Categorizing Missions Theology?


This is more personal reflection than heavy theology. But where should one place Missions Theology in the Taxonomy of Theologies

If one considers different types of theology, one could come up with:

  • Biblical Theology  (Theology drawn from the Bible and its context)
  • Historical Theology (Theology as it relates to the history of the church)
  • Philosophical Theology (Theology drawn more from reason or general revelation)
  • Systematic Theology (Theology that draws from the above sources and then compiles them topically and systematically)
  • Practical Theology (Theology that is draws application from systematic theology)

These all can be linked together as shown below:

Theologies

Some theologies don’t fit into this schema very well. Contextual theologies (Black, Dalit, Liberation, Feminist, Minjung, Post-colonial, etc.) don’t fit into these very well. Of course, it could be argued that all theologies are ultimately contextual, but that can be dealt with on a different occasion. Additionally, there is Pastoral Theology, which is focused more anthropologically and more tied to action reflection.

Consider the two trees below. One is a tree based on Tree of Systematic Theology… with major branches based on a way of sub-classifying.  Then look at the Tree of Pastoral Theology… with major branches that COULD correspond to the major branches of systematic theology.  <Thanks to Dr. Doug Dickens of Gardner-Webb University, for most aspects of this diagram>

Tree 2

Of course, since pastoral care is based more on action/reflection and is normally unstructured, the structure based on the tree and systematic theology is of practical value not formal analysis.

So where does Missions Theology fit in. Originally, I was told that Missions Theology is a Practical Theology. It draws from Systematic Theology and guides action. That makes sense. However, in practice, missions theology rarely does draw from the insights of systematic theology. Perhaps it should… but since it normally doesn’t, perhaps we should look elsewhere.

It could be a part of Systematic Theology.  It could be a sub-category of Systematic Theology like soteriology, eschatology, ecclesiology and so forth. The problems with this are two-fold. First, missions theology rarely draws very heavily from Biblical, Historical, and Philosophical Theologies… Missions Theology certainly might gain from these theologies, but it just tend to happen that much. Second, missions theology tends to be too practical, while systematic theology categories tend to be more academic.

If one looks at missions as it is practiced, one might argue that it is commonly guided by “pragmatic theology.” This is not a category of theology, but more a category of “non-theology.” There is a tendency to base missions on the guiding principle of “If it seems to work, do it.” That may be what is done, but I am not comfortable resting here.

One might argue that Missions Theology is a Contextual theology… after all, missions theology is greatly concerned with theology as it pertains to specific contexts. Additionally, missions theology could be thought of theology as it pertains to the context of missions. However, contextual theology is generally defined differently, more to people groups and to group perspectives, not to activities that may ultimately be supracultural.

I would argue that Missions Theology should best be seen as related to Pastoral Theology. Pastoral Theology is non-systematic, and missions theology tends to have a fluid quality to it.  It tends to defy a strict systematization. Pastoral theology is religiously humanistic, understanding the person within the context of God’s overall work. Missions theology is similar— focusing on persons and people within the context of God’s overall mission.  Pastoral theology is tied to practical ministry as is missions theology. Finally, pastoral theology is based on action/reflection— and this seems to be the best way for missions theology to develop.

Does this matter? I believe so… the categorization of missions theology guides how it develops and how it is used. I believe that action/reflection makes it practical while still being truly theological and ethical.

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