Andrew Finlay Walls 1928-2021

This weekend I am mourning the loss of Professor Andrew Walls, a great Scottish scholar of World Christianity. Andrew took me under his wing when I was trying to process theologically the first few years I spent in Malawi, and he has profoundly shaped my thinking.

His contribution is celebrated in many parts of the Global South, but I have always felt that he has been a “prophet without honour” in his own country as little attention has been given to his work in the mainstream theological academy of the West. A Christianity Today article suggested that he, “may be the most important person you don’t know.” Perhaps better than anyone else he articulated the dramatic demographic transformation taking place in Christianity during our lifetime.

By a huge reversal of the position in 1910, the majority of Christians now live in Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Pacific, and the proportion is rising. Simultaneously with the retreat from Christianity in the West in the twentieth century went a massive accession to the Christian faith in the non-Western world. The map of the Christian Church, its demographic and cultural make-up, changed more dramatically during the twentieth century than (probably) in any other since the first.

Andrew F. Walls

Andrew’s studies of how this came to pass are full of insight. He once explained that, “the fundamental missionary experience, by which the endeavour stands or falls, is to live on the terms set by someone else.” Far from the missionary being someone who insensitively imposes their own view, if they discover their true calling their whole project is about tuning in to how others see things.

Another wise word he leaves us has been hugely meaningful in the African context: “Conversion is turning; and Christian conversion is turning towards Christ. This means that the process of conversion involves turning what is already there.”

Andrew has left so much food for thought – I am sure I will continue to learn much from his work even as I miss his kindly presence.

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