The Role of the American Board in the World: Bicentennial Reflections on the Organization's Missionary Work, 1810-2010

By Witmer, Andrew | International Bulletin of Mission Research, October 2012 | Go to article overview

The Role of the American Board in the World: Bicentennial Reflections on the Organization's Missionary Work, 1810-2010


Witmer, Andrew, International Bulletin of Mission Research


The Role of the American Board in the World: Bicentennial Reflections on the Organization's Missionary Work, 1810-2010.

Edited by Clifford Putney and Paul T. Burlin. Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2012. Pp. xxx, 349. Paperback $42.

The Role of the American Board in the World contains fifteen essays, half of them written for a conference hosted by the Congregational Library in Boston on the 200th anniversary of the founding of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM).

As coeditor Clifford Putney notes in his helpful introduction, the ABCFM was the first American organization to sponsor overseas missions and the largest American foreign missions organization of the 1800s. Its goals and strategies deeply influenced the modern missionary movement. Between its formation by Congregationalists in 1810 and its integration into the missionary arm of the United Church of Christ in 1961, the ABCFM sent to the field nearly 5,000 missionaries (p. xv).

The essays in this book concentrate on the ABCFM's first century or so of existence and, with only a few exceptions, its efforts in Asia and Hawaii. Many chapters expose internal disagreements, most significantly over the balance between evangelism and other activities. By the early 1900s, the ABCFM had rejected its initial emphasis on preaching and was prioritizing what Sharon Taylor calls "cultural redemption" through education and medicine (p. 24). The shift is memorably depicted in Alice Hunsberger's examination of changes across three generations of an ABCFM family in India. …

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