by Doug Priest and Charles Kraft, editors
William Carey Library
—Reviewed by Kimon Nicolaides, has served as a pastor, military chaplain, missionary, and worked with Vietnamese refugees
THIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY RECORDS the life of Alan Tippett, one of the most prolific and preeminent missiologists of the twentieth century. It gives the inside story of the forces which transformed the ways in which Western church leaders made disciples of the nations in his lifetime. Foreign missions had been strongly implicated for its collusion in the colonialistic exploitations of the non-Western world. “Missionary, go home” was the theme of the day for a good part of the first half of the twentieth century.
The burning question for the Church was how to respond to intense societal pressures to get out of the foreign missions business altogether. The response of Tippett was to articulate the need to further develop the field of missiology by using many of the same anthropological methods that were instrumental in bringing about the very indictments that were being made against the Church on its worldwide involvement in mission.
Tippett’s father was a minister for the Australian synod of the Methodist church. He followed suit hoping to go into foreign missions and was sent at age 30 to the islands of Fiji, which were the major field of his endeavors from 1941 to 1961. Returning to Australia, he found the Church’s ubiquitous indifference to missions quite disheartening when the fields seemed so ripe for harvest.
His article, “Probing Missionary Inadequacies at the Popular Level,” in International Review of Missions caught Donald McGavran’s attention. Tippett was thus recruited to teach at the newly formed Institute of Church Growth in Eugene, Oregon, and continued subsequently at the School of World Mission in Pasadena until his retirement in 1974. It was there that he made his greatest contributions to the field of missiology. Tippett effectively applied principles of anthropology to experiences obtained earlier at Fiji. He labored to correct many of the same mistakes he saw being made on the mission field while conducting worldwide seminars on church growth.
The major breakthrough Tippett advocated for and finally observed became evident from the modified emphasis between the reports of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at the Berlin Congresses of 1966 and that at Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. “Colonial Paternalism” had to a great degree been abandoned and the independence of indigenous churches accepted on equal par.
Tippet’s mission field was far more developed than those of Bruce Olson or John Hunt, whose stories must also be read. He faced different challenges; his compulsion on exposing the evils of “paternalism” expressed no less than thirty-four times used an unfortunate choice of terms. He mentions that he later discovered the correct term was “ethnocentricism” (p. 166). Today, most Western mainline churches are suffering from a need for more paternalistic leadership at home. Words matter. This book nonetheless, illustrates how one faithful life can contribute much.
EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 1 pp. 122-123. Copyright © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.