Worshipping with African Christians 

Andrew Walls describes his experience of participating in Christian worship with African Christians:

It is one of the most extraordinary things–you don’t know the language, and yet you know you are in a Christian congregation, and gradually you find your place in this form of worship. And gradually you learn to pray and sing. You are reading the Scriptures together, as human beings together, looking to one Christ for salvation…. I don’t think anyone brought up in the thin-blooded North can go to Africa and attend African churches without something happening to give them new insights into Christian worship–that expression of joy, that enormous vitality that comes through the African setting, with all the poverty, all the distress that people have…. When people pray with you, you realize why the New Testament talks about praying with the bowels! I would hope other Christians would be similarly enriched. We are one body.

James A. Ault, An interview with Andrew F. Walls  (Yale, 2001)

Quoted in Gillian Bediako, ‘Gospel and Culture: Andrew F. Walls in Africa, Africa in Andrew F. Walls’, in Understanding World Christianity, edited by William R. Burrows, Mark R. Gornik, and Janice A. MacLean (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2009), 217.


Andrew Walls, Mission and World Christianity

Walls missionary-movementI 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 Walls Cross Cultural Processgrateful 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.

Walls Understanding World ChristianityDuring 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’.

Walls Crossing Cultural FrontiersSome 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


Logos Free Book of the Month, September 2017

If you use Logos software, be sure to pick up the Free Book of the Month for September. This month you can get David Garland’s excellent commentary on Mark in the NIV Application Commentary free of charge. If you wish to pay a few dollars more, you can have volumes by John Walton and Scot McKnight from the same series too. If you don’t already have the Logos Basic software so that you can read these books, you can download it completely free here.

A New Focus on Mission

I am delighted to be able to share the news that I have been appointed to a new position of Lecturer in Mission and New Testament at Edinburgh Theological Seminary. It is anticipated that I will assume this new role in January 2018. The formal announcement on the Free Church of Scotland website can be read here.

This appointment is an exciting opportunity to serve the church by bringing together, in the Lord’s providence, central aspects of my experience and training in both exegesis of Scripture and mission. As I look forward to this new role, I also recognise that I have been significantly shaped by the settings in which I have worked during the past two decades. I would like to record my grateful thanks to, and warm appreciation of, the principal, staff, and students of Highland Theological College, where I have been privileged to teach for two distinct periods. I would also like to acknowledge the important role that colleagues and students at Dumisani Theological Institute (in King William’s Town, South Africa) played in shaping my thinking about global mission.

In this post I will highlight briefly some of my priorities as I anticipate the work to which I have been called.

  1. To Listen and to Learn. As I look forward to entering a new phase of service, I am eager to build relationships with missionaries in various fields, leaders of mission agencies, and academics with an emphasis on mission. I look forward to hearing their views on the issues relating to mission that deserve emphasis and analysis in mission education and training.
  2. To Inform and to Encourage. I have been reading serious studies of mission for most of the last twenty years. There are many remarkable resources available that address biblical, theological, historical, and other aspects of mission. I hope to encourage as many people as possible to read some of these resources and to become fascinated and enthused by the church’s mission.
  3. To Write and to Engage. Mission has already been a significant theme in various articles I have written over the years. While recognising the realities of life in a busy theological college, I hope to work on various writing projects that may be of use to students of mission at various levels and in various contexts. I hope, where possible, to attend and present papers at conferences dedicated to mission.
  4. To Participate and to Practice. I am aware that it would be very easy to treat mission as an interesting academic topic and to allow study and reflection to take the place of active participation in the task. I am thankful for opportunities in to be actively involved in the mission of the church, both in the UK and overseas, both long-term and short-term. I hope to be able to continue to serve the church through involvement in mission work of various kinds in the UK and internationally.

    I am grateful for this new opportunity and I look forward to getting started in due course. For the next few months, however, I look forward to contributing to the mission of the church by helping to train students at HTC to become more competent and sensitive interpreters of Scripture. 

    Some PhD theses on Hebrews

    Following my earlier post with links to repositories of theses online, I am adding some more specific posts relating to my teaching. Here are links to a number of theses relevant to Hebrews:

    Laansma (Aberdeen, 1995), “I will give you rest”. The background and significance of the rest motif in the New Testament with special reference to Mt 11 and Heb 3-4 [Note: unfortunately, the link to this thesis appears not to be permanent. Follow the link and then search for the initial phrase in the title to find this thesis.]

    Moffitt (Duke, 2010), A New and Living Way: Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews

    Mosser (St Andrews, 2005), No lasting city : Rome, Jerusalem and the place of Hebrews in the history of earliest ‘Christianity’

    Small (Baylor, 2012), The characterization of Jesus in the book of Hebrews

    Stanley (Sheffield, 1994) A New Covenant hermeneutic : the use of Scripture in Hebrews 8-10

    Some PhD theses on Luke-Acts

    Following my earlier post with links to repositories of theses online, I am adding some more specific posts relating to my teaching. Here are links to a number of theses relevant to Luke-Acts:

    Agan (Aberdeen, 1999), “Like the one who serves” : Jesus, servant-likeness and self-humiliation in the Gospel of Luke [Note: unfortunately, the link to this thesis appears not to be permanent. Follow the link and then search for the initial phrase in the title to find this thesis.]

    Lear (Aberdeen, 2015), What shall we do?: eschatology and ethics in Luke-Acts [Note: unfortunately, the link to this thesis appears not to be permanent. Follow the link and then search for the initial phrase in the title to find this thesis.]

    Wenkel (Aberdeen/ HTC, 2011), The emotion of joy and the rhetoric of reversal in Luke-Acts: a socio-rhetorical study

    PhD Theses Available Online

    Academic books (especially when published by specialist academic publishers) can be extremely expensive. It is often difficult, therefore, for students, lecturers, and even theological libraries to get access to important academic research. In recent years, many universities have been making academic theses (normally PhD level, and sometimes also Masters level) available online. In some cases, theses may only be accessed in full by subscribers, but other universities make their theses freely available. I encourage students and other serious readers to browse these resources. There is some excellent material available. I have provided a few links to theses relating to theological studies that (as far as I can see) are available in full and without cost, but more may be available. If readers know of other universities that make theology and biblical studies theses freely available online, please send me a link at thesethingsarewritten@gmail.com.

    Duke Divinity School (USA)

    Durham University (UK)

    University of Aberdeen (UK) and here

    University of Edinburgh (UK)

    University of Glasgow (UK)

    University of Otago (NZ)

    University of St Andrews (UK)

    If any readers are interested, my own Aberdeen PhD thesis (2001, ‘Matthew’s Portrait of Jesus the Judge, with special reference to Matthew 21-25’) may be located from here. Type the opening words of the title into the search box.