlie explicit cultural beliefs. Each cul­ture seems to have its own world view, or fundamental way of looking at things. If this is so, cross-cultural communication at the deepest level is possible only when we understand the world views of the people to whom we minister. It also means that people will understand the gospel from the perspective of their own world view. Consequently, missionaries must understand not only the explicit symbols but also the implicit beliefs in a culture if they are to communicate the gospel to its people with a minimum of distortion.

Finally, anthropologists have developed specialized theories that deal with specific aspects of human life, many of which are useful for missions. One of these is linguistics, which examines the structures of human languages and provides us with important insights into lan­guage learning and Bible translation. Another is psychological an­thropology, which studies human personalities and their relationships to cultures and change.

In this book we will draw widely from those anthropological the­ories that have most relevance to the mission task. We will also seek to critique them from a Christian perspective and to integrate them with our theological understandings of the mission task.


Toward Integration


How do we integrate our theological and anthropological views of humans? We need to do this, and on a conscious level. So long as we use science in our everyday lives—in the form of electricity, automo­biles, computers, modern drugs, and a thousand other of its crea­tions—scientific assumptions will influence our theology. The same is true as we draw upon the social sciences. And if we leave these influ­ences unexamined, our understanding of the gospel can be distorted.

Any attempt at integration must be wholistic in nature. It will not do to simply pick a few pieces of scientific thought and incorporate them into our Christian thought. If we wish to draw upon scientific insights, we must face head on the question of how science itself relates to biblical truth.

Here, in particular, we must look at scientific theories about human beings and compare these with biblical teachings about the nature of men and women, for how we look at people plays a crucial role in how we carry out the missionary task. Although we need to use sci­entific insights as these fit our understanding of the Bible, we must also seek an integration between what God has revealed to us through Scriptures and what he has shown to us through his creation.

The term wholesome has many meanings today. For example, people speak of “whole earth” and “whole medicine.” We will use the term in the anthropological sense of a broad, integrated understanding of human beings that deals with the full range of human existence.


The Variety and Unity of Humankind


Missionaries share with anthropologists an interest in all human beings. Most people do not, since they are concerned primarily with their own kinds of people, their own societies, or their own parts of the world. They ignore the rest of the world except when it affects them. Most of our newspapers are full of local news but carry little about the world at large. Universities offer numerous courses on the history and literature of Europe and the United States but almost none on India, Ghana, or Indonesia.

“All human beings” here has several dimensions. The term includes people in all parts of the world—China, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Zambia. It refers also to people at all levels of society—the poor and weak just as much as the rich and powerful. It further includes people in all of history—those who lived in the past and those who will live in the future as well as those who are living today. Only within this broad picture can we begin to understand what it means to be “human.”

This study of people in all their settings has made missionaries and anthropologists aware of the many differences between human beings. People differ in their biological and psychological makeup. They differ in the societies they organize and the cultures they create. As we will see. these differences raise profound philosophical and theological questions.

But missionaries, like anthropologists, are also concerned with hu­man universals—what is common to all human beings. Clearly, hu­mans share most physiological functions. They bear offspring, digest food, suffer illnesses, and respond to stimuli by the same biological processes. They experience joy and pain and share mans’ of the same psychological drives. They organize societies and create cultures. Without such human universals, it would be impossible for people in one culture to understand or communicate with people in another. In fact, recognizing our common humanity with other people is the first step in building the relationship of love and trust that can bridge the deep differences that separate “us” from “them.”

To these the Christian adds other human universals. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And salvation is open to all through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no other way for the rich or the poor, the American or the Chinese. Accordingly, we are concerned that all may hear and have an opportunity to respond to the gospel.

The church, too, is called to be one body of believers that transcends the differences of race and culture through the creation of a new hu­manity. There may be different languages but there is only one gospel. There may be different forms of worship but there is only one God. There may be different cultural settings but there is only one church.


A Wholistic Model of Humanity


We are interested in all people, but also in comprehensive ways of looking at them. We frequently take a fragmented approach to hu­mans. When we see them as physical beings subject to the laws of motion, we can analyze what happens to their bodies when they are involved in car accidents. Or we may look at them in other ways—as biological creatures, when we examine how their bodies assimilate food, excrete wastes, reproduce, and respond to stress; as psycholog­ical beings, products of conscious and unconscious drives, feelings, and ideas; as sociocultural beings who create societies and systems of beliefs; or as sinners who need salvation.

Each of these models helps us understand something of what it means to be human. But how do we fit them all together? How do we avoid a fragmented view that breaks them up into parts and loses sight of the fact that they are whole humans—not just arms and legs, or bodies, or drives, or spirits?


Reductionism. The simplest and most common answer is reduc­tionism. Although we may recognize many dimensions in human life, we reduce them all to one type of explanation. For example, in bio­logical reductionism, we recognize that people find it hard to get along with one another or have times of spiritual depression, but we “ex­plain” these in terms of biological causes such as hormonal imbal­ances and genetic tendencies. In psychological reductionism, we would explain them in terms of conscious or unconscious drives and human response patterns.          

The danger of reductionism in missions is its overly simplistic ap­proach to human need. We tend to see people only in terms of either physical or spiritual needs. Christ ministered to people in all their needs. Clearly, the eternal salvation of people is our highest priority, but we must bring them the whole gospel. Salvation, in the biblical sense, has to do with all dimensions of our lives.

In particular, we from the West must guard against a mechanistic reductionism. We tend to think in terms of cause and effect and believe that we can solve our problems and achieve our goals if only we have the right methods or answers. This approach has made us masters over much of nature, but it has also led us to see other people as objects that we can manipulate if we use the right formulas. In fact, even the social sciences can be seen as new “formulas” if they are misused. The gospel calls us to see people as human beings, and any effective mission action begins by building relationships, not programs.

A mechanistic approach also tempts us to seek to control God for our own purposes. We set the agenda and try to make God do our bidding. But Scripture always calls us away from this type of magic and toward worship and obedience. The missionary task is first the work of God, and we must follow his lead. This does not eliminate the need to plan or strategize. But it does mean that we must do so with an attitude of submission to God and a recognition that he acts when he chooses, often in ways that we cannot understand.


Stratigraphic approaches. A second road to wholism is what Clifford Geertz has called the “stratigraphic approach.” In this we simply stack different theories of human beings one upon the other, without any serious attempt to integrate them. Each model, whether theological or scientific, remains a self-contained explanation of some aspect of human life. The result is a collection of fragmentary understandings about people that are gathered by various methods of analysis. But, taken together, these do not give us a wholistic view of what it means to be a human (Figure).

We can, for instance, see starving people and introduce modern agriculture, or bring in hospitals for the sick, or build schools for the ignorant. But in so doing we often overlook the fact that these factors are all interrelated—that knowledge can prevent illnesses and help


A Stratigraphic Approach to Human Beings


Theological Models


Anthropological Models


Sociological Models


Psychological Models


Biological Models


Physical Models



people to grow food, and that adequate food and health is needed for them to study. And we fail to tie starvation, illness, and ignorance to their roots in human sin. We also fail to see how they can lead to further sin.

Here, again, missionaries from the West must be on guard, for we grow up in a society that draws a sharp line between religion and science, between the supernatural and natural. This distinction is Greek, not biblical. It has led us to a stratified approach that explains ma­terial order in terms of autonomous natural laws and relegates God’s activities to the miraculous. It separates human spirits from their bod­ies and makes a sharp distinction between evangelism and social con­cern. Evangelical missionaries too often see themselves as ministering in one or the other of these spheres. Doctors, teachers, and agricultural workers often see themselves as dealing with physical needs, and preachers often limit their concern to eternal salvation.

But broken, suffering, and lost people listen to doctors, teachers, and agricultural workers because these meet them where they hurt. The preacher’s message often seems irrelevant to them at the moment. Consequently, they accept a secular science divorced from theology and reject Christianity. As John Stott points out, we must see humans as soul-bodies. We are not one or the other, but both in relationship to each other.

A stratigraphic approach to theology and science secularizes much of our lives by leaving them outside of theological critique. In the long run, this approach also undermines theology. Like it or not, so long as we use the benefits of science we absorb its views of reality, often uncritically. We need to deal consciously with the relationship of theo­logical and scientific understandings of humans if we want to maintain our theological convictions.


Toward wholism. A wholistic approach to the understanding of hu­mans cannot be gained by reductionist or stratified models. We must learn what theology and the sciences have to teach us about people and weave these insights into a comprehensive understanding of hu­mans as whole beings, realizing that our knowledge is always imper­fect and incomplete.

Such an approach must recognize the contribution different studies can make to our understanding of people. Anthropology does so in the social sciences by showing how the various insights each discipline brings relate to each other (Figure 3). For example, the physical char­acteristics of humans affect the cultures they create. If they were ten feet tall or if there were only one sex, their cultures and societies would be different.

On the other hand, cultures mold people’s physical characteristics. Humans are remarkably imaginative in changing their bodies to fit their tastes. They drill holes in their ears, lips, cheeks, and teeth to support ornaments; bind heads and feet to change their shapes; put on glasses and hearing aids to improve their perceptions; paint and tattoo their skin, nails, and hair; cut their bodies and shape their hair in a thousand ways. Cultures also influence the ideas people have about health and beauty. In the West, where slim bodies are consid­ered attractive, women diet to stay slender; in Tonga in the South Pacific, where beauty is measured by bulk, a woman eats to maintain a full figure.

    Similarly the interaction of models must be studied in order to determine how people’s biological systems affect them psychologi­cally, how their psychological systems affect them physically, and how both affect and are affected by their culture.

While anthropology has worked toward an integrated view of hu­man beings from the viewpoint of the sciences, we as Christians must ask a further question. How do scientific models of human beings relate to our theological understandings of them? Unfortunately, dur­ing the last century the relationship between scientists and theolo­gians has often been one of confrontation. In part this has been due to reductionist approaches to knowledge. Both the sciences and theology have tended to claim a total and comprehensive view of reality, and each therefore ignored the other. We are becoming increasingly aware that reality is far more complex than our understandings of it—at best we can look at it from different perspectives. Like complementary sets of blueprints of the same building, different bodies of knowledge show us different aspects of reality. The sciences provide us with insights into various structures of empirical reality. Theology provides us with an overall picture of the building, the builder, and key events in its history.

Complementarity does not mean there will always be agreement between the sciences and theology. When disagreements do arise, we need to reexamine our science and our theology in the light of the Scriptures and creation. Since God is the source of both, proper under­standing of each perspective will not lead to conflict.


The Missionary Task


All authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth. Therefore, as you go make disciples of all peoples by baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe everything which I have told you. And behold, I always will be with you to the end of your days and to the end of history (Matt. 28:18—20, trans. Hans Kasdorf).

         As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you (John 20:21).


With these words Jesus commissioned us to be his witnesses around the world. The Christian church was once largely in the Middle East and the West, with small pockets in Southwest India and in China for a time. Today the church is found in all parts of the world and is growing most rapidly in many of the younger churches in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands. Moreover, there is a growing interest in missions in these churches of the so-called Two-Thirds World. Missionaries from Korea are serving in Los Angeles, those from India in Europe, and those from one part of Africa in other parts of that continent. In fact, the most rapid growth in the missionary force today comes from these young churches.

We can, therefore, no longer equate missionaries with Westerners. When we use the word missionary in this study, we mean anyone who communicates the gospel in a cross-cultural setting, whether he or she is an African serving in India, or a Latin American in Spain. The illustrations used are slanted toward a Western audience, because this book will be used largely in the West. But the principles examined apply equally to missionaries from the Two-Thirds World. The reader need only think of local examples to replace the Western ones that are given.