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Background - what is missiology?
What is missiology?

Missiology is the intentional and ongoing reflection on the practice of mission, writes Dr Cathy Ross.


Theories of mission, the study and teaching of mission, research and publications about mission - these are all part of missiology. It's also about considering the sources, the goals, the activities, the bearer and the limits of mission. But practice came first...

Involvement in the practice of mission preceded the theoretical study of mission.

Roman Catholics were the first to reflect critically on the practice of mission. Raymond Lull, a Spanish activist, proposed the establishment of colleges for linguistic and theological training for missionaries to Muslims and Jews in the 13th century.

Dutch scholars such as Hadrianus Saravia (1531–1613) and Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676) helped pave the way for subsequent missiological studies but it was not until the 19th century that missiology was taken seriously in the Protestant world.

Mission in the universities
A Scottish missionary called Alexander Duff developed a systematic theory of mission and was appointed to a new Chair of Evangelistic Theology in Edinburgh in 1867. This first chair of missiology was discontinued after Duff’s departure but a beginning had been made.
missiology came to be regarded as a department of foreign affairs within the theological faculty
The German, Gustav Warneck, is recognised as the founder of missiology as a discipline in its own right. He was appointed to the Chair of Missionary Science at the University of Halle, Germany, in 1897. He produced a three volume work on Protestant mission theory and he surveyed the history of Protestant missionary work. These works were very important for the establishing of missiology as a discipline in its own right.

Just a ‘theological Foreign Office’?
This establishment of missiology as its own discipline was a mixed blessing. Chairs were established not because theology was understood to be intrinsically missionary but because of pressure from mission societies, students and in one case the German government urging its chair to attend to the “colonial system”.

All this had negative consequences for missiology as it came to be regarded as a kind of department of foreign affairs within the theological faculty. It also meant that theologians felt themselves relieved of having to reflect on the missionary nature of theology. Missiology was often moved to the periphery or removed in times of budget cuts.


Two vital tasks

Missiology has two vital tasks with respect to theology and the practice of mission.

1. Missiology should constantly challenge theology to be real and lived. Missiology should constantly challenge theology to be real and lived


As mission is ultimately about the relationship of God with humanity, missiology challenges theology to explore this in practical terms so that our theology becomes a theology of the road, not a theology of the balcony.

In other words missiology demands a theology that is applied in our Christian journey and not just a theology that observes from above.

2. Missiology will also challenge the practice of mission.

It will investigate its foundations, aims, attitudes, methods and models – not as an onlooker but as an insider.

The best missiologists have always been the reflective practitioners – those who have had experience of cross-cultural mission. John V Taylor is a good example – he had a much more positive attitude towards African primal religions after his experience of living and working in Uganda.

Always developing

Missiology will always seek to reflect on the practice of mission and for this reason it will always be a developing discipline. There is no such thing as a definitive missiology – there is only missiology in draft.


Dr Cathy Ross is manager of the Crowther Centre for Mission Education at CMS in Oxford and JV Taylor Fellow in Missiology based at Regent’s Park College and Wycliffe Hall.


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July 29, 2014