Allen, Roland (1868-1947)

Missiologist and radical critic of the church

Allen, Roland (1868-1947)

Allen was born in Bristol, England, the youngest of five children of an Anglican priest. He was orphaned early in life but obtained and education on scholarship at St. John’s College, Oxford, and at the (Anglo-Catholic) Leeds Clergy Training School. In 1892 he was ordained a deacon, and the following year he became a priest in the Church of England. In 1895 he was sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) to its North China Mission. While preparing to head a new seminary for Chinese catechists in Peking (Beijing), he was trapped with other foreigners in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. After rescue by foreign troops, Allen wrote about his experience in The Siege of the Peking Legations (1901). While on Furlough in England he married Mary B. Tarlton. In 1902 they returned to north China, where their first child was born, but Allen soon became ill and the family had to be sent home. There he took charge of a parish until 1907, when he resigned in protest against the rule of the established church that he must baptize any child presented for the sacrament whether or not the parents had any Christian commitment. Thereafter he held no official post but continued as a voluntary priest, supporting himself by writing and lecturing until his death in Kenya, nearly 40 years later.

The crises of his early experience led him to a radical reassessment of his own vocation and the theology and missionary methods of Western churches. He was an early advocate of the Nevius plan to establish churches that from the beginning would be self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing. He wanted the forms of the church to be adapted to local cultural conditions and not be mere imitations of Western Christianity. To accomplish this, missionaries would have to hand over responsibility to the local leaders in the community, who would not be professional clergy either in their training or in their compensation. Allen criticized missionaries for their paternalistic and protective attitudes and their failure to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide the new church in its development. He continued to be an Anglican, however, and to insist on the importance of sacraments and creeds and the supervision of bishops in order to maintain discipline and provide links with the church universal.

Allen’s views were confirmed by a trip to India in 1910 and by later research in Canada and East Africa. In 1912 he published what became his most famous and enduring book, Missionary Methods St. Paul’s or Ours? After World War I, he began a long association with the Survey Application Trust and World Dominion Press, an independent missionary research group founded by the Congregationalist layman Sidney J. W. Clark. With the help of the trust he published other books and pamphlets elaborating his reconception of Christian mission, notably Pentecost and the World (1917), The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hinder It (1927), and The Case for Voluntary Clergy (1930).

Allen’s ideas had little effect on the churches and missionary societies of his day but as himself predicted, his work was rediscovered (in the 1960s) and has exercised a growing influence on missiology and ecclesiology in many places, not least in China.

Long, Charles Henry, “Allen, Roland,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 12-13.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Bibliography

Digital Primary


Allen, Roland. The Siege of the Peking Legations: Being the Diary of Rev. Roland Allen . London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1901.

_____. Essential Missionary Principles. New York; Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1913.

_____. Educational Principles and Missionary Methods: The Application of Educational Principles to Missionary Evangelism . London: R. Scott, 1919.

Allen, Roland and Thomas Cochrane. Missionary Survey as an Aid to Intelligent Co-operation in Foreign Missions. London, New York [etc.]: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.

Primary

Allen, Roland. The Siege of the Peking Legations: Being the Diary of Rev. Roland Allen. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1901.

_____. Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? A Study of the Church in the Four Provinces. London: R. Scott, 1912; New York: Revell, 1913; New York: S. R. Leland, 1930; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962; 1983.

_____. Essential Missionary Principles. New York; Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1913.

_____. Pentecost and the World: The Revelation of the Holy Spirit in the “Acts of the Apostles”. London: Humphrey Milford; Oxford University Press, 1917.

_____. Educational Principles and Missionary Methods: The Application of Educational Principles to Missionary Evangelism. London: R. Scott, 1919.

Allen, Roland and Thomas Cochrane. Missionary Survey as an Aid to Intelligent Co-operation in Foreign Missions. London, New York [etc.]: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.

Allen, Roland. Voluntary Clergy. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1923.

_____. Education in the Native Church. London: World Dominion Press, 1926.

Allen, Roland and Alexander McLeish. Devolution and its Real Significance. London: World Dominion Press, 1927.

Allen, Roland. Le Zoute: A Critical Review of “The Christian Mission in Africa”. London: World Dominion Press, 1927.

_____. Mission Activities Considered in Relation to the Manifestation of the Spirit. London, New York: World Dominion Press, 1927.

_____. The Establishment of the Church in the Mission Field: A Critical Dialogue. London: n.p., 1927.

_____. Jerusalem: A Critical Review of “The World Mission of Christianity”. London: World Dominion Press, 1928.

_____. The Case for Voluntary Clergy. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1930.

Allen, Roland and Floyd Eugene Hamilton. The “Nevius Method” in Korea. London: World Dominion Press, 1930.

Allen, Roland. The Place of “Faith” in Missionary Evangelism. London: World Dominion Press, 1930.

_____. Sidney James Wells Clark: A Vision of Foreign Missions. London: World Dominion Press, 1937.

_____. All in the Day’s Sport. London: W. H. Allen, 1946.

_____. Missionary Principles. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964; Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 2006.

_____. The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hinder It. London: World Dominion Press, 1949; 1960; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962.

Secondary


Allen, Hubert, J. B. Roland Allen: Pioneer, Priest and Prophet. Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications; Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995.

Braun, Neil. A Second Look at Roland Allen. Kobayashi City, Japan: Japan Church Growth Research Association, 1964.

Chaney, Charles L. “Roland Allen: the basis of his missionary principles and his influence today.” Occasional Bulletin from the Missionary Research Library 14 no. 5 (1963).

Long, Charles Henry and Anne Rowthorn. “Rolland Allen.” In Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement, edited by Gerald H. Anderson et al. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994. Pp. 383-90.

Paton, David MacDonald. Reform of the Ministry: A Study in the Work of Roland Allen. London: Lutherworth Press, 1968.

Paton, David M. and Charles H. Long, eds. The Compulsion of the Spirit: A Roland Allen Reader. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1983.

Portrait


“Roland Allen.” In Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and The Causes Which Hinder It. London: World Dominion Press, 1960.