Science in Christian Perspective



James 0. Busrwell, III, M.A.

From: JASA 7 (June 1955): 16-17.

I am happy to introduce as guest columnist for this issue William A. Smalley who has recently returned from nearly five years work in Indochina under the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Mr. Smalley was engaged in a study of the Sre dialect of a people in the interior called Moe 'savage' by the Vietnamese. He is now working with Dr. Eugene Nida in the Translations Department of the American Bible Society at their New York office, and teaching anthropology and linguistics at Shelton College in Ringwood, New Jersey.


by William A. Smalley

In the earlier days of the anthropological study of the world's many peoples and cultures, certain missionary descriptions of local groups played an important part. Missionaries were some of the very few individuals who had been out of the closed orbit of the West. But although the 19th century anthropologists sought out the missionary accounts, most missionaries knew nothing of anthropologists, and cared less. A whole system of anthropological thought developed about people and culture, including such important missionary questions as religion, culture change, the effect of foreign influence on native life, etc. Except as small parts of the anthropological viewpoint entered the general stream of western thought it had no influence on the missionary.

I have, with Marie Fetzer, touched on some of these important issues of missionary anthropology in the ASA symposium, Modern Science and Christian Faith. More may be found in a valuable little journal, Practical Anthropology, published by Robert Taylor, 2330-3 Patterson Dr., Eugene, Oregon (One dollar for six issues). The fullest treatment of the subject is Customs and Cultures, by Eugene A. Nida (Harper and Bros., N. Y., 1954). The present column will not deal with any of these questions, but will rather list some of the ways in which applied anthropology is beginning to reach Christian missions.

Several schools now offer anthropology with the missionary particularly in mind. On the graduate level the Kennedy School of Missions (Hartford, Conn.) offers extensive work in the field. Columbia Bible College also has a program. On the undergraduate level such liberal arts colleges as Wheaton and such Bible colleges as Nyack, among others, offer a modest selection of courses, Wheaton offering a major in the field.

Descriptive linguistics, a specialized branch of anthropology having to do with the scientific analysis of languages, is by far the most fully handled in missionary training due to the pioneer work and the several summer schools of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, affiliated with the Wycliffe Bible Translators. Hundreds of "Wycliffe" graduates, having taken a summer or two of linguistics, and having thereby been "exposed" to that and other aspects of missionary anthropology, are found in scores of missions around the world. Often, of course, the short summer "exposure" doesn't "take", but many a missionary looks back to his summer of linguistics as a most important eye-opener, and in some cases of the beginning of an entirely undreamed-of range of missionary service.

Another type of institution which tries to give the prospective missionary a modicum of anthropological orientation is the Toronto Institute of Linguistics. This is a month-long session of intensive work in the techniques of language learning. Its purpose is different from that of Wycliffe, which trains for the analysis

not readily available to him. But for the missionary of today, and for his sending board, it is a grave responsibility if he does not take advantage of the increasing opportunity he has to learn about mankind in its fascinating varieties of cultural life, and to come to his missionary work with the wider perspective known as the "cross-cultural viewpoint".

The ASA could do little of more importance to the cause of Jesus Christ than to help foster among missionaries, in missionary training programs, and in mission boards, a scientific view of the mankind Christ came to save.