The Imperial Horizons of British Protestant Missions, 1880-1914

By Gay, John | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Imperial Horizons of British Protestant Missions, 1880-1914


Gay, John, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


The Imperial Horizons of British Protestant Missions, 1880-1914. Edited by Andrew Porter. Studies in the History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003. Pp. xiii, 250. $45.00 paper.

This volume consists of "a substantial and revised selection of the papers originally offered" at an international consultation held at Westminster College, Cambridge, in April 1998. The North Atlantic Missiology Project, established by the Pew Charitable Trusts of Philadelphia in 1996, was set up to "elucidate the connections between theory and experience in Protestant overseas missions in the period from 1740 to 1986" (p. vii).

Following an introduction by Andrew Porter, the book opens with a paper by D. W. Bebbington, highlighting the complex debate between imperialist aggression and Christian conscience. He shows how evangelical Christians shifted from diffidence toward British imperial ambitions to enthusiasm, as they studied the implications of "wrongs within the British Empire, evils bound up with its extension, and forms of wickedness practiced beyond its bounds" (p. 22).

Steven Maugham explores Bishop Henry Hutchinson Montgomery's vision of how church and state might find unity in worldwide evangelism. Montgomery's quest failed basically because of the divisive and essentially domestic concerns of British Anglicans.

Brian Stanley explores the political implications of mission as debated in the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh in 1910. The discussion was dominated by such international statesmen as Admiral A. T. Mahan, notorious for his vision of the importance of naval warfare, rather than by missionaries. Almost no attention was paid to the excesses of imperial power, as in the Congo; instead, the dominant emphasis was on the "civilizing imperative" (p. 81).

Andrew C. Ross argues that racism crept into the missionary mindset, due to a misinterpretation of Darwin and to ever-closer collaboration between missionaries and colonial officials. It was only in the latter half of the twentieth century that the vision of a few egalitarian nineteenth-century missionaries and early African church leaders was finally found acceptable.

John M. MacKenzie studies the relation between applied science and faith, concentrating on science and technology as Western phenomena. This is doubtless because the missionaries he studied, with the exception of David Livingstone, also did not try to understand the science and technology already known and practiced by the peoples they were trying to "civilize."

Deborah Gaitskell discusses the role of women missionaries, particularly in southern Africa. She traces the shift from women serving primarily as wives and mothers to their taking an active lead in teaching local women. She sees women as advocates of Western culture almost more than as witnesses to Christ.

Chandra Mallampalli discusses the influence of missions on nationalism in India. He shows how the Hindu nationalists applied the Christian idea of "religion" to what had previously been a way of life rather than a formal system. Some missionaries rejoiced at their being midwives at the creation of a religion that would soon give way to the fuller Christian faith, while others turned to evangelism among the poorer castes. …

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