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Remembering ‘Prof’ Andrew Walls, Founder of the Study of World Christianity

(UPDATED) Dozens of scholars praise the Scottish historian of missions for his groundbreaking research re-centering Christianity from West to South and for his personal support.
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Remembering ‘Prof’ Andrew Walls, Founder of the Study of World Christianity
Image: Dan Nicholas
Andrew Walls

Below is a selection of tributes for Andrew Walls from scholars of global Christianity in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, many of whom are former students of the Scottish historian of missions they knew and admired as “Prof.”

Brian Stanley, professor of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, Scotland:

It is impossible to capture the extraordinary richness of Andrew’s long life—a life that was devoted to Africa, the world church, to his many graduate students, and to his collaborators in his multiple scholarly enterprises in the history of missions and world Christianity. There are many of us who can testify that it was Andrew who first gave us our vision for the work of chronicling, documenting, and interpreting the transformation of Christianity from its apparent status as a European-dominated religion to a faith that now finds its most vibrant expressions in the global south and in migrant churches in the northern hemisphere.

He will be especially missed by those who studied under him in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Princeton, at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute in Ghana, elsewhere in Africa, and also at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in its then home in New Haven. We will remember him for those amazing lectures, rich in thematic texture and biographical detail, latterly read with considerable difficulty as Andrew’s sight deteriorated. We will remember him for his penetrating articles, covering a vast range of topics from every continent and strand of Christian tradition. We will remember him for his deep Christian faith, expressed through a life-long attachment to Methodism, but with sympathies that extended to those of every denomination and none. Above all, we have lost a companion on the journey, and a friend, faithful, modest, and witty.

This is a very sad day, but I would suggest also a day for great thanksgiving that Andrew was preserved for us for so long. Thanks be to God for a faithful servant.

Femi B. Adeleye, executive director, Institute for Christian Impact, Aburi, Ghana:

“Prof” Andrew Walls has been my teacher, mentor, and friend for at least 28 years. We began correspondence in 1986 when Uncle John Stott encouraged me to consider studying at his feet at the University of Aberdeen where he then was. When we eventually met in 1993 at the start of my studies at the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World at New College in Edinburgh, I found him so personable, with his vast knowledge of Christian history and mission concealed in a gentle and caring demeanor. He would later supervise my doctoral studies at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute, where he was professor emeritus.

Long before I read of it anywhere else, Prof was the first to articulate the significance of the rapid expansion of Christianity in the non-Western world with his now widely acknowledged prophetic declaration on “the passing of the Christian Centre of gravity from the west to the south.” He emphasized that “more than half of the world’s Christians live in Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Pacific, and that the proportion doing so grows annually.” Having lived and taught in various parts of West Africa including long residence in Sierra Leone and Nigeria, he not only recognized that “departments of Religious Studies as we now know them in Britain were born in West Africa, the product of a plural society where religion is a massive, unignorable, fact of life,” but also affirmed that “the missionary movement is a connecting terminal between Western Christianity and Christianity in the non-Western world.”

Besides the demographics of Christian growth and mission is the sheer pleasure of sitting at his feet to understand and appreciate scholarship as a spiritual discipline. It is an understatement that a huge vacuum has been created by his departure. Prof was as much an African at heart as he was a global missiologist with the whole world being his parish as demonstrated by his global mileage. As recently as a month before his departure, Prof in a conversation with us expressed his desire to return to Ghana soon. Sadly, this is not to be on this side of eternity. Fare thee well gentle teacher, mentor, and friend, until we meet again!

Dana L. Robert, director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission, Boston University School of Theology:

In 1982, I was writing my doctoral dissertation. My advisor pointed out a man working in the Day Missions Library at Yale Divinity School: “See him? That is Andrew Walls, the greatest living historian of Christian missions. You need to meet him.” And so I gathered my courage and invited him out for dinner, to Lender’s Bagels. The dinner between two introverts was punctuated by long silences. But it was the beginning of a long friendship. Often when we met at conferences over the years, we joked that I had introduced him to the bagel.

More than any other person, Andrew Walls founded the contemporary field of World Christianity. In 1989, a group of scholars gathered to consider how to mainstream mission studies into the broader academic world. I will never forget Andrew’s talk, “Structural Problems in Mission Studies.” He made the profound argument that the cross-cultural diffusion of the gospel was the foundation of scholarship on Christianity as a worldwide, multicultural religion—a fact not yet appreciated by Western scholars. Walls’ dynamic vision launched a 10-year research program to move the study of Christianity beyond the captivity of Western frameworks. Eventually the term “World Christianity” was used to describe the realities he named.

As I say farewell to my beloved friend and scholarly inspiration, I must quote Charles Wesley, founder of the Methodist faith that we shared: “Finish, then, thy new creation; true and spotless let us be … Changed from glory into glory, till in heav’n we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

Gillian Mary Bediako, deputy rector, Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission, and Culture, Akropong, Ghana:

With the passing this past week of our beloved friend, inspirer, mentor, and advocate, we have all lost one of the great prophets of our time. For back in the early 1970s, through his deep, meticulous scholarship, combined with an equally profound evangelical spirituality and heart for mission, Andrew Walls read the signs of the times in what was happening to Christianity around the world and saw, before anyone else, that the heartlands of the faith were changing.

Kwame [my late husband] and I first met Andrew Walls in 1975, as the keynote speaker at a mission conference at London School of Theology (then London Bible College). He blew our minds with his picture of the shifts in the centre of gravity of world Christianity, charting out what that would entail for emerging scholars and church leaders in the non-Western world. For his aim was not self-promotion in the presentation of new ideas, but to stir up those, like Kwame, searching out their calling into Christian service, toward the new paths in mission and ministry demanded by these realities. In the CT interview of 2007, the article described him as “probably the most important person you don’t know.” It captures well the tenor of his gracious, servant spirit.

From then on, he was an inspirer at almost every turning point in our life’s path. He pointed Kwame in the direction of the Apologists of the second century, as a way forward in answering the question of the nature of Christian identity in relation to African cultures, thereby securing for Kwame’s PhD research a historical perspective that set his quest in the mainstream of Christian tradition. He did likewise for me. He was always there as we worked to build Akrofi-Christaller Institute, as enthusiastic promoter, sounding board, advocate, and as mentor to the next generation of students who came along. I’m sure this resonates with the experience of countless others wherever his travels took him.

When at ACI, he was an unassuming yet wise presence, and a friend to all, whether support staff, office staff, or faculty. We all here mourn his passing and pray for family, especially his widow, Ingrid, whom he first met at ACI, for God’s comfort and support.

J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, president of Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana:

“We cannot talk about Africa without Christianity and Christianity without Africa.” I heard variations of this statement from the late Prof. Andrew F. Walls on different occasions as he held students and other listeners spellbound with his incisive and engaging sense of the place of Africa in global Christianity. We cannot be wrong in calling Prof. Walls the doyen of the academic study of “World Christianity.”

I first knew Prof. Walls as a mentor to one of my own academic and spiritual mentors, the late Kwame Bediako. World Christianity was for Prof. Walls not simply an exercise in the academic study of history, but a journey in the constant unveiling and understanding of what God was about in the world. In the history of world Christianity, Prof. Walls taught that Africa has moved from the margins to the center in fulfillment of the words of the Apostle Paul: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).

Prof. Walls’ commitment to the study of world Christianity with Africa at the center of it means that for years to come, it would be impossible to study that discipline, from whichever perspective—theology, mission, history, pastoral care and counseling, or ecumenism—without encountering the work and influence of Andrew Walls. He has left us an impressive heritage in faith and scholarship that will remain truly global and unparalleled for generations.

Cathy Ross, head of Pioneer Mission Leadership Training, Church Mission Society, Oxford:

Andrew Walls is a taonga. This is a Maori word from Aotearoa/New Zealand which literally means treasure but it is richer than that . It is a word associated with wisdom, with something or someone precious and cherished; an heirloom perhaps, land in the family for generations, a beautiful garment, a valued piece of jewellery, an elder or grandparent. To call something or someone a taonga is a tribute of the highest order.

I first met Andrew shortly after we moved to Oxford to work with the Church Mission Society in 2005. Andrew was a great friend to CMS—very generous with his time he spent with us. He was a marvellous storyteller. Perhaps he picked up this gift of storytelling from his own roots or from his time in Africa. This was often how he communicated his great learning and scholarship. I remember him weaving a wonderful story about the desert fathers and their importance for mission and holding our staff entranced in a way I have not seen before or since!

It was a privilege and honor for me to edit Mission in the 21st Century with him. I learned so much about mission and made so many new friends as a result of that collaboration. What I will treasure about Andrew is his understated learning and scholarship. He was a man of great humility, had a wicked twinkle in his eye and a lovely sense of humor. He radiated the gentle presence of God. He is truly a cherished and precious taonga.

Allen Yeh, associate professor of Intercultural Studies and Missiology, Cook School of Intercultural Studies at Biola University, California:

Although I knew this day would come eventually, it almost seemed unlikely given Prof. Andrew Walls’ indefatigability. The countless miles he logged (he really seemed to be everywhere globally at once), the penetratingly incisive lectures he gave (never did I sit under his instruction without coming away with some mind-blowingly fresh revolutionary insights), he was a giant from an age of legends. And yet so humble and gentle! Christianity Todaycalled him “the most important person you don’t know,” so I always felt like I was a keeper of a great secret treasure, knowing him and his worth.

From my earliest days in grad school, I have followed him: not just his scholarship (The Missionary Movement in Christian History is a masterpiece, particularly Chapter One), but quite literally to studying toward a masters degree at Edinburgh, and then choosing to read for a doctorate of philosophy at Exeter College, Oxford (Walls’ own alma mater). I could not drink enough from his well of knowledge and he, more than anyone else, inspired me to go into the fields of History of Missions and World Christianity. He was the founding father of this area of study, and with his departure he leaves a huge hole which can never be filled in such a way again.

At the second annual Ralph D. Winter Memorial Lectureship series at the US Center for World Mission in Pasadena in 2011, Andrew Walls was the keynote speaker and I was the respondent to his talk. I was so nervous as a young scholar to be engaging with this venerated scholar, but he was so gracious to me. As a frequent attender of the Yale-Edinburgh conference of which he was a cofounder, I am glad that I got to hear and see his final closing remarks less than two months ago. The world church owes him a great debt for highlighting—to slightly misquote Shakespeare—the “undiscovered countries” as he now heads off to his own “undiscovered country.”

Daniel Jeyaraj, director of the Andrew Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity, Liverpool Hope University, England:

Professor Andrew Walls was the professor of History of Missions at Liverpool Hope University in England and also the chief supporter of the Andrew Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity. In July 2012, Liverpool Hope University conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. We at Liverpool Hope University are sad to lose a worthy benefactor; at the same time, we are glad to have a major portion of his legacy.

He came to Hope with much experience in cross-cultural contexts and intercultural learning. He told me how his love for God’s mission took him to Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. There he began understanding the importance of World Christianity of the Early Church through the brief text entitled Apostolic Tradition by Hippolytus (c. 215 CE). It formed the basis of Walls’ thesis at Oxford. It was originally written in Greek in Rome; soon it was translated into Egyptian, Ethiopian, Syriac, Gothic, and Latin languages. Though the Greek original was lost, Walls tried to reconstruct it via Latin, which itself was then an African dialect; this Latin text itself was based on the Gothic. Professor Walls’ profound realisation that Christians in and outside of the Roman Empire read this text formed the first turning point of his life and work.

Secondly, he shared with me how his mother inspired him to develop his eloquent style of writing prose texts with well-considered words. We at Hope shall continue his legacy. An African proverb reads: “When an old man dies, a library burns down to the ground.” By contrast, Prof. Andrew Walls has not only contributed to the establishment of libraries in many places, but also entrusted his principles of exemplary Christian scholarship to the minds and hearts of his students in nearly every country. Now, we all together are the stewards of these principles.

Emma Wild-Wood, codirector of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh, Scotland:

In 1987, Andrew Walls brought his study center from Aberdeen to the University of Edinburgh, complete with its expanding library and archive of grey materials that evidenced the growth of Christianity in the non-Western world. The center was a place where students from across the globe could study, meet one another, and share ideas. It was intended to educate the Western academy about vibrant Christian movements outside the West, and the theologies and spiritualities developed in response to different cultural and religious contexts that he had experienced first-hand in West Africa.

Andrew always gave the utmost attention to his students. In 2018, the Yale-Edinburgh group conference, which he established with Lamin Sanneh, celebrated his 90th birthday. Tributes and photographs poured in from all over the world from the hundreds of people to whom he was a dear mentor, teacher, supervisor, and friend.

Andrew’s great love of the African continent and his peoples, his ability to rejoice in fresh expressions of Christianity across the globe, his historical perspicacity, and his attention to primary sources are a matter of public record. Less well known, however, is his dwelling in the stories, songs, and poetry of Britain and his Aberdeenshire. For those who might appreciate it, there was often a Doric (the dialect of Aberdeenshire) turn of phrase on his tongue. This enabled him to hear the rhythm and music of cultures that had been marginalized in the modern era and to see them as central to the Christian movement in the 21st century.

Alexander Chow, codirector of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh, Scotland:

Professor Andrew Walls once told me that, when he was still a university student, he had hoped to become a missionary to China. Those plans were dashed with the rise of the Chinese communist revolution and, in 1957, he went to teach in Sierra Leone and then Nigeria. This gave me, a scholar of Chinese Christianity, a few moments to imagine how differently the field of “World Christianity” would be today had one of its most significant architects worked in China as initially planned.

Prior to taking up my post in the center he founded, I encountered few of Professor Walls’ writings. After arriving in Edinburgh, I read his works and heard his lectures on African Christianity, Kwame Bediako, and the relationship between the gospel and culture. I realized I had been studying Christianity, especially Chinese Christianity, in a myopic manner. I didn’t have what he calls a “World Christian consciousness”—a way of looking at Christianity and the church mindful of its manifold expressions around the globe and throughout time.

He was trained as a scholar of the early church. This equipped him to see how the contemporary African church was asking questions that echoed the concerns of the second-century church, as described by Justin and Clement, and the conversion stories recorded in the seventh and eighth centuries by Gregory of Tours and Bede. This training did not limit his incredible fascination with the global movements and adaptations of Christianity in the last 500 years. He is known for recognizing the 20th century gravitational shift in the world Christian population, from Western to non-Western peoples. However, for Professor Walls, this didn’t simply have recent numerical significance. History testifies that the worldwide nature of Christianity has always been core to the religion, and should shape the way we understand it. World Christianity is normative Christianity.

Professor Andrew Walls had a deep faith, an enormous vision, and a passion to communicate both to the world church. His impact on Christian scholarship will be felt for generations to come. His immense generosity and charming wit will be sorely missed by the many students and friends who knew him personally.

Afe Adogame, professor of Religion and Society, Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey:

The world has just lost one of the most important interpreters of Christianity and its missionary role in our time. This is very sad and painful indeed. Prof. Andrew F. Walls was a pioneering figure, intellectual giant, and erudite scholar who contributed immensely to the “making” and “shaping” of the interdisciplinary field of World Christianity.

His encyclopedic knowledge, grasp, and “thick description” of the church’s transformation from Christendom to world Christianity transcends disciplinary boundaries of religious studies, history, theology, mission studies, biblical exegesis, and runs deep into the life and DNA of the church. Walls’ life, work, and mission in Africa is the background for understanding his unique contributions to the church and academy. The body of work that Walls has developed adumbrates a journey of humble listening and quest for empathetic understanding. He shows us a myriad of reasons why we live in a moment for the church that is filled with immense opportunity, challenges, and promises for witness and mission.

Walls embodies genuine, ground-breaking scholarship, just as his generosity of spirit, time, intellectual energy, theatrical gifts, appreciation for literary works, and his sense of humor is robustly contagious. He touched numerous lives and I am a living testimony. Innumerable Christians of many traditions and all continents have much cause to be grateful to God for Walls. If you are looking for a model of a committed life, of scholarship in service of the church, then Walls is “an exemplar for roads we have yet to travel or paths to tread.” Unequivocally, Andrew Walls earns the esteemed status of Ancestor because he lived a good life, died a good death, and will be accorded a well-deserved, befitting transition into the other life. Sleep well Andrew!

Joel A. Carpenter, senior research fellow, Nagel Institute, Calvin University, Grand Rapids, Michigan:

Andrew Walls once called a book of his essays a “ragbag” of old mission stories. But by retelling them with new depth, Walls rewrote the history of the church and challenged many of the basic assumptions of Western theology.

In the late 1950s, fresh from Oxford, Walls accepted a post at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. While he was teaching about second-century Christianity, he said, his students were reenacting it. His excitement about Africans’ embrace of the gospel lasted the rest of his life.

Since the 1970s, Walls has taught that the heartlands of Christianity have shifted, making Christianity a predominantly non-Western religion. Humanists and social scientists have been working to understand what this shift means, but theologians still see Western theology as central and normative. Walls strove to change that. A typical lecture he gave this past year: “Overseas Ministries and the Subversion of Theological Education.”

Walls was a master at shedding new light on large themes. A few examples: Missions were marginal to the Western church and were staffed by religious radicals; God used these earthen vessels to catalyze the greatest ever expansion of Christianity; Post-Enlightenment worldview Western theologians are too narrow to meet the spiritual needs of the world’s peoples; The Great Commission is for the conversion of cultures as well as individuals; Evangelicalism? “A religion of protest against a Christian society that is not Christian enough.”

Tributes pour in from around the world, praising Walls and mourning his passing. What this humble man would prefer is for more fellow Christians to engage his ideas.

Thomas Hastings, director of the Overseas Ministries Study Center at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, and editor of the International Bulletin of Mission Research:

I first met Professor Walls here in the fall semester of 2000 at Princeton Seminary when I returned after teaching at Tokyo Union Theological Seminary. It was a memorable semester in so many ways, but more than all other gains, I came to realize that Prof. Walls’ carefully considered insights, which he delivered in his lilting Scottish brogue with eloquence and good humor, came out of his own crosscultural experience of teaching ordinands in Africa. I believe it was his love for and dedication to his students that led him to wonder about how to best understand and interpret post-colonial Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Prof. Walls’ brilliant lectures resonated deeply with my experience of teaching seminarians in the Japanese language while working with congregations of the United Church of Christ in Japan. Andrew is that rare scholar who has kept the church and academy as his twin audiences, never sacrificing one on behalf of the other. I still find his writing a breath of fresh air. Some may not know it, but under another name, Andrew is also a poet and playwright of some renown.

When it came time to write my own dissertation in practical theology, Andrew’s “Chalcedonian” imagination, which joins together the so-called “indigenizing” and “pilgrim” principles in a beautiful dance, helped me present a thick case study of the work of a creative Japanese pastor and religious educator in Meiji, Japan. That pastor was Tamura Naoomi, the first Japanese graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (class of 1886), and Andrew’s work helped me immensely. Without overlooking the many failings of Western missionaries, Andrew has shown that Christians of other cultures are not passive recipients of the gospel message. Rather, like the recipients of the Letter to the Ephesians, they are equal “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

That basic, humanizing, and, yes, theological insight helped launch the interdisciplinary field of World Christianity. This key insight, which was shared by Andrew and his late colleague and collaborator, Professor Lamin Sanneh, still has not been understood or heeded by many in the Western theological academy. I know Andrew is enthusiastic about continued growth in the field, but he is rightly concerned to see that World Christianity contributes something of significance and perhaps even transformative to the theological curriculum.

Sam George, director of the Global Diaspora Institute, Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, and Lausanne Movement catalyst for diasporas:

Upon hearing the sad news of the demise of Prof. Andrew F. Walls, many memories flooded my mind. From the lecture halls, libraries, and cafeterias of Princeton, New Haven, Edinburgh, and Liverpool, not to mention the numerous conferences in Asia, Africa, US, and UK where I have met him.

Professor Walls was an exemplar teacher who made his students to see the world, themselves, and the Christian faith in a new light. A class at Princeton Seminary in 1999 totally changed the trajectory of my life and ministry. His teaching is like putting on a new pair of glasses that bring everything into focus that you have been missing or never seen before. He links numerous facts and figures of the Bible, history, and theology together in ways that you could have never imagined. His ability to discern across centuries and continents in a truly polycentric global manner is unparalleled. Prof modeled before us his deep devotion to the Lord as well as simplicity and humility in life. His teaching was so refreshing that students were emboldened in their faith and vocational callings.

In June 2019, at the Lausanne Diaspora Consultation held in partnership with the Andrew Walls Center at Liverpool Hope University, I had the distinguished honor to present a Lifetime Kingdom Impact Award to my guruji (respected teacher) Professor Andrew Walls on behalf of the Lausanne Movement for his outstanding ministry of scholarship, teaching, mentoring, and modeling the gospel and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ to Christian leaders worldwide. His insights, passion, and legacy will live on. Rest in Peace.

K. C. Wendell Tan, adjunct lecturer, Biblical Graduate School of Theology, Singapore:

In Till We have Faces, C. S. Lewis says through Orual: “I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” Inasmuch Orual will eventually discover the importance and beauty to live a life not hiding behind a veil or mask, we Christians must not hide behind a facade. We need to have “our faces” in Christ.

This is the legacy of Professor Walls. His message of the Word made flesh, Christ tabernacling in every culture, ethnicity, and people group, has given us—the African, the Indian, the Chinese Christians, or perhaps more specifically the Nigerian, the Tanzanian, the Singaporean Chinese Christians and the like—a face and a voice. In the footsteps of Christ, he has set scores of Christians free, to confidently walk in the indigenizing-pilgrim dialectics of their translated faith. Humbly and generously, Professor Walls poured his life equipping, encouraging, and empowering multitudes of little-known Christians like us to reclaim our heritage and Christian identity. This is not an impulse of postmodern individualism but a juggernaut into the Ephesian Moment.

The prophet Micah says: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (6:8). This is the Andrew Walls whom we know, honor, and remember.

Emmanuel A. S. Egbunu, Bishop of Lokoja (Anglican Communion), Nigeria:

Prof Walls’ exit from this sphere fills one with a great sense of loss, and yet thankfulness for his highly impactful life. I had first heard about him from my professor of church history in the late 1990s, who himself had been his student decades earlier. The article, “The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture,”was assigned early. With a background in literature where strong opinions about decolonization of literature were being expressed, that article was illuminating.

Then a few years later, I finally met him as a visiting professor at the University of Jos, Nigeria. His vast knowledge was clearly intimidating, but he combined that with such simplicity, grace, and generosity of spirit that was never lacking in all the many other meetings with him over the years. He encouraged and supported my participation at the summer lectures and conferences at Liverpool Hope, which also exposed me to a wider and warm fellowship with senior and budding scholars.

His ability to listen patiently to what could easily be considered the ramblings of an inexperienced mind, even with his own personal struggles, was astonishing. He inspired confidence without compromising his passion for thoroughness. Thanks be to God for the gift of such a broad-minded Christian who saw scholarship as a calling and gave valid identity to Christianity beyond the West. I shall treasure the autograph of his magisterial books on the missionary movement and the recorded lectures which have set him apart as a trustworthy pathfinder in World Christianity.

J. Nelson Jennings, editor, Global Missiology; mission pastor, Onnuri Church, Seoul, Korea:

The news of Andrew Walls’ passing was a heart stab like no other, because “Prof” has been a mentor like no other. Thanks be to God for the sure and comforting hope of our final resurrection in Jesus Christ. The historical sensibilities Prof Walls cultivated in so many no doubt will continue to reverberate over coming generations. Here are just some of my anecdotal, heart-warming memories:

  • Prof took over an hour away from his precious research time in the YDS Day Missions Library to listen to and advise (in mind-bending 500-year periods) this unknown, babbling, aspiring PhD student 30 years ago.
  • During those weekly afternoon seminars at the Edinburgh CSCNWW, how did Prof always wake up from his obvious dozing and help guest presenters who groped for a name, date, or event?
  • Prof was a model mentor in how he patiently and attentively listened to my own groping students and acquaintances during his treasured visits to St. Louis, New Haven, Korea, and elsewhere.
  • Prof’s lectures were always stimulating, and his Q&A comments were even better.

Prof, rest well even as you groan with that host of fellow departed servants for the final resurrection. We are grateful beyond words for your kind, penetrating, and life-changing service. May we faithfully emulate you and our common Master as we carry on in your wide wake.

Edward L. Smither, dean of the College of Intercultural Studies and professor of Intercultural Studies and History of Global Christianity, Columbia International University, South Carolina:

Since I first read Andrew Walls assert that the gospel could be at home in every culture (indigenous) and pilgrim to every people (transformational), my theology of mission was wrecked for the better and I’ve been trying to sort it out ever since. Professor Walls modeled for me the wonder of reading Scripture in the context of a beautiful, broken, and complicated world where the “Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). From the storehouse of mission and church history, he brought further insights on people and theological developments, helping us make sense of world Christianity. Not a word was wasted in his lectures, papers, or published works. And he taught with kindness and humility. As I remember Andrew Walls’ work as a missionary scholar, I consider the outcome of his way of life and long to imitate his faith (Heb. 13:7).

Samuel Cueva, Latin American missiologist, scholar, and promoter of two-way mission bridges:

I first met Professor Andrew Walls during the 25th anniversary of the Oxford Center for Mission Studies in June 2007. We have lost a giant of mission history of world Christianity. He had an historical approach to make a missiological application to the context in order to unveil the reality of a Christian world that has changed by the influence of non-Western Christianity. He invented the idea of “the new paradigm shift” and the “new center of the gravity for world Christianity.”

When he began teaching in Sierra Leone in 1957, he began to see the need for the creation of new spaces of theological and missiological thinking to bring in non-Western world perspectives to challenge the existing mission activity. His love, passion, admiration, and research for the African church began in Sierra Leone. He learned that the gospel is translatable from one culture to another. Professor Walls’ biggest contribution would be the challenge he made to the Western church to accept the paradigm shift in mission that the center of gravity has moved from the Western church to the non-Western church.

I met Professor Walls again in 2019 at Liverpool Hope University, when together with other scholars we discussed the issues of diaspora mission theology. I have a deep admiration for this man who took into his heart the need to revitalize mission in Africa with a contextual approach to sharing the gospel.

Rudolf Gaisie, director of the Centre for Early African Christianity at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute, Ghana:

When I first saw the message of the passing of Professor Andrew Finlay Walls, it was somewhat a “joyful sadness” for a moment and my mind recalled the words of Hebrews 13:7. A week earlier, I had taught a class on Gospel and Culture and his article on the “Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture” was discussed. I knew he had been unwell, and I had hoped to ask him a question following the class discussions.

I owe my sense of vocational path largely to the late Professor Kwame Bediako and Professor Walls. I remember sharing with him in the year 2008 at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute my struggles as I was processing my transition from prospects in a computing career to the discipline of theology. After sharing with me his own journey into academia as a Christian, he remarked, in his typical encouraging tone, “well I did not have to make such a switch you are having to make.”

Professor Walls’ ideas on the process of conversion shaped the direction of my doctoral thesis and he encouraged and challenged me, after reading my submitted proposal, “to prove” the point that he saw in my thesis. Professor Walls graciously offered to write an endorsement for the published thesis. I had the privilege to discuss with him and Dr. Ingrid plans and ideas about ACI’s Centre for the Study of Early African Christianity, established through his encouragement, at various times via video calls. I am grateful to God for the opportunity to meet and learn from Professor Walls.

Dyron B. Daughrity, professor of Religion, Pepperdine University, California:

I will never forget the first time I encountered the writing of Andrew Walls. It was early in my PhD program and I was doing research at Bishop’s College in Kolkata. The librarian there, Amlan Mondal, kindly gave me two books as gifts: The Missionary Movement in Christian History, and The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History. I was hooked. It speaks volumes that Christians in the Global South were onto the profoundness of Walls before many in the West were.

I was amazed at Andrew Walls’ ability to think so Christianly about world religions and the history of missions, most importantly his “Ephesian Moment” idea which made the New Testament come alive for me in powerful ways. He was a trailblazer, and I was deeply thankful to meet him and hear him speak at Yale Edinburgh conferences. He had an unforgettable quality about him. I was in full agreement with Christianity Today’s 2007 article that referred to Walls as “ahead of his time” and “the most important person you don’t know.”

I am truly grateful for those two gifts of Andrew Walls’ books. I pray his family, friends, and students will find solace in the fact that his ideas have now been disseminated far and wide. Let us preserve his memory.

Joshua Robert Barron, Africa Inland Church, Kenya:

I am one of the many former mentees and students (PhD in World Christianity program at Africa International University in Nairobi) of Prof. Andrew Walls. My own masters thesis advisor had already served as president of the American Patristic Society before meeting Prof Andrew; it changed his life and, consequently, mine, when my advisor introduced me to Walls’ writings. Had I immediately proceeded to doctoral work after my MDiv, no program other than Prof Andrew’s at Edinburgh would have done. Instead, after many years of field work in South Africa and then Kenya, during which I was privileged to meet him two or three times, I became his student at the Centre for World Christianity here in Nairobi. The two week intensive PhD seminar he taught in March 2018 remains a vocational highlight, as well as the high water mark of my formal education.

A colleague of mine, Wakakuholesanga Chisola, a Zambian currently enrolled in the masters program at Akrofi-Christaller Insititute in Ghana where Prof was so deeply involved, was up late chatting about this news the night of the 12th; Ingrid had of course sent a text message almost immediately to Prof. Gillian Mary Bediako, and so those of us with connections to ACI were among the first to know. My colleague mentioned Prof’s great strength that always seemed stronger than the frailty of his age these last years, and concluded, “But even Baobabs fall.”

That helped me to articulate, the next day, the depth of my grief; I was too sorrowful to sleep until well after 2 a.m. that night. So the poem I’ve included is my tribute to the best of teachers and mentors I have ever had (note that Mosi-oa-Tunya is the local indigenous African name of Victoria Falls):

The Baobab Has Fallen

the Baobab is mighty

the Baobab is strong

the Baobab, well-rooted,

reaches to the sky,

giving shade and fruit and wisdom

to all us passers-by

the Baobab was mighty

the Baobab was strong

the Baobab, well-rooted,

branches far and wide,

shared his wealth of Christly wisdom

to all, yes, even I

but Baobab has fallen

and we are are now bereft

our thoughts are now uprooted

Teacher, Mentor, Friend !

tears like Mosi-oa-Tunya

cry our lamentation

Prof Andrew well did teach us

of agency and hope

from Africa to Scotland

falcon-swift he flew —

tears like Mosi-oa-Tunya

flow from hearts now rended

Prof Andrew well did lead us

challenging for truth

through polycentric story

into faith’s true girth

thus from Accra to Nairobi

with academic mirth

Prof Andrew Walls has left us

and we are now bereft

yet he will rise eternal

and we can rejoice

he won his race and fought his fight

his sorrow will now end

Prof Andrew Walls has left us

strong branches wide and fair

in life he pointed upward

now he upward flies

asking who will foster forests

new Baobabs to tend?

Prof Andrew Walls was mighty

Prof Andrew Walls was strong

Prof Andrew Walls, well-rooted,

pointed past the sky

giving wealth of Christly wisdom

to all us passers-by

December
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