Fall 2007 · Vol. 36 No. 2 · pp. 126–27 

From the Editor: Christian Scholarship and Higher Education

Gordon Nickel

It always felt good to be on the receiving end of Paul Hiebert’s smile. I first saw Paul on a rooftop in the Amarabad hills of Andhra Pradesh, India. He was interviewing an elderly Telugu man at the time, likely for his PhD research. I was 11 years old. Paul turned and smiled at me. He was nearing the end of his five-year term as principal of Bethany Bible School and College in Shamshabad. Our family had just arrived in India to begin six years at the Jadcherla Medical Centre.

My brother Larry remembers the walk by lantern light through the pitch-black fields and across a stream to reach a late-evening Indian MB worship meeting with Paul. I remember Paul taking us around the hills to see the dolmans—prehistoric shelters built out of huge flat slabs of granite. My father tells me that Paul passed on to him the baton of certain aspects of his mission work during that visit.

Paul was not only a missionary, but also a missionary kid (a.k.a. MK), and I often felt through the years that he gave me his special smile because I belonged to that same strange breed. But the truth is that I was just one of many to enjoy his kindness. How he had time to encourage and mentor so many people in addition to his teaching, speaking, writing and other scholarly duties, I can’t imagine. Robert Priest recently suggested that Paul was “the world’s leading missiological anthropologist.” But when you were with Paul there was no sense of the stuffy scholar, but only of a lively and engaging human being and disciple of Jesus.

All of the articles in this issue are offered in honour of this great Mennonite Brethren mission statesman. The lead article was written by another MK, Paul’s daughter Eloise Hiebert Meneses. Eloise is professor of cultural anthropology at Eastern University in Philadelphia. In her article, she sounds a ringing call to Christian scholars to find their “starting point” in the Lordship of Jesus.

Reverend I. P. Asheervadam tells a story of the educational efforts of MB missionaries in India, of which Paul’s leadership was a part. Asheervadam is a faculty member at the MB Centenary Bible College, Shamshabad, and a doctoral candidate.

Alfred Neufeld, Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the Evangelical University of Paraguay, probes the relationship of university (seminary/college) and church. He concludes that in an impasse the university should yield to the church. Alfred’s article, along with the three other articles at the start of this issue, come out of presentations given at the ICOMB conference on Higher Education in Fresno, California, June 4-9, 2007.

D. Merrill Ewert is president of Fresno Pacific University (California). His article presents several typologies for the university in its relation to society. He advocates strongly for a Christian university’s stance to be that of engagement with nearby and distant society.

Representing Paul’s many students is Sam Owusu, who completed a PhD under Paul at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Owusu, a native of Ghana, is now pastor of Calvary Worship Centre in New Westminster, B.C. Owusu applies Paul’s best-known missiological concept, “critical contextualization,” to a difficult African cultural and ministry situation.

Pierre Gilbert interacts with another well-known Hiebert contribution, the concept of the “excluded middle.” Pierre is associate professor of Bible and Theology at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary and Canadian Mennonite University. He is also program coordinator for the Winnipeg Centre for Ministry Studies. Pierre’s book, Demons, Lies and Shadows: A Plea for the Return to Text and Reason, is scheduled to be released by Kindred Productions in December 2007.

Paul did not write a great deal about theology of religions, but what he did write was influential in the evangelical mission community. Paul made a key contribution in the area of “folk religions,” however, including folk Islam. “Scholarship and Islamic Sourcebooks” is an attempt to apply Paul’s conviction of the truth and uniqueness of the gospel to an interfaith question which has attracted much attention since 9/11.

The article section ends with continuations of two articles begun in the Spring 2007 Direction: one by Harold Jantz on Eduard Wuest and his influence on Russian Mennonites and one by Michelle Ferguson on liturgical theology.

We are also happy to include the findings report of the ICOMB Consultation on MB Higher Education, which took place in Fresno this summer. Recommended Reading consists of a selected bibliography of Paul’s writings. Bruce Enns reflects on the importance of perspective in Ministry Compass. Book reviews close out the issue.

My most recent interaction with Paul was when he visited India in Spring 2002 while Gwenyth and I were serving there under MBMS International. Darren and Shahna Duerksen were also in Shamshabad at that time, and Paul took the young couple with him up to the Amarabad hills. Darren returned enervated and inspired, carrying a load of prehistorically-shaped rocks which Paul had discovered in a dry stream bed. Paul was passing on the mission baton to yet another generation, and Darren and Shahna are indeed serving with the MBMSI “Delhi team” today.

Paul was nearing 70 at that time, yet he was still making efforts to upgrade his Telugu. One day as I passed through the screen door on my way to teach a class at the Bible college, a sari-clad Indian MB woman was teaching Paul Telugu on the bright front veranda of the guest bungalow. Paul looked up and smiled at me as I headed out across the mission compound.

Gordon Nickel, guest editor
Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies
Ambrose Seminary at ACTS
Langley, B.C.