Professor Andrew Finlay Walls passed away on August 12, 2021 at the age of 93. Though little known outside of academic circles, Andrew Walls was central in the establishment and development of the scholarly field of world Christianity, playing an outsized role in shaping the way we today think of Christianity’s place in the world. Though I only spoke personally with Professor Walls on two occasions, I can think of few other scholars whose words and ideas have challenged and stretched me more.
After years of teaching ecclesiastical history in Africa, Walls returned to his native Britain to join the faculty of the University of Aberdeen where in 1970 he founded Scotland’s first Department of Religious Studies. In 1982 he founded the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World at Aberdeen, now the Centre for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh. Walls was also instrumental in the founding of several journals devoted to the study of world and especially African Christianity; there are many graduate programs and study centers in Britain and Africa that trace their lineage back to him and his godly example of rigorous yet faithful scholarship.
His greatest legacy, however, exists in his students and colleagues—the many scholars from around the world who readily acknowledge the enormous impact Walls’s friendship and scholarship have had on them and their work. The staggering array of influential scholars that have paid tribute to him since his passing, some of which have been collected in this Christianity Today post, only hints at the scope of his influence.
Described by Christianity Today in 2007 as “the most important person you do not know,” over the past half century Andrew Walls and his ideas have transformed the way people in the West and around the world understand the Christian faith. Through his historical scholarship and generous mentoring, Walls trained generations of scholars to reorient their understanding of the history of Christianity, breaking down centuries of assumptions about the centrality of the West in the global expansion of the faith. Embracing the implications of his own research, Walls constantly challenged Christians in the West to recognize the value, significance, and equality of Christian traditions from across Asia and, especially, his beloved Africa.
The success of his advocacy is visible today in the increasing prevalence and importance of non-Western voices in theological discussions around the world. That these two perspectives on the past and present expansion of Christianity are now so accepted and applauded within scholarship—and increasingly within the church—is largely due to the lifelong work and witness of this humble, godly man.
Thanks be to God for Professor Andrew Walls, and for the ways he has helped all of us to see more clearly God’s work in this world and our place in that work.
Rest in peace, good and faithful servant.
Andrew Walls and his ideas have been referenced in various ChinaSource events and publications over the years, including the recent webinar “Christian Theology in a Chinese Idiom” by Dr. Jesse Ciccotti, and Swells in the Middle Kingdom’s blog series “Being a Western Christian in the Global Church.”
The Missionary Movement in Christian History. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996.
The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.
Crossing Cultural Frontiers: Studies in the History of World Christianity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017.
“Cross-cultural Encounters and the Shift to World Christianity.” The Journal of Presbyterian History (1997-) 81, no. 2 (2003): 112-116.
“The Eighteenth-Century Protestant Missionary Awakening in its European Context.” In Christian Missions and the Enlightenment, edited by Stanley, Brian, 22-44. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
“Eusebius Tries Again: Reconceiving the Study of Christian History.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 24, no. 3 (2000): 105.
“From Christendom to World Christianity: Missions and the Demographic Transformation of the Church.” Princeton Seminary Bulletin 22, no. 3 (2001): 306–330.
“Globalization and the Study of Christian History.” In Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, edited by Ott, Craig and Harold A. Netland, 70-82. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
“The Mission of the Church Today in the Light of Global History.” Word & World XX, no. 1 (2000): 17–21.
“Missions or Mission? The IRM after 75 Years.” International Review of Mission 100, no. 2 (2011): 181-188.
Andrew T. Kaiser, author of Voices from the Past: Historical Reflections on Christian Missions in China, The Rushing on of the Purposes of God: Christian Missions in Shanxi since 1876, and Encountering China: The Evolution of Timothy Richard’s Missionary Thought (1870–1891) (Evangelical Missiological Society Monograph Series Book 1)has been living …View Full Bio
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