Doug Priest, PhD- Served as a missionary for seventeen years in Kenya, Tanzania, and Singapore. While at Fuller Theological Seminary, Priest was student and assistant to Alan Tippett. Like his mentor, Priest has an anthropology degree from the University of Oregon. He is the executive director of CMF International.
Alan R. Tippett - Twenty years as a missionary in Fiji, following pastoral ministry in Australia and graduate degrees in history and anthropology, provide the rich data base that made Alan R. Tippett a leading missiologist of the twentieth century. Tippett served as Professor of Anthropology and Oceanic Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.
WCL- You served as Alan Tippett’s assistant in the 1970s while at Fuller Theological Seminary. How did this impact you? Do you have any anecdotes that can shine a light on who Alan Tippett was and what makes this series so important?
Doug Priest- First, let me say that there were others who were much closer to Dr. Tippett than I was during his years at Fuller Seminary. I think of folks like Chuck and Meg Kraft, Darrell Whiteman and Glenn Schwartz. One thing all of us had in common was that when we needed a break, we would drive Alan to the used bookstores across southern California. We'd use our own car and pay for the gas, and he would pay for lunch. All of us enlarged our libraries during these times. Alan's personal library was huge, and he was always trying to "fill in the gaps." It was so instructive to be with him when he was buying books, because he modeled holism and inter-disciplinary reading which came out in his missiology. He detested being niched and he did not want his students to settle for niche-thinking.
I spent a lot of money on books! Tippett would recommend a book in class, and I was off to the used bookstores to try to find it. I lived in Los Angeles near Santa Monica, and there were lots of used book stores. I often say that if Amazon.com had been around when Tippett was living, his library would have been double its current size. He and Edna would have been paupers.
WCL- This is obviously a passion project for you. Can you tell us about the process of compiling and editing Tippett’s unpublished writings for publication? What makes you so passionate about it?
Doug Priest- Because Alan did not want there to be errors in anything he published, he would wait to get a piece of information that was missing. He would hold off for years to get a book published until he got that one piece of information that had eluded him. He felt justified in this practice, which was the exact opposite of the church growth tenet, that your research should be published (quickly, sometimes too quickly) so that others could benefit from your work. Therefore, Alan had some 25-30 completed manuscripts and article collections on his shelves that had not been published at the time of his death. Soon after his passing Chuck Kraft and I worked on an idea to get his materials published. We secured the copyright permission from Edna Tippett (Alan's wife) so that the volumes would be copyrighted by Fuller Theological Seminary. I copied a chapter from The Jesus Documents and sent it to ten publishers. None of them wanted it. I had earlier gotten permission from Dr. Tippett to work on getting Ways of the People into print.
Those were the first two books published in the Tippett series.
Most of these volumes were written BC, meaning before computers. I had to scan the volumes into a Word document, and then correct the scanning errors line by line. As the books were not ready for print, some did not have bibliographies (it took me months to track down the entries in Ways of the People and to get the bibliography information). One the product was this far along, WCL would then assist with formatting, indexing, pagination, cover art work and so on.
We work on this project (which we do gratis) because we believe Alan Tippett was one of the foremost missiologists of the last century, and his unpublished material deserves to be read.
WCL- Is there a specific theme or topic in Tippett’s writing that resonates with you more than the others? What is it, and why?
Doug Priest- Because I too have a background in anthropology, I am most drawn to his missiological writings in that area. My favorites of all are his writings in ethnohistory, and the Fullness of Time that I envisioned, selected the pieces, and edited, is my favorite book in the series. Tippett considered his work in ethnohistory to be his innovative and primary contribution to missiology.
WCL- If you could identify and sum up Tippett’s most insightful contribution to missiology, what would it be?
Doug Priest- He was so insightful, it is hard to pin it down to just one. I think he was enough of a historian, which when added on to his twenty years in Fiji when the church became independent, meant that he understood the notion of missiology moving from a colonial frame of reference to a post-colonial frame of reference. That colonial notion is still current. Many, even Christians, equate missions with colonialism; something we are past and good riddance. So, we have a way to go.
WCL- If you had pick between raising a miniature triceratops from hatchling to adulthood OR starting a farm of magical rainbow silk worms, what would you pick and why?
Doug Priest- I am sure I am showing my age here. I assumed the former was some sort of dinosaur, but I wanted to check to be sure. I'd have to say the silkworms because that might be a valid microfinance program for people as a means of alleviating poverty. See, I told you I was old.
WCL- Are there any funny stories you can share with us from Tippett?
Doug Priest- The stories are mainly the juxtaposition of Australia and America, with their different cultures and their differences in language. Once when I was working in his office, he came fuming in and was talking about sex. He had written something and I believe presented it to the faculty, or in class, and the way he used the word sex did not fit into the way Americans used the term. He was not happy because he believed he used it correctly. He read me the sentence as he had written it and asked me what I thought. In some trepidation I replied, "I think I would have said it this way."
There's another funny example that is actually in the foreword to each book in the series that was recalled by Ralph Winter. I won't spoil it here. You have to get the books and read it for yourself.
WCL- Based on your interactions with him, is there anything you feel you learned from Tippett by observing how he lived his life? What motivated him specifically in the realm of cross-cultural missiology?
Doug Priest- This one is easy. Discipline. It seemed he never took time off. He was a real producer, as can be seen by his output. I'd take some classes from him in the morning, and then go work in his office till late afternoon. He'd be back in his office for the afternoon. Then I'd go home, and he and Edna would soon head off as well. The next morning he'd have me collate a paper he had finished in the evening. He was a very disciplined man. I do not know if they had a television in their home, but it they did, he sure did not spend a lot of time in front of it. I don't mean to say that he did not have hobbies. He was a naturalist and a stamp collector. He took on those hobbies with the same discipline as he put into his other work. I cannot imagine anybody, anywhere, calling Alan Tippett lazy.
WCL- Do you prefer handshakes or high fives? More importantly, did Tippett prefer handshakes or high fives?
Doug Priest- Since Tippett traveled extensively across many cultures, he may have happened upon a people that practiced high-fiving as a courtesy. He would have done that in those circumstances, I am sure. I never saw him high-five anybody. Maybe a low five if one of his daughters needed a bit of parental discipline.
WCL- What do you think Tippett felt was the biggest threat to the trajectory of missiology before he passed? What would he say to young missionaries today?
Doug Priest- The period of the 70s and the early 80s were in many respects the heyday of American missiology, if you are talking about the growth of programs and the rising numbers of students, textbooks, and conferences. Towards the end of the 80s the discipline was growing in terms of the number of international (non-American) students. Today, of course, a major emphasis in missions is short term missions. Many who participate in missions have no idea that there is something called missiology, and even if they did, would not avail themselves of the opportunities provided by the discipline because "who needs to take a course on mission history or strategy of mission or missionary anthropology when I am only going to be in Mexico for two weeks?" I think Alan would still be trying to help people understand that we are barely scratching the surface and our Lord demands and deserves better.
WCL- Anything else you wish to add?
Doug Priest- This past November I made it a point to visit the anthropology department at the University of Oregon where Alan got his Ph.D. (and where I took my undergraduate degree in anthropology). I was able to have a few minutes with one of the deputy heads of the department. I told her a bit about Alan and that he was probably one of the most published of any of the department's alumni. I left her with a copy of his autobiography, No Continuing City, being sure to say that he had mentioned his professors from the university, Barnett and Stern, in the book. She was grateful and said that she would see that the university library would get the entire Tippett series. She also invited me to let her know the next time I was in the Eugene area so that I could speak to the students and members of the department. That really made my day. Tippett tried so hard to make missionary anthropology acceptable to the anthropological community. I felt I was following in his footsteps, at least a little bit.
- Binding: Paperback
- Published: 2014
- Publisher: William Carey Library