Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Missiology and the IRM over a Century

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Missiology and the IRM over a Century

Article excerpt


Since its founding a century ago, the IRM has sought to advance learning about mission strategy, methods of evangelization and mission theology. How the journal has affected the development of the field of missiology is the particular focus here, through a survey of exceptional articles. Three phases are identified: a first period when the journal closely reflected the outlook of the World Missionary Conference (Edinburgh 1910), but also began to innovate; a middle period of transitions; and the more recent period when issues of interfaith dialogue, religious pluralism, contextualization, and ecumenical relations have been prominent in the journal.


My intention in this article is to look back over the first one hundred years of the International Review of Mission and to consider how the journal has contributed to the development of missiology as a scholarly field of study. This is one way to celebrate the rich legacy of the IRM, which was founded in part to spur research on mission. Earlier, I wrote about the bibliography feature of the journal and its relationship to the conceptualization of missiology. (1) Here I focus on exceptional articles and editorials that in retrospect seem to have shaped decisively how mission is viewed and the methods used to study mission.

To give some structure to this survey, I will recognize three distinctive but not entirely separate phases in the life of the IRM: its establishment under the direct guidance of J. H. Oldham (1912-1928), the next forty-plus years that concluded with the editorship of Philip Potter (1967-1972), and then, various developments since the early 1970s.

The years 1912-1928

In a set of "editor's notes" with which the first issue of the journal began, J. H. Oldham outlined the leading objectives of the IRM. "The primary purpose of the Review," he wrote, "is to further the serious study of the facts and problems of missionary work among non-Christian peoples, and to contribute to the building up of a science of missions." (2) In the same essay, Oldham emphasized the analytical character of the creative enterprise he now headed: "the Review will be more than a collection of individual papers; it will be the organ of a comprehensive, systematic, and united effort to study missionary problems." (3) The collaborative aspect of the project Oldham described was repeatedly emphasized in his editorial comments. The journal's writers and readers would be "learning from the past and from one another." (4) "It will be our aim to supplement, and in every possible way to co-operate with, all good work that is being carried on at present." (5) The review would seek to "promote Christian fellowship and foster the spirit of readiness to learn from one another." (6) This was not study for its own sake. Oldham recognized that the journal needed to serve the research needs of current and future missionaries, in order to be considered successful by its contemporary readership. Thus, he proposed further that the IRM would "study and sift the vast body of experience that has been accumulated in different mission fields, and make it available for the direction of present work; to aim at reaching large guiding principles, based on a thorough and fearless examination of the facts; and to test all methods with a view to securing the highest efficiency." (7)

Brian Stanley's article elsewhere in this issue explores the origins of the IRA/and discusses several ways in which the concerns and outlook of Edinburgh 1910 shaped the journal in its early years. Stanley rightly calls attention to important articles in the first volume of the IRM from Tasuku Harada and Ch'eng Ching-yi, each of whom had spoken memorably at the conference. Subsequent issues would showcase the views of other emerging leaders of a worldwide Christian movement, including Chengting T. Wang (vol. 5) and Timothy Tingfang Lew (vol. 11). Lew's article is a particularly fascinating study of missionary and indigenous worker psychology. …

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