I still broadly remember the lectures on ‘primal religions’ that Andrew Walls gave to my class of Religious Studies students in David Hume Tower in Edinburgh University in either 1988 or 1989. During these two years, I regularly had to rush, between lectures, from New College on the Mound, where most of my classes took place, to David Hume Tower and then climb apparently endless stairs to the classroom where the lectures on various religious traditions were given. I don’t recall much of the detail, but I remember these lectures because (1) I had never heard the term ‘primal religions’ and the unfamiliar phrase caught my attention; (2) as an evangelical student, I knew that Professor Walls was an evangelical scholar with expertise in Christianity in the non-Western world; and (3) while I was glad to hear lectures from an evangelical lecturer, I could not imagine how I would ever need to know about religious beliefs that were found in far-off parts of the world (particularly Africa) I never expected to visit. Almost thirty years later, and after spending more than nine years in missionary service in South Africa, I was grateful for the opportunity to meet Professor Walls in Aberdeen and to tell him how his lectures had helped prepare me to understand better a worldview that was pervasive in Southern Africa (in African Traditional Religion). Even at the time of our meeting, less than two years ago, I had no idea that my academic teaching would shortly move in a new direction to focus on the field of mission studies in which he had made such a remarkable contribution.
In the years since I was a novice student in the University of Edinburgh, I have come to realise how significant Andrew Walls has been to the fields of missiology and ‘World Christianity’. These days, I make it my business to read as much of his work as I possibly can. Most of Walls’s written work has been in the form of essays. Many of these have been collected in two volumes published by Orbis Books, The Missionary Movement in Christian History, and The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History.
During the past few days, I have been reading another Orbis volume, Understanding World Christianity, which is a kind of Festschrift for Walls. It was edited by William R. Burrows, Mark R. Gornik, and Janice A. MacLean, and published in 2009. A distinctive feature of this collection of essays, however, is that they all directly address aspects of Walls’s life and thought. The contributors are largely well-known scholars of missiology who have been friends, colleagues and students of Walls, including Kwame Bediako, Wilbert Shenk, Brian Stanley, Jonathan Bonk, and Lamin Sanneh.
The book is composed of five parts. The first part includes three personal tributes. Together these contributions reveal a humble Christian man who combines great ability with a warm Christian piety and commitment to the life of the church. For example, Howard Marshall illustrates Walls’s regular service as a preacher in the northeast of Scotland and his ability as a hymn writer, while Allison Howell and Maureen Iheanacho describe Walls’s teaching in Africa where he was as likely to pray with a student in need as to offer to read Greek with those who wished to develop their skills.
The second part considers ways in which Walls transformed the academic discipline of mission studies, not least by founding an academic centre and by supervising and mentoring new scholars in the field.
In the third part of the book, several themes relating to the ‘transmission of Christianity’ are addressed in conversation with Walls’s work. His distinctive emphases of ‘translation’ and ‘conversion’ receive particular attention.
Part four considers aspects of Walls’s contribution as an historian. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the work of Kenneth Scott Latourette’s work as a forerunner of Walls by Dana Robert. Not surprisingly, the way in which Walls shaped the study of the history of World Christianity is also addressed.
The final section of the book addresses the special place that Africa has played in the life and thought of Andrew Walls and in Christian history. The subtitle of Gillian Bediako’s essay seems particularly appropriate: ‘Andrew F. Walls in Africa, Africa in Andrew F. Walls’.
The book is completed by an extensive bibliography of works by Walls. This will be very valuable as Walls’s work increasingly becomes the focus of scholarly research. Bediako writes (217-18),
If we wish to understand why Andrew Walls is so much loved and respected by African Christians, and non-Western Christians generally, part of the answer lies here–that Africa changed him, and that he has been ever ready to acknowledge it with gratitude.
I would commend this collection of essays to readers who wish both to gain a flavour of current thinking on ‘World Christianity’ and to be introduced to the work of Andrew Walls. It is a fitting tribute to both the distinguished scholar and the Christian preacher of the gospel. Of course, readers who learn about Walls from these essays should also read Walls’s own writings for themselves.
The impact of Andrew Walls on the academic study of missiology and World Christianity is immense. This can be seen in ways beyond the citations of his published works. Perhaps the most significant legacy Walls has left in addition to his writings is the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, in New College, the University of Edinburgh. Walls’s impact has also been noted by other institutions. Liverpool Hope University established the Andrew Walls Centre for the Study of Asian and African Christianity. Likewise, the Overseas Ministries Study Centre in the USA, with which Walls has had strong connections, has dedicated the ‘Andrew F. Walls Conference Room’.
Some excellent news for those who have appreciated Walls’s writings over many years is that a further collection of his writings, Crossing Cultural Frontiers, is due to appear shortly, published once again by Orbis.
You can watch a short interview with Walls on World Christianity here, and a recent lecture given by Walls (on 26 September 2017) here.
Related posts on this blog:
Global Theology – Lectures by Escobar, Sanneh, Walls and others
Listening to the Global Church