In order for a seminary to produce healthy mission-minded students, it must ensure that theology and missiology are inseparable by (1) hiring theology faculty who are concerned to show how theology issues forth in ministry and mission, (2) hiring missiology faculty who are theologically orthodox, theologically aware, and theologically savvy, and (3) crafting curricula that reflect the close relationship between theology and missiology.
Christian theology issues forth in mission:
A truly Christian theology will inevitably issue forth in mission. Any theology is deficient if it does not foster a healthy desire to take the gospel to the nations (including the multiple cultures and myriad sub-cultures of the USA). Therefore, a seminary is wise to hire and to develop theologians who evidence Great Commission passion and savvy. This is of the utmost importance. Students will not take missions seriously unless their theology professors take it seriously. Theology is the core of the seminary curriculum and if it is taught in such a way that it is divorced from the concept of mission, we can be assured that our seminaries will fail in the area of mission.
For what it is worth, here is how I try to model that when I teach the basic systematic theology courses at SEBTS. (1) I treat the concept of mission up front in the first semester by treating it briefly under the doctrine of the Trinity, with the Father’s sending of the Son. By showing that the seed idea of mission is located in the Godhead, it is less likely to be minimized. (2) Toward the end of each three hour teaching segment, I show how the particular doctrine (e.g. God’s attributes) subverts its counterpart in Islam, Eastern religions, atheism, and religious moralism/legalism; and I show how that same doctrine shapes and forms our missiological method. (3) I find other ways to verbally place value on the task of mission. The reason for doing so is that I am convinced that although SBC seminaries talk about the value of mission, the practical reality is that there sometimes is a tendency to view applied theology faculties as inferior to systematic theology faculties. I don’t think this is intentional, but I do think it is a fact. For this reason, many of our brightest students refrain from studying missions which hurts not only mission agencies and the nations, but also keeps our brightest students from doing PhD work in missiology, which in turn handcuffs the seminary presidents and deans when they are looking to hire missiology faculty members.
Christian mission is inescapably theological:
One of the most significant challenges facing our churches today is the imperative to allow her evangelical theology to shape her actual ministry practices. We declared our belief that the Christian Scriptures are ipsissima verba Dei, the very words of God. Our declaration, however, is not always consistent with our practice. We sometimes “bank on” our high view of Scripture, but undermine that by not doing the hard work of allowing biblical doctrine to shape our ministry and mission philosophies, strategies, and practices. A faulty doctrine of God, for example, will lead us to a wrong definition of ministry success. A poor hermeneutic will lead to an aberrant definition of God’s mission and of our mission. A misguided soteriology will neuter our attempts at evangelism and discipleship. A reductionist ecclesiology will result in anemic churches that fail to disciple their members or reach their communities, or that multiply aberrant doctrine and unhealthy churches. In order to foster a healthy missiology, therefore, we must seek carefully, consciously, and consistently to rivet mission strategies and practices to Christian Scripture and its attendant evangelical doctrine.
In other words, a truly Christian missiology is profoundly theological. Christian missiology finds its starting point, trajectory, and parameters in biblical theology. When missiology is separated (in principle or in practice) from biblical theology, it becomes a sub-Christian enterprise in which cultural anthropology, sociology, business marketing, and pragmatic situational human reasoning take the driver’s seat. In fact, evangelical mission is often driven by the social sciences rather than being supplemented by them. Evangelical mission is often a-theological rather than robustly theological. And all of this is in spite of the fact that most evangelical missiologists profess a high view of Scripture.
Seminary curricula should reflect a seminary’s view of missiology and the task of mission:
One way to close the divide between theology and missiology, between theology proper and theology applied, is to build curricula that connect the two. Doing so is not easily or quickly accomplished, as we have found out in our own efforts at Southeastern. One way that we have tried to close the divide is by creating a Ph.D. in Applied Theology (with tracks in both International and North American Missiology) that intentionally seeks for its missiology to be theologically-driven.
Our thought process includes the following three realizations: that (1) Doctoral programs in missiology are considered to be “applied theology” or “practical theology.” But one cannot “apply” what one does not possess. Therefore doctoral programs in missiology should include a substantial amount of systematic theology. (2) For this reason, Ph.D. seminars are consciously crafted in such a way that theology and missiology are riveted together. For example, a seminar in anthropology should never be merely a course in cultural anthropology. That seminar must be a course in theological anthropology which is in conversation with cultural anthropology. I am convinced that evangelical missiology is still beholden schools of cultural anthropology that run directly adverse to gospel, and is driven by the social sciences rather than by theology. (3) For this reason, in some of the seminars, our theology professors teach in tandem with missiology professors, and in other seminars missiology professors put in the work necessary to handle the theological aspects themselves.
In conclusion, missions and seminary education has sometimes been a match made in hell, but it more naturally should be a match made in heaven. By God’s grace our seminaries and our mission agencies will continue to develop their mutually beneficial partnerships for the glory of God, the benefit of the lost, the building of Christ’s church, and the advance of his kingdom.