Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mythology and Missiology: A Methodological Approach to the Pre-Victorian Mission of the Serampore Trio

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mythology and Missiology: A Methodological Approach to the Pre-Victorian Mission of the Serampore Trio

Article excerpt

Church in the Four Provinces. London [reissued in 1965].

----- 1927. The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hinder It. London: World Dominion Press [reissued in 1960].

[Anon.] 1805. The College of Fort William in Bengal. London.

Beck, James R. 1992. Dorothy Carey. The Tragic and Untold Story of Mrs William Carey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Brackney, William H. 1992. "The Baptist Missionary Society in Proper Context: Some Reflections on the Larger Voluntary Religious Tradition." Baptist Introduction

The bicentenary of William Carey's arrival in India (1793) was an important occasion for taking the measure of some unusual missionary achievements and for forging a profound contextual understanding of the Serampore Mission. This essay reflects on what it took to launch and then sustain that riverine venture in Bengal (1800-1837). Some important facts and processes are uncovered that have been all too "conveniently" disregarded hitherto. Thus my call for a multi-disciplinary missiological inquiry that will transcend the limitations of past publications, received traditions, treasured symbolism and the myth-like misunderstandings that have held the field since the 1800s.

Since the 1960s, several fine historical works have been published on the background and various elements of the pre-Victorian Baptist enterprise in Bengal. These have paved the way for a new era of historiography on William Carey and the mission at Serampore, upriver from Calcutta. In spite of this, many mission and church historians, have been prone to assume that the story of "the Serampore Trio" can be taken as "given," as if some definitive work on Carey and his colleagues had already been written.

Unfortunately, very few scholars have made it their business to assess whether any of the biographies published during the last fifty years have advanced our knowledge much beyond the findings of S.P. Carey (1923 and 1934). Far too often, popular publications have done little more than re-cycle received tradition -- even "pleasing dreams" -- and no effort has been made to distinguish between "the Carey of tradition" and "the historical Carey."(2) This is to be regretted because it diverts our attention away from the means that are available for more clearly perceiving the structure and dynamics of an unusual turning point in the history of the worldwide Christian movement.

In what follows, I propose to provide some leads and examples, and refer to some pregnant sources, which point to ways by which new light can be shed on the Baptist mission in pre-Victorian Bengal.(3) These need to be pursued in a spirit of biblical realism and in the interest of deeper missiological understanding.

Missiologicai methodology

It is well known that Christians tend to take history seriously, given the supreme revelation of God in Christ 2,000 years ago. William Carey and his colleagues certainly did. In honour of them, we do well to re-examine the foundations of what we believe about their lives and achievements. We do well to ponder whether our understanding of "the Serampore mission" is based mostly on the contents of popular biographies about William Carey and his company, or on more substantial, deep-hewn foundations. In other words, we want to beware of imaginary idealizations, distorted representations and unverifiable interpretations of the past.(4) The challenge is to recognize that the cross-cultural history of the Serampore mission was far more complicated than we have been led to suppose. The time for a full-orbed missiological, multi-disciplinary analysis of the work of the renowned trio -- William Carey, William Ward and Joshua Marshman -- has come.

Sober inquiry into multiple contexts

When taking the measure of William Carey and his Serampore partners, one does well to highlight the spirit of sober modesty with which they assessed their achievements during their sojourn in India (Smith 1992a:2,7). …

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