Missions or Mission? the IRM after 75 Years

Article excerpt

Abstract

In 1987, the 75th anniversary issue of IRM reviewed a large number of articles that had been published in the journal over the years. The overall development was a shift from "missions," as the work of missionaries from the West to the rest of the world, to a focus on "mission," as that to which all Christians throughout the world are called. The author here raises up emphases from other articles that also could have been included in the 1987 review, because of their implications for future developments. He also points to important trends that have become far more evident since then, such as the growth of churches in the global South and diaspora Christians from these countries who now reside in the North. These may frame the ecumenical challenge for this century.

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"Celebrating 75 years" is the title of the 302nd issue of the International Review of Mission, which was published in April 1987. In this celebratory issue, there was one major article by Philip Potter, "From Missions to Mission," who had been the IRM editor in 1969 when the scope of the journal changed. The change in the journal's tide, he declared, "was the logic of all that had happened since the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 1910 and of the high and honest thinking that had found expression in this Review." (1) To take the story back to Edinburgh 1910 implies that "from mission to missions" encapsulates the whole history of mission during the first 75 years of the IRM. Potter finds the germ of this development in the very first issue of IRM, where its first editor, J H Oldham, declares that the task of evangelising the non-Christian world is intimately related to that of meeting the "unbelief and intellectual perplexity" so evident in what could then still be called the Christian world. (2) Potter concludes:

   the story of [the] change from "missions," the concept of organized
   missionary work from western Christendom to what were called the
   non-Christian countries, to "mission" as the inescapable task of
   the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, through its members
   individually and corporately, wherever they may be located
   geographically, is the story of this first and now longest existing
   ecumenical journal. (3)

The greater part of the issue is given to reviewing many articles or extracts of articles published in the IRM between 1912 and 1984. As to how these were selected, the editor Eugene Stockwell replies, "We suggest you not worry about that question, but instead sit back and enjoy the wisdom provided," adding perhaps with the question what these writings may teach us today." (4)

The third celebratory part of this issue is a set of photographs and biographical notes on the distinguished roster of editors and assistant editors, an eloquent photographic illustration of the meeting of the International Missionary Council at Crans in 1920, and reproductions of some of the advertisements from former issues. These range from pith helmets, tropical underwear, hospital beds, and marble memorial tablets, to a nine-month graded course in medicine and surgery. The issue also includes the usual documentation on consultations, book reviews and bibliography.

What was and was not reviewed in 1987

In this 1987 "review of the Review" what were seen as the most significant aspects of mission? The selection does not presume to cover all the years; there are several notable gaps, one of them for the eleven years between 1943 and 1954. From the beginning there are many prominent contributors, such as Oldham and Mott, William Paton and Roland Allen, Kenneth Scott Latourette and Pearl S Buck, Brunner and Kraemer. The first from outside Europe and North America is a brief Japanese meditation on the Christian message by D. Tagawa in 1928, (5) and then an article by D. T. Niles on resurgent Buddhism in Ceylon in 1943 (6). The year 1969 brings a turning point with an article by Daisuke Kitagawa. …