Theology of Missions -- By: Samuel Hugh Moffett

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 18:0 (NA 1985)
Article: Theology of Missions
Author: Samuel Hugh Moffett

Theology of Missions

Samuel Hugh Moffett

There was a time when nobody had to give lectures about the theology of the world Christian mission. A Christian did not feel the need to re-examine the theological foundation of world outreach for Jesus Christ. They did not need to ask why they had missionaries. They did not even ask very often what missionaries had to do — were supposed to do. It was axiomatic; it was simple; it was dangerous; and above all, it was overwhelmingly urgent. It was as simple as the command of Jesus Christ, and as urgent as life and death for millions upon millions who are dying without Christ. Every second saw more souls slipping into a Christless eternity. No one had ever given them a chance. No one had ever told them that they could live forever — in Christ. And faced with a challenge as simple as that, the Christian church exploded into what has been called the “modern missionary movement.” It could be almost described as a race against time and against the devil for the greatest of all prizes, the eternal salvation of the human soul. That’s the classic, perhaps the most familiar, theology of missions. It’s a Salvationist theology.

Now if you are expecting me to ridicule that challenge, you are going to be disappointed, because it has never seemed ridiculous to me. In fact, it was basically that challenge that turned me into a missionary. I wanted to be a professor of classical Greek; and my father had often told me that if you could be anything except a missionary or a minister, be it. It’s not that he did not want me to be a missionary. I knew that. He did not want me to be a missionary for the wrong reason, that is, just because he was a missionary. My mother was a classicist, and so I majored in classical Greek. I wanted to be a professor of that fine subject.

And then the chairman of the board of Princeton Theological Seminary (in the 1940s) stood up in chapel one day. His name was Robert E. Speer. And he gave one illustration that I could not get out of my mind. He took off his wristwatch and he held it up, and he told those seminary students, including me, “Your watch could tick for nine and one-half years without numbering the lost souls in China alone.” Nine and a half years! A tick for each soul. Somehow I could not get that out of my mind, and I became a missionary to China.

I’m not going to ridicule that challenge — it still means the basic mission of the church to me. But you know as well as I that there came a day of the shaking of the foundation. The old urgencies were denied, or at least ignored. No one seemed sure of anything eternal anymore. So in a great deal of the world’s missionary thinking, the challenge

changed. T...

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