by J. Herbert Kane
Fewer and fewer students are enrolling in the missons departments of Bible colleges. If the trend continues, some of the departments are going to fold up.
Fewer and fewer students are enrolling in the missons departments of Bible colleges. If the trend continues, some of the departments are going to fold up. If we cannot enhance the image of the missions department to the point where Students will again flock to our banners, we should at least do everything in our power to strengthen the missions curriculum for the sake of the students still interested in missions. Assuming that we can stem the tide, at least in some schools, I offer the following sugzestions, or principles, that might prove helpful in the development of a missions curriculum.
The whole program of missions should be based on the assumption that we are in the business to stay; and by business I don’t mean the business of education here at home, but the business of missions overseas. It is difficult, if not impossible, to develop a strong missionary program in the Bible college if either instructors or students are convinced that we are approaching the end of the missionary era. Nobody wants to serve a dying cause. Students don’t want to spend four years preparing for a vocation that might be completely obsolete by the time they graduate. They want some assurance of the survival, if not the success, of their vocation; and one can’t blame them. There is too much pessimistic talk about closing doors. It is true that some doors have closed;. doubtless others will close in the near future; but this does not mean the end of the missionary era. If, as we believe, God is the King of the nations, and Jesus Christ is the Lord of history, then neither communism, nationalism, nor any other anti-Christian force will be able to terminate the missionary era before it has accomplished God’s redemptive purpose in the world.
The greatest threat to the missionary enterprise of our day comes not from the strategy of its enemies but from the lethargy of its friends. We shall lose the battle only when we lose the will to fight. It is vitally important that all instructors of missions be imbued with the spirit of Christian optimism that prompted the Apostle Paul, at the height of the Mediterranean storm, to say: "Sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God…"
The missions curriculum should be tailored to the needs of the students, not to the interests of the instructor. There is quite a turnover in Bible college faculties every year. This often leads to a major change in the structure of the missions curriculum. All too frequently new instructors introduce into the curriculum those subjects in which they have a special interest. These subjects may or may not make for a well-rounded missions curriculum. In fact, they may send the curriculum completely out of kilter. When making alterations in the curriculum it is important that we keep in mind the needs of the students rather than our own interests and preferences.
Because the missionary enterprise is such an important part of the overall mission of the church, it is desirable that every freshman be obliged to take one basic course in missions. Such a course would enable the instructor to do three things: (1 ) Correct the many false notions young people have regarding the Christian mission. (2) Impart the kind of information that will enable the students to make an intelligent response to the claims of the mission field. (3) Impart sufficient inspiration to whet the appetite of some of the students so that they will come back for more. Only a small minority of the class will ever get to the mission field; therefore, the entire course should be geared to those who remain at home.
The various subjects in the missions curriculum should be arranged in an ascending scale, from the elementary to the, more advanced. Obviously, the first course should be Introduction to Missions. The last course, just before graduation, should be Area Studies. History of Missions should, I think, precedeNon-Christian Religions. Survey courses should precede depth courses. Therefore, a course in Islam should follow, not precede Non-Christian Religions, which is at best a survey course. Missions in a Revolutionary Age, if taught at all, should come toward the end of the program. Some subjects lend themselves to the seminar approach and should be taught by that method.
The missions curriculum should be designed to prepare the student for conditions on the foreign field, not for the situation here at home. There is talk about a world government, a world religion and a world culture; but we are still a long way from that goal. The gap between the technological civilization of America and the primitive civilization of most mission fields becomes greater with the passing of time. We are an urban society; they are a rural society. We are an affluent society, and becoming more affluent every year. They are a poverty-stricken society, and becoming more so every year. Some of the most basic and crucial problems in the indigenous church have long since been licked by the church in America. Policies and techniques that are helpful here may be quite ineffective, even useless, there. These facts should be borne in mind when we develop a missions curriculum. We are training missionary candidates to go to an alien people, who live in a strange land, speak a foreign tongue, and practice a pagan religion.
The missions curriculum should be geared to the changing demands of the missionary vocation. Principles and policies that were sane and sacred in the nineteenth century may be hopelessly out of date in the second half of the twentieth century. The missionary enterprise in the nineteenth century-indeed, right up to World War 11-was part of the colonial system imposed by the West on the East. Now that the colonial system has disintegrated, we must revamp our missionary prograin. The subjects we teach, the problems we discuss, and the policies we espouse should reflect this basic change. We who teach in this area should be abreast of the times and aware of the new moods prevailing in both church and state on the mission field.
If we are to build a strong missions program, somehow we must enhance the image of the missions department. Time was when the missions department, along with the Bible and theology departments, was among the best and strongest in the Bible school; but with the introduction in recent years of more and more liberal arts, and more and more Ph.D.’s to teach and administer in those areas, the image of the missions department has suffered by comparison. The brightest students are gravitating in ever increasing numbers to other disciplines. Leadership in the student body is now largely in the hands of non-missions majors. The Ph.D.’s on the faculty are probably not in the missions department. All of this means that the image of that department has deteriorated in the last ten -or fifteen years. I detect that in this area an almost nationwide trend has set in, and it is going to be exceedingly difficult to reverse that trend. Nevertheless, I think we should make the effort.
The strength of the missions curriculum will depend largely on the caliber of the instructors. It is not easy to get fully qualified teachers of missions. Few seminaries or graduate schools offer a Master’s program in missions, and a Ph.D. in missions is almost an unknown quantity. Consequently, it is difficult to find teachers of missions with advanced degrees. Other missions professors have the advantage of practical experience on the field, but have only a baccalaureate degree. School administrators often have to settle for missions instructors whose academic qualifications are somewhat meager. As time goes on and more seminaries offer an M.A. program in missions, this problem will be resolved. In the meantime, academic deans will have to do the best they can with what is available.
Ideally, an instructor in missions shouldhave at least an M.A., preferably in missions or some related area. A director of a school of missions should have a Ph.D. degree. A teacher of missions should have a working knowledge of the Bible and theology; and to be really effective, he should have had some personal experience on the mission field.
If a college offers a major in missions, there should be at least two men in the department, and they should represent different areas of the mission field: Asia, Africa, Latin America, Middle East, etc.
Too often schools, especially the smaller ones, hire missions instructors on a temporary basis as a stop-gap measure to meet the emergency of the moment. A missionary on furlough, or a missionary on sick leave, or a missionary who for other reasons cannot return to the field, is invited to teach missions until a more qualified teacher can be found. Such arrangements have a way of lengthening into permanent or semipermanent positions, to the detriment of the missions program.
A missions curriculum, including a missions major, cannot include everything. Some subjects, desirable as they may be, will have to be left out. First aid, tropical medicine, language study, carpentry, photography, all have practical value and can be put to good use on most mission fields; but they have little or no academic content and should, therefore, be omitted from the curriculum. If students feel they must have training along these lines, they should get it elsewhere. We should do our best to avoid proliferation. Some catalogs list twenty or thirty offerings in the missions department. This kind of setup may look very impressive on paper, but actually it is an element of weakness rather than of strength.
If we are ever to put missions on the map in Bible colleges, we must recognize the validity of missions subjects as an academic discipline. In days gone by, Missionary Principles and Practice has been little more than organized common sense applied to the missionary situation in various parts of the world. Comparative Religions has been reduced to a summary of the strong points of Christianity and the weak points of the nonChristian religions. Introduction to Missions has consisted mainly of reading missionary biographies. History of Missions has consisted of names, places, dates and events, with little or no attempt to evaluate the social, religious, economic or cultural factors that contributed to the success or failure of the Christian mission at certain times and in certain places. Kenneth Scott Latourette has done more than anyone else to give academic respectability to the study of missions. Others in recent years have Contributed to the upgrading of the missions curriculum: Hendrik Kraemer, Stephen Neill, Eugene Nida, Harold Cook, Harold Lindsell, Arthur Glasser and Donald McGavran, for example.
Moreover, we should recognize the importance of missions subjects as a necessary part of missionary training. The business of world evangelism is so important and the nature of missionary work so unique that an adequate missions curriculum calls for much more than two or three electives. To do anything like an effective job there should be a major in missions. This is self-evident in all other fields. Those going into science take a major in some branch of science. Those planning to teach history in high school major in history at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Those preparing for elementary education must come to grips with three core courses: the history of education, the philosophy of education, and the psychology of education. In addition, there are several methodology courses and twelve to eighteen hours of practice teaching. Only then are they qualified to teach in the public school system. But for some strange reason we assume that any kind of preparation is good enough for the missionary candidate. It is naive in the extreme to imagine that a three-hour course in general psychology will enable a person tounderstand the Oriental mind, or that a study in American sociology will enable one to appreciate such exotic cultures as those found in Asia, Africa and many parts of Latin America. Every missionary- should have a major in missions if he wishes to be adequately prepared for the demands of the twentieth century.
We should recognize the centrality of the missions program in the life of the college. Christian missions is not an option; missions is the main business of life. In the broadest sense, missions includes both witness and service in the name of Christ at home and abroad. As such, it is not to be confined to one department or one discipline in the Bible college. Missions should be the concern of everyone-faculty and students alike. As a course of study, missions is only one discipline among many; but as the chief concern of the church, it should be a cause as well as a course. This being so, the spirit of missions should permeate the entire college community. Every faculty member, regardless of his particular discipline, should be concerned for the success of the Christian mission. Every student, regardless of his major, should be confronted with the claims of the mission field. The missionary interest of the entire college should find expression in the co-curricular activities of the students. Such activities, while appealing to the entire student body would at the same time indirectly strengthen the academic program of the missions department.
Finally, there is the matter of the library. It is not enough to have competent instructors who teach sound subjects. They must have sharp, modern tools with which to work. By far the most important of these tools are books. The college library should contain a sizeable, up-to-date collection of books on missions. Most Bible college libraries are strong in the areas of Bible and theology but tend to be weak in missions. Many of the missions books are biography; others are old and out of date. There is nothing wrong with missionary biography. In former days that was about all that was available; but in this postwar period there has been an increasing number of books on missions coming off the press. These deal with every aspect of the Christian mission, past, present, and future, and include philosophy, history, strategy, biography, theology, principles, policies, problems, methods, mistakes, prospects, etc. Most of them are Written by men who do not share the conservative theological point of view. Nevertheless, they represent critical, creative thinking in these days when the entire missionary program is undergoing an agonizing reappraisal; and neither we nor our students can afford to be ignorant of them.
Periodicals are also important. In some Bible colleges these are pretty well confined to the house organs published by various evangelical missions and given to the Bible colleges free of charge. Denominational periodicals are conspicuous by their absence. There is a tendency for interdenominational colleges to carry only the periodicals published by the faith missions. Denominational schools tend to veer in the other direction, overlooking the publications of the faith missions. In addition to homeside periodicals, it is imperative that our students have access to English-language periodicals from the major mission fields of the world: The Japan, Christian Quarterly, Japan Harvest, National Christian Council Review of India, Southeast Asia Journal of Theology, Near East Christian Council Bulletin, Latin America Newsletter, and similar publications. Periodicals with still wider appeal should by all means be on the shelves: The International Review of Missions, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, The Ecumenical Press Service, The Missionary News Service, and the IFMA News Bulletin.
These suggestions do not by any means exhaust all the possibilities there are to help develop a strong missions curriculum; but perhaps they are sufficient to spark a discussion of the problem.
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