Academic journal article International Review of Mission

From 1910 to 2010: A Post Edinburgh 2010 Reflection

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

From 1910 to 2010: A Post Edinburgh 2010 Reflection

Article excerpt

Relevance of Edinburgh 1910

The 1910 conference in brief

The world missionary conference held from 14 to 23 June 1910 in Edinburgh, Scotland, assembled leaders and representatives of missionary societies based in Europe and North America, as well as missionaries active in the so-called "mission fields". The number of delegates of each society had been attributed according to the importance of the budget dedicated to foreign mission. There were 1,215 official delegates, of which 207 were women (17 percent). Of the 1,215, only 19 came from what we would today call the global South, most of them from Asia. Only one participant came from Africa and none from Latin America. (2)

The conference had been carefully prepared, with the publication prior to the conference of eight reports of commissions that had worked on the basis of correspondence with missionaries and mission leaders in mission. I want in the beginning of this presentation to state my admiration for the excellence of the work both in organization, political negotiation and study done prior to, at and after the Edinburgh conference. I am amazed at what was possible within a few years under the conditions of that time. Although I will, as many others have done, commit the sin of simplification, I must admit that the reports and discussions testify to a much more subtle missiological reflection than is usually summarized. Although the overall world view seems unacceptable today, many contributions show really profound theological perception and missiological sensitivity.

When addressing the question of the relevance of the 1910 conference, we must first remember that it had not been planned as a missiological conference. Dogmatic issues on which contradictory debates could be expected had been excluded from the agenda, in particular all matters related to ecclesiology. The conference was primarily concerned with practical and strategy questions, but one can estimate that some key themes highlighted in 1910 did bear consequences for the development of 20th-century missiology.

Mission general

We must acknowledge important differences between the theology and context of 1910 and those of today. We must not continue to interpret mission in terms of military conquest of the pagan rest by the Christian West. The evangelistic enthusiasm of many attendees of Edinburgh 1910 bore the mark of the technical and civilizational optimism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, linked to and justifying the colonial enterprise. Although the famous watchword "evangelize the world in this generation" had been coined by the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions and was not the official Edinburgh theme, it reflected well the mood of the conference. There was even a kind of "apocalyptic" expectation of the near end, as can be illustrated by the references both in the opening speech of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as the closing address by John Mott, that some of the attendees might not die until He comes back. (3)

The selection of issues by the organizing committee was significant, however, and, in my view, influential for the developments in the last century. In addition to the matters specifically related to the sending of missionaries from the home bases to the mission fields, we can list the following themes as relevant for the development of contemporary missiology:

Evangelism (commission I)

Church in developing countries (commission II)

Education (III)

Christian faith and other religions (IV)

Church and state (VII)

Cooperation and unity (VIII).

Since I have to limit my reflections, I will not go into details on all matters. Let me just point to the continuous importance of education and theological formation throughout the last decades, influencing the quality of witness and of ministry in and by the churches. In the 1950s the International Missionary Council (IMC) launched the Theological Education Fund (TEF), which later was integrated into programmes of the World Council of Churches (WCC). …

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