Missiology, Methodology and the Study of New Religious
Missiology is a legitimate field of enquiry, because unless time
is spent in reflecting on the nature and effects of missions, and indeed on whether the missionary influence of Christianity is to be welcomed, one cannot understand a good part of modern world history (and a part which is to do with large masses of people, not just a coterie of headline-rating policy-makers). Do missiologists have a near-consensus methodology, however, and is it important to establish their activity as a scientific discipline? This paper indends to go some way towards answering these questions, yet to do so only by focussing on a manageable issue. I have chosen as a springboard for discussion the typology of (socio-)religious movements within the history of Christianity, because the problem of describing 'new developments' which have emerged within or on the fringes of the Christian fold (since New Testament times) nicely illustrates the tension between (a) the use of a vocabulary and interpretation which suits the needs
of the believing community, and (b) the adoption of verbiage and
analytical categories to satisfy the requirements of science. A big
conundrum to be faced, after all, is whether missiology is a discipline which has been expected, if not designed from the start specifically to serve the ekklesia katholika and not to rate among the special 'social sciences' (so-called). A consideration of the terminologies both missiologists and social scientists can employ to analyze religious movements will help unravel this puzzle, which has everything to do with the issue of missiology's methodogical bases.