The Ways of the People: A Reader in Missionary Anthropology

by Alan R. Tippett, ed.

 Doug Priest, series ed. William Carey Library, 1605 East Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 686 pages, 2013, $39.99.

Reviewed by David H. Greenlee, international ministry services coordinator, Operation Mobilization, Wallisellen, Switzerland.

Alan R. Tippett (1911–1988) was, in Charles Kraft’s words, “the deepest and broadest missiologist of our time.” He was a perfectionist, Kraft continues in the Foreword in this book, and only published when pushed. William Carey Library is making up for that reserve, publishing this second in a series of writings of this insightful Australian missionary, anthropologist, and missiologist.

The Ways of the People is a collection of eighty-nine anthropological articles published by Protestant missionaries from 1837 to the 1970s. Tippett assembled these documents some thirty-five years ago as an anthropology reader for missionary training courses. He highlights in the Introduction “that the missionary cause has produced many fine anthropologists, and that one does not have to be a materialist or an agnostic to be an anthropologist.”

Many readers will appreciate this book. First, it helps us understand the development of anthropology, including the contributions missionaries have made from the beginnings of this science.

Second, it will be an important resource on anthropology for missionary training courses. In a 1993 course with Paul Hiebert, it would have saved me long hours of library searching for readings to complement the writings of Edwin Evans-Pritchard, Bronislaw Malinowski, and others. Further, readers may be humbled to realize that some of our “new insights” in missiology (such as issues of translation or concepts of group relationships, decisions, and conversions) were talked about in the 1800s.

Finally, many chapters are simply a delight to read, allowing us to choose selections matching our individual interests—for me, these readings fall under creative arts, communication, social values, and research methodology. I found my mind wandering back one hundred years and more as observant missionaries captured with pen and ink details I miss with my high resolution camera. John L. Nevius’ 1882 description of “Chinese Theaters, Plays, and Players” helped me understand a drama I observed in Chengdu not long ago. William Bromilow’s “Adopted Member, Headman, Trading Partner” is a classic not just because of its ethnographic content, but because his account of being accepted by those he had gone to serve is excellent writing.

At nearly seven hundred pages including bibliographies, this volume is no lightweight read. Despite the length, as Tippett himself admitted, it cannot cover everything. To complement this work, I would be grateful if anthropologists among us would produce a similar collection of the best of truly global missionary anthropology of the thirty-five years since Tippett assembled this reader. Reflecting changes in both anthropology and our mission context, such a volume might look more at ourselves, and not just at a somewhat exotic “other.” And while these valuable contributions draw from tribal or rural settings, or far-away islands where these missionary anthropologists served and observed, a collection of more recent writing would help us understand cities, migrants, and other challenges facing us in twenty-first-century mission.

I recommend this book. If, like me, you value the insights of anthropology to understand our missionary task, then The Ways of the People will be a welcome resource for reflection, teaching, and ministry.


EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 122-123. Copyright  © 2014 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.


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