Nothing but Christ: Rufus Anderson and the Ideology of Protestant Foreign Missions

By Paul William Harris | Go to book overview

1
RUFUS ANDERSON AND
THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF MISSIONS

For I determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2

Those words of the Apostle Paul could have served as the watchword of midnineteenth-century American Protestant missionaries, much as “the evangelization of the world in this generation” rallied missionaries of a later era. The verse seemed to capture the simplicity of apostolic missionary methods and thus served as the theological basis for policies designed to promote a similar economy in modern missions. To preach the gospel pure and simple became the ideal of missionary practice, which resulted in relegating schools and the press (and medical work to the extent that it was regarded as a distinct department) to a subordinate place. Those priorities were also justified by rejecting the theory that “civilization must precede Christianization” in the conversion of “heathen” nations. Flushed with the success of evangelical revivals during the Second Great Awakening, mid-nineteenth-century Protestants proclaimed their confidence in the ability of the Holy Spirit to convert sinners without elaborate preparatory measures. Yet despite the general consensus that preaching was the “grand instrumentality” in missions, considerable disagreement existed over the practical implications of that ideal.

At the center of those controversies was Rufus Anderson, who did more than anyone else to articulate this theory of missions and translate it into practice. As a corresponding secretary with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A. B. C. F. M. ) from 1832 until 1866, Anderson

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