Science in Christian Perspective



James 0. Buswell III, M.A.

From JASA 9 (September 1957): 19-20.

The science of anthropology for the Christian has many values and practical applications, both for accurate apologetics and for pressing social problems. The data and techniques of prehistoric archeology and human paleontology bear importantly upon the interpretation of portions of the Old Testament. The findings of racial studies together with the increasingly clear differentiation between what anthropologists call "cultural" behavior, and purely racial characteristics , likewise have an important bearing upon the tragic turmoil which has become popularly symbolized as "segregation vs. de-segregation" in our own country as well as in colonial contexts.

But, as Smalley and Fetzer have observed, "The most worthwhile potential area f or applied anthropology is in Christian Missions." (Modern Science and Christian Faith, 2nd ed., p. 101.) It is a report of one phase of this area that concerns us here.

The first session of the Summer Institute of Missions, sponsored by the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, and the Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association on the campus of Wheaton College was completed on July 19th. Giving either graduate or undergraduate credit to * missionaries and candidates, the Institute consisted of four courses conducted within the academic framework of the regular Wheaton Summer School.

Dr. Merrill Tenney, Dean of the Graduate School of Wheaton College, taught the course in Bible Study Methods. The reason for having this course was that missionaries frequently fail to secure, amid all of their preparation in the scriptures, a systematic, efficient method of studying the Bible for themselves. Also, as might be expected, the response of mission executives to a preliminary questionnaire indicated that the greatest single need ... was a knowledge of the Bible." (Tenney, M. C., "Report on Questionnaire on Missionary Education.")

In the selection of individual courses suggested by the questionnaire, "Methods and Philosophy of Missions" received the highest number of votes. Mr. Hubert Reynhout, Jr., former missionary under the Ceylon and India General Mission, and, since 1947, Prof essor of Missions at Providence-Barrington Bible College, taught this course. New and old methods were considered in the contexts of changing philosophies and approaches. Review and study of historic and current trends, and the comparative study and exchange of methods proved of great value to the missionaries enrolled.

Mr. David Woodward, of the Christian Witness Press of Formosa and Hong Kong, conducted a course
in Missionary Literature. Problems of field as well as homeland production and distribution of literature were
examined. As Production Manager and Assistant Edi tor of DEUGTA (The Lighthouse), Mr. Woodward
was well prepared to present the necessity for, and techniques of good writing, with a unique familiarity
with what is needed for new converts and for literate non-Christians on the foreign field. The course also
covered the preparation of reports and newsletters, fiction, reviews, articles, and many other forms of liter ature for which the missionary is regularly responsible

Communication Stressed

The fourth course was one in Anthropology. In answer to the question, "What are the greatest general educational needs of your missionaries?" the questionnaire showed that "there was a heavy stress on practical adaptability to the thinking of the people among whom the missionaries were working." Tabulation of the 38 returns indicated that anthropology was the second choice out of 27 subjects listed by the missions executives for inclusion in the proposed Summer Institute. "Out of five choices given in each questionnaire, by far the largest single interest was Methods and Philosophy of Missions (27 votes), Anthropology (21 votes), and Bible Study (20 votes)."

The anthropology course was built around the principal theme of Effective Communication. A combination of text materials introduced the missionaries and candidates to the normal academic scope of the field, (Herskovits, M. J., Cultural Anthropology, Knopf, 1955), a particular orientation of anthropology to missionary problems and attitudes, (Nida, E. A., Customs and Cultures: Anthropology for Christian Missions, Harper, 1954; and Davis, J. M., New Buildings on Old Foundations, Friendship Press, 1945); and to a consideration of specific cases and field probelms, such as The Toba Indians of Argentine Chacos: An Interpretive Report, by William D. Reyburn, (Mennonite Board of Missions, 1954), and a selection of articles from the International Review of Missions, and other journals.*

Besides the over-all stress on communication, two other items of emphasis were, (1) Attitudes: considerations of racial equality, and a recognition of cultural relativism consistent with Christian absolutes. (2) Understanding: discovery of the interrelated functioning of native customs and the meaning and values of the native culture; and that the missionary's presentation of Christianity can and must be adapted to the receivers' culture in order to achieve a responsible, indigenous church. This adaptation only happens as the missionary achieves an understanding of the native culture which is more than a mere knowledge of their customs.

It is vital to remember at this point, that no matter how well trained we are, anthropologically or otherwise, our preparation does not guarantee our success in the missionary enterprise. As dependent upon human communicative skills as most cross-cultural dealings are, "the communication of the Gospel ... is neither primarily nor ultimately dependent on our human ability to communicate.... the primary author of the ef f ective transmission of the message is the Holy Spirit. This demonstrates clearly that communication of the gospel has a quality of its own. . . " (Hendrik Kraemer, The Communication of the Christian Faith, Westminister 1956, p. 28)

At a session such as the Missions Institute there is an interesting two-fold confirmation of impressions from missionary literature as to why some missionaries have so often disregarded or rejected the value of anthropology. One point of view is that there is nothing in native culture worth preserving. It's all "heathen." The other view is, with reference to the first, that nobody is so stupid as to think that; "everybody knows one must take the native culture into account." Neither one understands the native culture, and for both, anthropology is superfluous. Needless to say, attitudes such as these were readily relinquished, due as much to the rich discussions between missionaries from different fields, as to classroom instruction and reading.

One of the rewarding experiences from such a class is to see the plans for direct application to the actual field situation of what is being studied. In this case, before the four-week session was even completed, one missionary in the anthropology class had composed at lengthy letter to her colleagues on the field, urging consideration of an attempt to understand the natives and their culture, instead of seeing how fast they could win them away f rom it. She brought the impact of this approach directly to bear upon her own field by outlining four detailed, concrete proposals as to how the mission church, (whose native pastor preaches only in English at present), could help to further effective communication of the Gospel to the bulk of the native tribe.

One proposal was an explanation of specific ways to orient the social and devotional program of the church around the interests of the natives.

The second was a strong plea for initiating and extending the use of the native language in songs, services, and home ministry.

The third proposal named certain native leaders as prospects for Sunday School teachers and superintendent.

The last was a suggestion as to the value of certain native leaders as deacons, ushers, and choir director. "In short, the more native leaders, the better."

Thus the obvious implication of the extension of the anthropological approach to missionary methods, when applied correctly with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not as an end in inself, is the indigenous church, saving literally generations of foreign missionary time, and reaching far more people in the process.

The Summer Institute of Missions will be held again next year. It is planned that perhaps two more weeks will be added so that a missionary on furlough may attend for two, four, or six weeks, completing, respectively, one, two, or three courses in the Institute. Of course an additional four weeks which constitutes e regular second semester of the Wheaton College Summer School, is also available for any who wish to complete the maximum amount of academic credit in the summer months.

For additional information, write the Director of Summer School, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

*A course outline and bibliography will be mailed to anyone interested, upon the receipt of a self addressed envelope with 6c postage.