The following is taken from an essay by Harvie M. Conn in the book The Urban Face of Mission: Ministering the Gospel in a Diverse and Changing World (pages 11-12). I've just begun reading it and don't know really what to expect but the first few pages have really struct a chord with what I've expericenced with having one foot in the academic world and another in the world of practical ministry. So check it out and tell me what you think.
Suppose with me, for a minute, that you are a missions professor at Urbana, a situation equivalent to a chocolate lover being hired as a food taster at Hershey's. You are talking to a university student about overseas ministry. He is asking about the missions program at your seminary. "Is your program theoretical or practical?" he asks. "I mean, how much time will I spend in the classroom? Do you have an internship program? I'm not interested in learning about missions. I want to do it." At this point he adds, "Can I major in missions? I'm not much interested in theology or church history or that kind of stuff. I just want to get some basics in how to do missions."
How would you answer?
Suppose with me, for another minute, that you are sitting at the lunch table in the dining hall of a large seminary. You have come to give a special lecture on missions in the classroom of one of your friends. The purpose of your presence is unknown to the others at the table.
The conversation at lunch is an animated carryover from previous class experiences of the morning. The Anglo-Saxon students at the table fill the air with magical theological words like hermeneutic, redaction criticism, and narrative theology, and big names like Gutierrez, Fiorenza, and Gadamer.
Finally one of the students notes your silence, introduces himself, and inquires as to your presence. You respond, "I'm a teacher of missions; I'm here to give a special lecture on the missionary challenge of the twenty-first century." The silence at the table is deafening. Students serach desperately for something pleasant to say. "Are you giving a slide show?" someone asks with a chuckle. Everyone laughs and the conversation returns quickly to the "reality" of the classroom.
What has happened?
I see these conversations as suggestive epiphanies, clues, tip-offs to a kind of non-South African academic apartheid: the isolation of mission from theology, of theology from mission, of church from world...
What are the reasons for this? well I guess I'll have to read the rest of the book to find out Mr. Conn's diagnosis. But in the meantime, what are your thoughts? Is Conn imagining this or is there a distinct gap between what we believe (theology) and what we practice?