As I have said before, definitions are dangerous because they can either confuse or clarify. However, I think it’s important to define what a missiologist is. At the most basic level, a missiologist is a specialist who studies and is trained in the science of missions. However, this definition may oversimplify the task of a missiologist. Missiology is accomplished at the intersection of gospel, culture and the church. It is a multidisciplinary study that incorporates theology, anthropology/sociology and ecclesiology. That seems rather complex, doesn’t it? Well for this reason, missiology constitutes its own discipline.
My Ph.D. is in missions, and as a missiologist, I do a lot of cultural analysis and things of that sort. I often talk to churches about their need to join God on His mission by understanding their context and by being faithful to the mission He has given them. I do a lot of research on church planting. I write often on missiological issues. I have written extensively on the subject of missiology and have a book called MissionShift, which examines the shifts in missions during the past 100 years, how those shifts shape how we define mission, discussions on contextualization, and the nature of the church’s mission.
All this is to say, I am a missiologist by training. I’m focused on being a missiologist for the church, helping the church think missionally in her context.
The Theology of the Missiologist
What drives the missiologist? Foundational to missiology is knowing the God who is on mission. According to the Bible, God “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4) and we are assured that people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” will be present in heaven (Rev 5:9). As a missiologist, I am driven by this gospel mission. Moreover, God’s redemption extends beyond the personal to the cosmic. In the end, God will give us a new heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17; Rev 21:2). Why does this matter?
God’s mission is one of restoring humanity to all levels of being. In other words, God will not only restore man’s relationship to Himself, but also his relationship with others and with creation. While affirming the goodness of God’s creation, we must also affirm that it is broken. Our interaction with culture should point others towards the restoration that is offered in Christ.
In other words, the missiologist must think about salvation and mission in a biblical way and a holistic way. Understanding the purposes of the creator God allows us to gain deeper insight into the longings of men and women as beings created in His image. Missiology is practical theology at its best.