World Christian Information: Public Freeway or Private Toll Road?

Article excerpt

"The assiduity of Mr. Edwards in exploring so many at sources of knowledge, enabled him to impart various instruction in a chaste, elegant style" (p. 25). So reads Edwards A. Park's tribute to Bela Bates Edwards (1802-52) given in June 1852 and reprinted in the October 1852 issue of Bibliotheca Sacra. Among Edwards's several publications was his 431-page tome The missionary gazetteer; comprising a geographical and statistical account of the various stations of the American and foreign Protestant missionary societies of all denominations, with their progress in evangelization and civilization, illustrated by engravings (Boston: William Hyde, 1832).

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This gazetteer relied heavily on several earlier compendia that were themselves influenced by a pioneering work by Hannah Adams (1755-1831): An alphabetical compendium of the various sects which have appeared in the world from the beginning of the Christian aera to the present day. With an appendix, containing a brief account of the different schemes of religion now embraced among mankind. The whole collected from the best authors, ancient and modern (Boston, 1784). The appendixes of the third American edition (1801) included "An Outline of Missionary Geography; or, a brief sketch of the state of religion throughout the world, with the means now using for its revival and propagation; and the present state of population in the different countries" and "A Missionary Table, containing a view of all the missionary stations in the heathen world, the number of missionaries in each, and all the societies by whom they are employed; also, a synopsis of Bible and school societies."

Atlases, dictionaries, and encyclopedias of mission and world Christianity have been mission studies staples ever since these early works. The 2010 centenary of the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference is an appropriate occasion to take stock of the current state of world Christianity and the new generation of reference tools that have emerged to track and analyze the movement. Accordingly, this issue of the IBMR carries reviews of a range of key reference tools, each groundbreaking in its own way, and each the fruit of decades of hard work by a laughably small team of dedicated and persistent scholars.

The latest of these is the extraordinary Atlas of Global Christianity, whose creation is chronicled in this issue by its editors, Todd Johnson and Kenneth Ross. A tantalizing sample of the Atlas's breathtaking scope and factual density is provided by Mssrs. Johnson, Barrett, and Crossing. Their eight-page survey serves as a kind of demographic odometer, showing us how far the world of Christianity has traveled in the century following the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. …