Meet Pierce Beaver

imagesI was going to post today about Mark Driscoll and his recently surfaced diatribes about women, but, frankly, my heart can’t take it. So I’ll save the Driscoll post for next Monday, when my rant will be a bit more (but only a bit more)…tempered. In the meantime, if you want a take on Driscoll’s latest shenanigans, let me send you to Rachel Held Evans here. For today, enough about Mark Driscoll…

Instead, allow me to introduce you to F. Pierce Beaver. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually associate “prophet” with “professor.” I mean, for me professor conjures images of leather briefcases, slightly boring lectures, tweed sports coats, and perhaps a pipe.

Prophets, on the other hand, are sometimes cranky, often loud and always provocative. And, in my mind, they don’t seek tenure, publish research or attend symposiums (unless it’s to rant and rave).

And so this is the thing that in my mind made Pierce Beaver unique.

He was both. Prophet and professor.

I was first introduced to Beaver in a journal article celebrating the 40th anniversary of the American Society of Missiology. One glance at the following quote, and I knew I had a new friend, and, more than that, I had my new mission statement:

“The missiologist is called to be the pioneer and to blaze the trail. The missionary will not escape from his (or her) uncertainty until the missiologist points the way, and the church will not move ahead in mission unless the missiologist sounds a ‘prophetic call.'”

See? Professor and prophet.

Dr. Beaver had a distinguished academic career. Beaver did his graduate studies at Cornell, gaining a Ph.D. in history. Next, after several pastoral assignments, along with a short stint as a missionary in China, Beaver spent 7 years as the leader of the Missionary Research Library in New York City before settling in as a professor at the University of Chicago, a post he held from 1955 until his retirement in 1973.

All in all, in the words of one of his former students, Beaver was “a modest, intellectually meticulous, warmly hospitable, academically demanding, genuinely spiritual man” whose primary concern was the advancement of the church’s mission in the world.

And, of course, as an academic, Dr. Beaver wrote a few books. Most notably, for this blog, in 1968 Dr. Beaver published a book entitled All Loves Excelling.

All Loves Excelling chronicles the remarkable story of the rise of the women’s missions movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. According to Beaver, the movement was sacrificial in nature, empowered by a high degree of zeal and conviction, able to persevere through misogynistic pushback and successful in producing funding, a paradigm for single, unmarried women serving in the missions field, and an awareness about the global plight of women and children.


But maybe the most compelling thing about All Loves Excelling are the names. Page after page of names. Names of previously anonymous women who sacrificed everything to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. Names of women who pushed through the patriarchy of their day to push open doors to create a channel for women to serve alongside men in the work of mission.

As we know, when you remember someone’s name you honor them.

And, in All Loves Excelling, Beaver certainly did that.

In the end, I’m not sure what I love more about F. Pierce Beaver and All Loves Excelling. On one hand, there’s the content. Who doesn’t love a collection of missionary stories and testimonies, particularly ones you’ve never heard before?

But the other thing I love is that Beaver wrote it at all. You see, here was one of the world’s foremost missiologists collecting and codifying the stories of obscure, long-deceased missionary women. At another level, here was a male scholar diving into a topic that few others did or presumably would.

So, sign me up. As a man following Jesus and thinking about my male privilege, I want to be less like Driscoll.

And more like F. Pierce Beaver.

2 responses to “Meet Pierce Beaver”

  1. Una says :

    You convinced me. I just bought the book! Thanks for the recommendation and for NOT talking about whats-his-head.

  2. rdixon1365 says :

    Nice Una! But you could have borrowed my copy! Let me know what you think when you’re done. Perhaps we need a plenary at Urbana on the history of missions, with a balanced selection of stories?!?

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