Doctor of Missiology

Comprehensive Oral Examination Statement
Definition of Missiology

Presented by Rev Theo Kuster
at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne IN
September 6, 1999

Before presenting my working definition of missiology, I will briefly outline some of the topics that form the background of the definition. These include

  1. the message
  2. the mission
  3. Missio Dei
  4. mission theology
  5. the missionary
  6. the missionary theologian
  7. various definitions of missiology
  8. my definition of missiology


In 1584 the spiritual heirs of Dr Martin Luther presented the central message of the Christian Church in this way:

". . . our righteousness before God is, that God forgives us our sins out of pure grace, without any work, merit, or worthiness of ours preceding, present, or following, that He presents and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ's obedience, on account of which righteousness we are received into grace by God, and regarded as righteous. . . . faith alone is the means and instrument whereby we lay hold of Christ, and thus in Christ of that righteousness which avails before God, for whose sake this faith is imputed to us for righteousness, Rom. 4, 5. . . . this faith is not a bare knowledge of the history of Christ, but such a gift of God by which we come to the right knowledge of Christ as our Redeemer in the Word of the Gospel, and trust in Him that for the sake of His obedience alone we have, by grace, the forgiveness of sins, are regarded as holy and righteous before God the Father, and eternally saved."

With these words the Lutheran Church placed, once again, the Banner for all nations, the Root of Jesse, the Lord Jesus Christ as the central message of the Church. The established church of that day had largely forgotten the message. People believed and were taught that individual righteousness was earned through human merit and achievement. Tradition covered over the person and work of Christ, and hid the righteousness He earned for us, with stories of the saints and their works. The Reformers were enabled by the Holy Spirit to scrape off the encrusted traditions, to uncover the cancerous errors, and once again proclaim to all the world "that God forgives us our sins out of pure grace, without any work, merit, or worthiness of ours preceding, present, or following, that He presents and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ's obedience, on account of which righteousness we are received into grace by God, and regarded as righteous."


Mission is God's plan for the world. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the life and work of Christ Jesus -- to hold high the Banner for all nations.

Mission is a declaration, a proclaiming, a telling. Peter speaks of the telling in God's plan, using Old Testament images, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Pet 2:9-10)

Jesus told his disciples about God's plan and their role in that mission: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)


The term Missio Dei defines God's plan for the world. The term became popular in Lutheran circles with the publication of Vicedom's The Mission of God: An Introduction to a Theology of Mission in 1965. Vicedom narrows the mission of God to one intention, to save mankind. (Vicedom 4) Mission is the work of God, it belongs to Him, it is not "ours." Both church and mission have their source in the loving will of God. The Church, those who are called to be God's people, are the agents of mission. Through these "jars of clay" God carries out His plan for the world. "The church must regard herself as the carrier of the message to the world." (Bosch 47)

Missio Dei is a Trinitarian emphasis on mission -- an emphasis which is necessary for a correct understanding of missions. Luther's brief explanations to the three articles of the Apostle's Creed, in both the Large and Small Catechisms, are a description of Missio Dei, of God's plan for the world. First Article: God the Father created the world. Second Article: God sent His son Jesus to redeem the world. Third Article: The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to apply that redemption through the means of grace. Faith is created by the Word of God. " For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (2 Cor 4:6) And this Christian faith is the " means and instrument whereby we lay hold of Christ."


David Bosch makes the following provocative statement about the relationship between mission and theology. " We are in need of a missiological agenda for theology rather than just a theological agenda for mission, for theology, rightly understood, has no reason to exist other than critically to accompany the Missio Dei. So mission should be 'the theme of all theology'" (Bosch 494)

To " critically accompany" the Missio Dei has also been described as putting " wheels" on theology. A theology with " wheels" moves a church with " wheels," and the missionary with the message of God's love for the world has " wheels." The connection between theology and mission and movement is found in Jesus' word to His disciples on the mountain in Galilee, " go and make disciples . . . teaching them."


God graciously works in the world through the Church, the people He called and whom He calls " the people of God." (1 Pet 2:9-10). Living and working in the reality and the effects of sin, but also living and working in the righteousness which is theirs through faith in Christ, God calls His people and calls them together and calls them to go out. His people are in the world and remain in the world in order to proclaim the Gospel. The Gospel announces the coming of the Kingdom of God. Without exception, as experience shows and the divine record reveals, the Kingdom is opposed by Satan, the world and the flesh. Paul and Barnabas told the early Church, " We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," (Acts 14:22)

The missionary proclaims the Kingdom, a Kingdom that comes even without our prayer. God's plan for the world is that His kingdom of grace will come to all mankind. The missionary knows that the Kingdom is fiercely opposed. It is not a Kingdom of Glory now, but a Kingdom that will come. For the present time church and mission live under the Cross.


Luther said: " That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as through they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross."

The missionary, under the cross, becomes a theologian, under the cross. The missionary theologian is a missiologist. " The harsh realities of today compel us to re-conceive and reformulate the church's mission, to do this boldly and imaginatively, yet also in continuity with the best of what mission has been in past decades and centuries." (Bosch 8)


Every missionary practices missiology, and some have been so bold as to write a definition of missiology. Here are a few of the definitions.

Missiology is the study of God acting in history to bring estranged humankind back to Himself.

Missiology is a scholarly systematic study of the mission of the Triune God and the task of the church in principle (theory), practice, history and personalities.

Missiology is the study of the salvation activities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit throughout the world geared toward bringing the Kingdom of God into existence.

Missiology, the science, is the systematic study of the theory and practice of Christian missions, combining such disciplines as anthropology, cross-cultural communication theory, ecumenics, history, intercultural studies, methodology, religious encounter and theology.

Missiology is the science of Christian world mission.

Missiology is the study of God's mission everywhere.

The word " science" can be understood to define missiology as an academic discipline, a particular branch of knowledge capable of being acquired by systematic study. The discipline of missiology " researches, records and applies data relating to the biblical origin, the history, the anthropological principles and techniques and the theological base of the Christian mission." There are three basic areas of missiological study: Revelation, Research and Reflection (or Scripture, Social Sciences, Church History). Lutheran missiology places all that it selects from the sciences and history, and all that it applies in practice, under the light of the inspired Word of God, " the sole source from which all doctrines proclaimed in the Christian Church must be taken and therefore, too, the sole rule and norm by which all teachers and doctrines must be examined in judged."


What is my draft working definition of missiology? David Bosch said: " There is no such thing as missiology, period. There is only missiology in draft." My definition attempts to reflect this, as well as Tippett's statement: " Missiology is dynamic, not static." Above all, I want my definition to be biblical.

Missiology is the systematic study by sinful/forgiven human beings who are God's chosen mission agents (His people), of the Word of God, of their experiences in the world, and of the results of their work. Mission belongs to God the Father who created the world, sent His Son Jesus to redeem the world (the central mission message), and with the Son sends the Holy Spirit to apply that redemption through the means of grace. The Triune God is present in the Word, in the experience and in the result, and continually offers His people incentive and corrective. The continuing study of the Word, mission activity and reflection on that activity is missiology.


Bente, F. (ed) (1997) Concordia Triglotta on CDROM.Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Northwestern Publishing House.

Bosch, David J. (1991) Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series. No. 16. Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books.

Bunkowske, Eugene W. (1993) " Missiology, What Is It?" Missio Apostolica: Journal of the Lutheran Society for Missiology. St.Louis. Vol. 1, No. 2.

Hesselgrave, David J. (1988) Today's Choices for Tomorrow's Mission: An Evangelical Perspective on Trends and Issues in Missions. Grand Rapids: Academie Books.

Ji, Won Yong (1996) " A Lutheran Understanding of Mission: Biblical and Confessional" Concordia Journal. Vol. 22, No. 2 April.

Scherer, James A. (1992) " Missiology as a Discipline and What It Includes" in Scherer, James A and Stephen B. Bevans (eds) New Directions in Mission and Evangelism I: Basic Statements 1974-1991. Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books.

Tippett, Alan (1987) Introduction to Missiology. Pasadena:William Carey Library.

Verkuyl, Johannes (1978) Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Vicedom, Georg F. (1965) The Mission of God: An Introduction to a Theology of Mission. Translated by Gilbert A.Thiele and Dennis Hilgendorf. Republished Ft Wayne IN: Concordia Seminary Press, July 1987.