David Hesselgrave, Founder of Evangelical Missiological Society, Dies at 94

David Hesselgrave, the driving force behind the evangelical study of missions in the 20th century, died this week at age 94.

Hesselgrave built the missions program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and cofounded the Evangelical Missiological Society, teaching generations of scholars and missions workers around the world more effective ways to share the gospel across cultures (as referenced in the titles of his popular textbooks: Planting Churches Cross-CulturallyCommunicating Christ Cross-CulturallyCounseling Cross-Culturally).

“Not just the volume but the significance of the content of his writings has had tremendous influence and impact in helping us think through the relationship of Christ and culture,” said Craig Ott, TEDS professor of mission and intercultural studies, in a video tribute offered to Hesselgrave in 2012 when he won a lifetime achievement award at the North American Mission Leaders Conference.

Before contextualization became a widely accepted element of mission work among evangelicals, Hesselgrave was among just a few scholars in the 1970s and ’80s who validated the importance of culture as a factor in how people interpret and communicate theology.

Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, has regularly highlighted Hesselgrave’s scholarship on his Christianity Today blog, The Exchange, and coedited with the late professor the 2010 book MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium.

“You can’t speak to an evangelical missiologist who hasn’t been influenced—in my case, shaped—by Hesselgrave’s thinking,” Stetzer said in the video tribute. “I think he’s left a powerful legacy of mission and ministry.”

After Hesselgrave’s death, Stetzer deemed him “the dean of evangelical missiology,” writing:

David was a thought-leader in every sense of the term. Look over the curriculum in almost any Missions Department here in North America and beyond and you will likely find David Hesselgrave’s works still as foundational texts in courses.

Nearly every serious missiologist I know today is indebted to David’s courageous and cutting-edge deep dive into how to engage cultures well.

Even searching Hesselgrave’s name online reveals the breadth of his impact, as results pop up in Spanish and German and from far-flung places in Asia and Africa; his speaking circuit spanned 40 countries around the world.

A seminary grad who belonged to the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), Hesselgrave served as a missionary in Japan for 12 years following World War II, where he preached, taught, and conducted radio ministry in Japanese alongside Japanese leaders.

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Source: Christianity Today