Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rolland Allen and St. Paul's Missions Methodology

Roland Allen was an Anglican missionary to China from 1895-1903. Upon his return from the mission field he devoted the next 40 years to writing on missionary principles. His book Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? (Eerdmans, 1962) represents a classic in missions literature. Allen demonstrates that Paul's strategy was to plant mature, self-sufficient churches in relatively short periods of time. By contrast, Allen shares a stinging criticism of western missionary methods in the frequent establishment of paternal and dependent relationships between missionaries, sending agencies or churches, and church plants.

I found myself in agreement with Roland's general thesis, as well as numerous details within it. Of particular interest was his recognition of the positive rhetorical aspects of Paul's preaching, particularly in the messages at Lystra and Athens. He notes that Paul's preaching contained "a conciliatory, sympathetic attitude towards the heathen. There was no violent attack, no crude and brutal assault upon their beliefs, still less was there any scornful or flippant mocking of their errors" (p. 70). Writing of a previous missionary generation he stated "it is happily rare to hear a missionary revile the religion of other people, or hold up the objects of their veneration to scorn and ridicule, and it is to be hoped that it may soon cease altogether" (p. 68). Unfortunately, this is no longer a rarity in contemporary missions overseas and in North America, and this provides an additional example of our how our missionary and apologetic methods do not reflect the Pauline model.

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