Andrew F. Walls: requiescat in pace

Andrew Finlay Walls, 12 April 1928 – 12 August 2021, has been within his lifetime the single most important figure in the study of World Christianity. His towering intellect was only matched by his deep humility and depth of faith. But for me, he was also simply … my favorite teacher. (Though there have been several close-seconds.)  Hours spent at the feet of Andrew and his wife, Dr Ingrid Reneau Walls, were far too few, but treasured.

I highly recommend his books:  The Missionary Movement in Christian History (1996); The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (2002); Crossing Cultural Frontiers (2017); and Culture and Conversion in World Christianity (forthcoming).

I maintain a fairly extensive (though not exhaustive) bibliography of Andrew Walls’s writings here and of items about Prof Andrew here (though at present both need to be updated).

During the course of his career, Andrew Walls taught on all six inhabited continents, and held positions

  • in the UK at the University of Bristol, the University of Cambridge, the University of Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh, and Liverpool Hope University;
  • in Sierra Leone at Fourah Bay College;
  • in Nigeria at the University of Nigeria (in Nsukka);
  • in Ghana at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute for Theology, Mission and Culture (in Akropong);
  • in Kenya at the Centre of World Christianity, Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, Africa International University;
  • in the USA at Princeton Theological Seminary, Yale University, and Harvard University.

He was the founding editor of The Sierra Leone Bulletin of Religion and the Journal of Religion of Africa and established the journal Studies in World Christianity (though James P. Mackey was the founding editor).  His legacy especially lives on at the Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity at Liverpool Hope University, the Centre for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, the Akrofi-Christaller Institute in Ghana, the Centre for World Christianity at Africa International University in Nairobi, and through the continuation of the Yale-Edinburgh Group on World Christianity and the History of Mission.

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 master’s thesis advisor, Frederick W. Norris (1941–2016), was already a well-established scholar who had served as president of the American Patristic Society before meeting Prof Andrew; the encounter changed his life and, consequently, mine, when my Prof. Fred introduced me to Walls’s writings.  Had I immediately proceeded to doctoral work after completing my MDiv in 2001, 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 which I took from him and his wife in March 2018 remains a vocational highlight, as well as the high-water mark of my formal education.

A number of worthwhile tributes of Andrew Walls and the breadth and depth of the impact of his life and work have been published:

This picture of Prof Andrew and Dr Ingrid is from the last face-to-face teaching engagement I had under Prof. Andrew, in September 2020, and the last time I spoke with him and his wife, Dr. Ingrid Reneau Walls — that is, the last encounter with Prof before the resurrections of the Last Day.  OMCS (the Overseas Ministries Study Center at Princeton Theological Seminary) hosted a three-day seminar, “African Christianity in the Americas and in Africa,” presented by Prof. Andrew that month — all attendees participated via Zoom due to the pandemic. The Celtic-Coptic-Maasai cross hanging on the wall of their home (in the background of the picture) is a gift from Ruth and me, which I had presented to them when I last saw them face-to-face, in Nairobi in March 2018.

Because of Prof Andrew and Dr Ingrid’s deep involvement with the Akrofi-Christaller Insititute of Theology, Mission, and Culture (ACI) in Ghana, the ACI community was among the first to learn of Prof’s passing on August 12th; Dr. 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.  (The evening of the 12th was a rough day.  Our 21st anniversary, I learned within the same half hour that my favorite aunt had just been buried, 8400 miles away, and that Prof. Andrew had just died.)  A colleague of mine, Wakakuholesanga Chisola, a Zambian currently enrolled in the masters program at ACI, and I were up late chatting about this news the night of the 12th.  He 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 had been too sorrowful to sleep until well after 2 a.m. that night. So the poem which follows 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).  I thank Wakakuholesanga for the image of the baobab, and Ruth for helping me with a few lines when my articulation of my grief was stuck.

(mixed emotions)

Today is a day of mixed emotions. My husband and I (Ruth) are celebrating our 21rst anniversary while my husband’s family are gathered around a gravesite 8400 of miles away, burying his beloved aunt. So today, his family are celebrating a life and a family reunion at the same time while he is absent and grieving apart.
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Last year, I finally blocked my siblings after yet another family get-together. As usual, I only learned about the get-together when the pictures started showing up on my newsfeed, and I realized finally that I don’t have to acccept the lie that family ties are essential. Today, the pictures of a new family get-together showed up on my news-feed, a family of friends who accept me. I’ve never met any of them in real life, but we have nurtured and cared for each other for nearly four years now, and we just had our first in-person (combo with zoom) get-together. I knew about it ahead of time. I was allowed to contribute to date and time. With my schedule, I couldn’t participate this time, but we already have plans for a next one focusing on those who couldn’t make this one. Several of my on-line family members have gone out of their way to tell me that they missed me and want me at the next get-together. My six-year-old daughter saw the pictures of the get-together with me today and told me, “They look like a nice family. I’d like to meet them someday.” Yes. Yes, they do. They are truly wonderful family to me.
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And tonight, we learned that Andrew Walls died today. This was the man my husband always dreamed of studying under. He was the reason I pushed my husband to begin his PhD in Kenya in the middle of a busy season of life, because Andrew Walls would be teaching one of the classes. He is the reason I encouraged my husband wholeheartedly to return to Kenya during our fulough even while I was in the midst of severe abuse by our (now-former) ministry. My husband finally fulfilled his dream of studying under Andrew Walls for what we assumed (correctly) might be his final class at Africa International University’s Centre for World Christianity, where he was the research professor for the PhD program in which my husband is enrolled.
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For those who have never heard of Andrew Walls or the academic discipline of World Christianity, here are my husband’s words:
“Christianity is, and has always been, polycentric and multicultural and multiethnic and multilingual. But traditional Euro-American scholarship has treated studies of Christianity and Christian histories as though Christianity were an ethnic faith belonging only to Euro-American and Roman-Graeco traditions. The (multidisciplinary) academic discipline of World Christianity aims to restore balance, studying Christianity across cultures, history, and geographies. More than anyone else in the 20th or so far in the 21st century, Andrew F. Walls is the most foundational figure in World Christianity.”