Freytag, Walter (1899-1959)

German Protestant missiologist

Born in a merchant’s family of Moravian tradition in Thuringia, Germany, Freytag studied theology and philosophy at Tübingen, Marburg, and Halle, completing a doctorate in 1925. In 1928 he started his long career in missions as director of Deutsche Evangelische Missionshilfe, the central Protestant Germany agency for promoting mission work. When political complications prevented him from becoming a missionary in China, he concentrated on teaching missiology and history of religions both at Hamburg and Kiel universities, at the same time serving in leading positions in German and international mission agencies as well as in the ecumenical movement. Due to pressure from National-Socialist authorities he lost his missiological lectureship at Hamburg University and was reinstated only after the war. A man of many talents, he was repeatedly called to high office in the German church and in international Christian bodies, but he decided to devote his gifts and strength to the cause of mission, with special emphasis on Christianity and non-Christian religions, the psychology of conversion, and what he called “the miracle of the church among the nations.” Although he was equally unforgettable as speaker, teacher, and writer, he left behind only one major book, an analysis of the importance of the so-called younger churches for the church universal, which he wrote after a study tour in Asia in 1938. His lasting contribution to missiology has been preserved, first, in two volumes of collected essays and speeches, published after his untimely death at the age of 60, and, second, in a postwar generation of missiologists. Under his guidance, the latter acquired a new understanding of “mission as God’s reality in this world,” a vision of the “missionary dimension of the whole church and of all churches,” “witnessing by word and deed in real brotherhood and sacrificial service for the sake of mankind,” and so proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.

Hans-Werner Gensichen, “Freytag, Walter,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 228.

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.



Freytag, Walter, Jan Hermelink, and Hans Jochen Margull. Reden und Aufsätze. 2 vols. München: C. Kaiser, 1961.

_____. Spiritual Revolution in the East. Translated by L. M. Stalker. London: Lutterworth Press, 1940.

_____. The Gospel and the Religions: A Biblical Equiry. SCM Press, 1957.


Tributes by colleagues and a bibliography of Freytag’s published works to 1956 will be found in Jan Hermelink and Hans Jochen Margull, eds., Basileia: Walter Freytag zum 60. Gerburtstag (1959).