Symposium: Response 1: Not without Problems

by Douglas McConnell

Does the move away from the term “mission” diminish the mission of God, at least among those of us for whom English is our primary language? Reflecting on the complexity of the issues, my answer is yes, but perhaps other significant questions should also be considered.

IN THE WEEKS LEADING UP to our name change, a major donor and friend of the School of World Mission warned me that it would open the door for a loss of vision and mission for both the school and the seminary. We agonized over these issues as the pressures for change grew among our alumni serving around the world. It came to a head when a leading Arab- born American missionary was deported from a Middle Eastern country after an examination of his transcript from Fuller’s School of World Mission.

Our concern was to apply the principles of contextualization in a manner that would not compromise or block the mission. We explored many names, but in the end followed the trend in academic missiology among evangelicals. “Intercultural Studies” was chosen as academically credible since it was intrinsically interdisciplinary, bringing together the social sciences, theology, history, and mission practice from a global perspective. Fuller was by no means first in line to change the name in May 2003. Clyde Cook, a fourth-generation missionary and beloved president of Biola University at that time, established a School of Intercultural Studies in 1983.

Yet as Marv Newell rightly notes, the implications are not without problems. Does the move away from the term “mission” diminish the mission of God, at least among those of us for whom English is our primary language? Reflecting on the complexity of the issues, my answer is yes, but perhaps other significant questions should also be considered.

Yes, it inevitably allows for a broadening of the agenda. Creating new names opens the door for organizational expansion necessitating more leaders, more facilities, and more expenses. Reorganizing to meet changing needs and embrace new opportunities leads to questions about the relevance of our historical mission statements. An example is the focus on leadership so common in our meetings, retreats, curriculum, and mission statements. In more ways than we realize, the agenda for missions changed with the names and is in need of the careful appraisal Newell suggests. But does the move away from the word “mission” in our collective experience really mean a loss of mission? What about the dynamics of globalization, in particular the accessibility of information blurring the boundaries which were so much a part of our perspective of sending missionaries? What about the missionary movements of Christians from the South to the North, from vibrant and growing churches to a post-Christendom world? Is the de-missionization of missions in the West a symptom of something bigger? Perhaps we need to move deeper in our analysis of the mission of the sovereign triune God. What, after all, is God doing in the world and how should we respond?

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Douglas McConnell is provost and senior vice president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He served as a missionary in Australia and Papua New Guinea, as associate professor of missions & intercultural studies at Wheaton College, and as international director of PIONEERS.

EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 1 pp. 51-52. 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.


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