Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Church Mission Society and World Christianity, 1799-1999

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Church Mission Society and World Christianity, 1799-1999

Article excerpt

The Church Mission Society and World Christianity, 1799-1999. Edited by Kevin Ward and Brian Stanley. Studies in the History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000. xiii + 382 pp. illus. $45.00 (cloth).

Skilled history complicates things and, at its most interesting, complicates them against the grain of our current biases. Published to mark the bicentenary of the Church Mission Society, this collection of essays explores aspects of the Society's history as well as focusing on geographical spheres to which it has contributed missionaries. The achievement, for which gratitude is well deserved, is twofold. At a time when Christian missions, particularly those of the nineteenth century, are robustly condemned, this book offers subtle and nuanced readings of their ambiguous history. Missionary thinking and practice fostered dependency and reflected the convictions of superiority; it also disputed such dependency, showed cultural humility, and articulated a radical vision for indigenous forms of Christianity. In addition to tumbling our easy condemnations, these essays provide resources for students and teachers interested in a more global, less Eurocentric understanding of Christian history.

The Church Missionary Society, as it was known prior to 1995, received its first major history in Eugene Stock's three volumes, published in 1899. During the 1960s, Gordon Hewitt completed a second official history, taking the story of CMS up to 1942. Whilst Hewitt's work was much less celebratory, both were institutional histories told from one author's perspective. Although collections of essays risk a lack of coherence, The Church Mission Society and World Christianity exploits the genre to considerable advantage, responding to the contemporary situation in a way very difficult for a single author. The varied contributions enact a truth about missionary history: that mission always involved a plurality of perspectives, initiatives, visions, and practices, clashing and collaborating in multiple tensions. …

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