Friday, June 9, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we remember Roland Allen, an underrated giant in the history of Missiology.

It is the 9th of June 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I’m Dan van Voorhis.


A big day for the death of giants in the world of Missionaries and Missiology. It is the day on which William Carey died in 1834. We’ve done a show on him- you can google the Almanac and William Carey for that. I almost gave him an encore- but, it was also on this day in 1947 that Roland Allen died. And as popular as Carey is and well known, Allen night be as obscure if not of equal significance for the world of foreign missions. Let me introduce you to a character that if you don’t know, and are interested in Missions might want to take note.

Roland Allen was born in 1868- the sixth of seven and the youngest of the five surviving childhood. His family were stocking manufacturers in Nottinghamshire. (His great-grandfather was a sheriff of Nottingham). His father was an Anglican clergyman, as would be his surviving sons. But Father Charles died rather mysteriously of Yellow Fever in Belize- there without his family, supposedly on mission work, yet there are no records of a call there, and his family stopped talking about him. He died before Roland was 5. They moved in with his Mother’s parents, but they died too- leaving Roland and the other children to be raised by their mother. She was an Anglican but with an independent spirit, later, Roland said she taught him “in the church, there is a point at which rebellion is justifiable for the good of the church, not for any personal end.” And there would be rebellion, but not before heading to St. John’s Oxford, where he fell under the influence of the Anglo-Catholic “tractarian movement”. This would give Roland his love of the church and sacraments but with an evangelical bent and a place for the Holy Spirit.


In 1892 He applied to go abroad with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In that same year he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England. In 1895 he was called to the North China Mission to train potential pastors. Of course, this is close to the “Boxer Rebellion” that was the uprising of Chinese nationalists who saw the western influences (many of them missionaries) diminishing their own culture. Roland would see the famous placards in English:

“All the Christian churches notice. We set one week's time. Your churches must be converted into Immortal Halls, or the members must leave. If you disobey, we will pull down the buildings with our magic arts or burn them down with fire. Then repentance will be beyond your reach.


The Righteous Harmony Fist Society of the Empire”

He would stay, despite the violence, through 1901. He then went back on furlough, was married, and came back to North China in 1902. Bad health caused him to resign from that position. He took a parish in the UK in Buckinghamshire but resigned in 1907. He refused to baptize the children of unbelieving parents- this would find him on the outs with the Anglican Church, and he would, for the rest of his life, rely on his own writing and para-church organizations for income. One such was the “Survey Application Trust” and Sidney J.W. Clark- an early non-denominational institution looking to study missionary methods.

Allen had come to their attention with the publication of his first major work, 1912’s Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? This work, and much of his subsequent work, would question the mission models preferred in the early days of Protestant missions. He believed they remained too connected to foreign interests and models of ministry. His major theme was the Missionaries were to “hand over” the Gospel and ministry to the community. They weren’t to remain in oversight- outside of an agreed-upon Bishop. The missionaries were to preach the Gospel and if received, give over the Bible and Sacraments for them to use under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t think that “Western models” of education or even medicine were primarily needed and that they might get in the way of a truly indigenous church growing up. He feared that clericalism would stand in the way of true growth led by the spirit. And he taught that this was the model of Paul- once the Gospel has taken root, let the church- even if it fails- make its own way under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. You might imagine this wasn’t popular, especially amongst hierarchical Anglicans. It wasn’t until after his death that Roland Allen became a major name in the church growth movement and in the world of modern missions and studies. After Allen's death, one of the fathers of the modern missiological movement, Lesslie Newbigin, wrote, “Once someone has started reading Allen, he will be compelled to go on. He will find that this quiet voice has a strange relevance and immediacy for the problems of the church in our day.”

Born in 1868, Roland Allen died on this day in 1947. He was 78 years old. 


The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary, from Acts 28- another kind of missionary story:

After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us round it. Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’ He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of June 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man with his own righteous fists- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who loves Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham, but nothing beats Pat Buttram- also in the Aristocats and Back to the Future III- I’m  Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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