Theological Education - The Role of the West in Missions

By Mike Pettengill - 10/7/2015

The explosion of evangelical Christianity in the Global South in the past century is well documented. In 1900, about 71 percent of Christians in the world lived in Europe. By 2000, that number shrank to 28 percent. Today, 43 percent of the world’s Christians live in Latin America and Africa. In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians, which was about 10 percent of the population. By 2000, the number of Christians in Africa was 360 million, about half the population of the continent. Mark Noll said, “In a word, the Christian church has experienced a larger geographical redistribution in the last fifty years than in any comparable period in its history, with the exception of the very earliest years of church history.”

What is talked about less, in the phenomenon of the Global South, is the eruption of bad theology in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The theology that is taught from many of the pulpits in the Global South is so poor in can scarcely be recognized as coming from the Scriptures. The rapid spread of abysmal theology in the Global South is a detriment to the advancement of the gospel and the very people it is reported to be educating. Bad theology is poisoning many churches and it is spreading like a wildfire.

Role Of The West
A contributing factor to the increase in bad theology in the Global South is that many US churches today would rather support nationals than send missionaries. This is a short-sighted financial decision which increases the probability of spreading bad theology. John Piper says, “Many people have embraced the uninformed notion that it is always more efficient and culturally effective to support ministries in the Global South to do the work of missions rather than pay tens of thousands of dollars each year to send Western workers.” Supporting those who spread bad theology as opposed to sending those with good theology is exacerbating the problem.

Western churches should increase their support of global theological education. Churches should support the translation and distribution of theology books, sending of theologically trained missionaries to teach and disciple nationals, Bible translation, and the development of grace based, in-country theological seminaries.

This concept is nothing new. For a thousand years the Christian church has been participating in the formation of formal schools of theological instruction around the world. What is new is the disparity of theological resources. Around the world churches hold services each day without enough Bibles for their congregants. In the West we have a multitude of theological conferences, articles, internet downloads and theology books. There should be no guilt over our bevy of theological resources, but, we should do everything we can to ensure our brothers and sisters in rapidly expanding churches have all they need to preach, teach and spread quality Bible-based theology. To disciple a new believer, to evangelize the lost, to mentor a brother, to teach biblical truth - these are callings and honors for us all.

As the wealthiest church in the history of the world, the Western Evangelical church should consider increasing support to ministries which provide grace based, bible believing theological training in the Global South. To combat the plague of bad theology in the Global South they need language appropriate seminaries, articles, books, e-books, conferences and more. R.C. Sproul said, “Anyone who would be a disciple of Christ must be a learner of the teaching of Christ.” The teaching of false doctrine should not be abided, but instead viewed as an affront to the majesty of our Lord.

Returning From The Brink
Indeed, the Evangelical church in the Global South is growing rapidly. But, what good is a rapidly growing church with horrible theology? When thinking of the bad theology of the Global South, don’t think of hymnals vs. modern music or ties vs. button down shirts. Christian churches in the Global South are spreading an array of bad theology which includes animism, works based theology, witchcraft and more. Millions of people are “coming to the Lord” in a grotesque amalgamation of theological perversion that would make Satin blush. Never before in history have we had so many bibles in the world and yet so many biblically illiterate Christians.

God’s Great Commission (Mat 29:18-20) instructs believers in Christ to “go.” This is something, at which, the Western Evangelical church is doing an admirable job. However, at the heart of the great commission is the making of disciples. This is done, in part, by teaching the nations about Christ, his commands and his Scriptures. The Great Commission is fulfilled, not when we go, but when we go, make disciples, baptize and “teach them to observe all I have commanded you.” When professed Christians around the world spread a false doctrine, Christ is not glorified.

The church is a place to educate, instruct, and prepare its members to impact the world and share God’s love, mercy, and message. Much of the rapid spread of the “gospel” in the Global South in no Gospel at all. Our brothers and sisters around the world are in desperate need of theological education and our Western churches are in a prime position aide them.


Mike Pettengill is a full-time missionary serving in La Ceiba, Honduras, with Mission to the World. Mike is a team leader of a 12-person mission team. To learn more about the Pettengill’s work in Honduras visit Pettengill Missionaries.