In 1996, Mathieu was part of the Youth for Christ movement as a member and shortly later as a leader. Youth for Christ relied on alumni in professional life for their preaching and teaching schedules.
Sometimes, those scheduled to preach or teach did not show up due to unforeseen situations at work. In many such instances, it was commonly admitted, “Mathieu will have to preach.” And so, in each case he improvised, and many thought that he was the one on schedule.
Likewise, in the renewal movement within the Methodist Church where Gnonhossou was being discipled, he had similar experiences of being called upon to teach or preach. One day, as he was walking home from school, Mathieu saw himself in a vision, in the midst of a crowd speaking and explaining and the crowd responding by moving their heads in agreement. Then, in 1997, as he was preparing to start a major at the university and praying with a few companions in faith, one of them spoke out saying that he could choose a major that goes into helping him teach and preach even better. The result of that conversation was a joyful redirection from pursuing Mathieu’s previous interests in Banking and Finance to Linguistics and Communication studies at the public university in Benin. He combined that study with a diploma in Biblical Knowledge from the Benin Bible Institute.
His journey towards a doctoral degree came about as he was seeking to sharpen his understanding in integrating psychological/therapeutic sciences and theology for the purpose of constructing a healthy pastoral theology that mixes discipleship and emotional health in the church. While he initially expressed interest in a few graduate courses for a certificate at Asbury Theological Seminary, a conversation with faculty opened the prospect of continuing his work on pastoral theology in a doctoral program. He finished the Doctor of Ministry with a focus on family and counseling ministries. A few of his professors who read his term papers spoke about his potential to contribute to knowledge. Mathieu shares, “One of my professors taught an anthropology course, a course throughout which he led devotional readings of Scripture with first century cultural insights. He was a close colleague of a respected New Testament scholar. Having read and written to the latter before meeting him in person at Asbury, I began integrating anthropological insights into biblical/theological effectiveness. That is how I began praying, thinking and writing a research proposal.” This New Testament scholar is a John Wesley Fellow. During Mathieu’s work on his master’s degree program, he selected him that JW Fellow as a contemporary theologian to write a term paper on his theological-exegetical method. Therefore, he approached this Fellow and was open to his PhD project.
Gnonhossou says, “I did not know about John Wesley Fellowship at the time. Although I did not end up studying under this John Wesley Fellow and did not even write in his immediate area of Biblical exegesis, his approach to Scripture and faith greatly influenced me to engaging social sciences in my scholarship. After I settled on doing a PhD, I learned about the John Wesley fellowship from one of my DMin professors who learned the topic I was interested in exploring for my PhD. Having revealed to me that he, too, was a Wesley Fellow, he added that my prospective PhD supervisor at the time was a John Wesley as well. It was then I really wanted to be part of that kind of Fellowship.”
Dr. Gnonhossou reflects, “To be a Wesleyan scholar is to be part of a theological fraternity in which one can be provoked to study diligently, to teach earnestly, and to live vital Christianity in and beyond western culture, in faithfulness to Christ. It is the possibility of renewing the part of Christianity broadly called Protestantism, without the narrow mindedness that shuts one’s spirit to other worldwide families of Christian faith and of humanity. This fraternity has led me to understand Christianity’s kaleidoscopic genesis, and in the process, to discover the ancient non-coerced African reception and defense of Christian faith. One of the many examples is that a Wesleyan scholar first gave me How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity and followed it with, ‘please, read and be inspired to lead into the future.’ Consequently, I am emboldened to contribute to a contemporary African Christian faith, again.”
Mathieu sees himself as one of the people God can use in the renewal of the Church, particularly in the area of thought leadership among clergy and laity, and in the area of organizational (re)ordering of the church, that results in lived discipleship. He has been involved in church renewal since high school in the Methodist Church of Benin. He is continuously involved in the renewal movement he helped start in Benin as well as serving as an affiliate professor in the emerging Wesleyan Missiology program in the School of Theology of Université Protestante de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. His calling to teach Theological Studies at Seattle Pacific University offers him a new window for contributing to church renewal in the Western hemisphere.
Mathieu enjoys the annual gatherings of the Fellowship and the opportunity of rest, refreshment, and stimulating scholarly conversations with his peers. Informal and formal conversations have contributed to his growth and scholarly pursuits. He remembers his first Christmas Conference, discovering that another New Testament scholar he had previously read was a John Wesley fellow. He has had rich conversations with Fellows whom he had studied before discovering that they were John Wesley Fellows. One example is Dr. Douglas Strong. Mathieu says, “I remember reading a chapter by him in Conversion in the Wesleyan Tradition. One thing that made me jump was reading that some early American Methodists held a view of “thorough conversion,” that called for a radical rejection of slavery coupled with a commitment to make abolition a reality, and a categorical rejection of racism. Then during a Christmas Conference, I met him face to face, and now I am serving at Seattle Pacific University with him.”
Mathieu is Professor of African Theology at Seattle Pacific University and is a specialist in Public Theology. Dr. Gnonhossou holds a Ph.D. in Public Theology from The University of Manchester in Manchester, England as well as a Doctor of Ministry in Family and Counseling from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He also holds a Master of Arts in Intercultural Mission from Fresno Pacific University Biblical Seminary and a Master of Arts in Linguistics and Communication Science from Universite d’Abomey-Calavi in Abomey-Calavi, Benin. Dr. Gnonhossou is passionate about reaching those serving in various African ministries and contexts both in and outside of Africa.
Dr. Gnonhossou and his wife live in Seattle, Washington.