Edinburgh 2010: Mission Then and Now
by David A. Kerr and Kenneth R. Ross, eds.
Twelve hundred delegates from 170 mission agencies and denominations came together to study the preparatory reports of eight commissions. Edinburgh 2010: Mission Then and Now is structured around the reports of the eight commissions:
Oxford, Regnum Books International, P.O. Box 70, Oxford, OX2 6HB, U.K., 2009, 343 pages, 34.99 Euro.
—Reviewed by Dr. Paul E. Pierson, dean emeritus of the School of Intercultural Studies and senior professor of history in mission at Fuller Theological Seminary; former Presbyterian missionary in Brazil and Portugal, first as a church planter, then in theological education.
The Edinburgh Conference of 1910 was called “the most notable gathering in the interest of the worldwide expansion of Christianity ever held.” Other conferences promoting missionary cooperation had been held previously, but Edinburgh surpassed them. Twelve hundred delegates from 170 mission agencies and denominations came together to study the preparatory reports of eight commissions. Its goal was to promote the cooperative study of the outstanding problems in the missionary enterprise with the goal of helping to solve them and achieve the evangelization of the world. The conference was a major factor in the emergence of the twentieth century ecumenical movement. The International Missionary Council was a direct result of the conference, and its imperative toward cooperation was important in leading to the formation of the World Council of Churches.
Edinburgh 2010: Mission Then and Now is structured around the reports of the eight commissions: (1) carrying the gospel to the all the non-Christian world, (2) the church in the mission field, (3) education in relation to the Christianization of national life, (4) the missionary message in relation to non-Christian religions, (5) the preparation of missionaries, (6) the home base of missions, (7) the relation of missions to government, and (8) cooperation and the promotion of unity. A degree of unity was achieved in that “low-church missions” were included along with Anglo-Catholics. But the cost was great. Protestant missions to Latin America were excluded, except for those focused on indigenous peoples. A second result was that theological issues were not on the agenda. A theological consensus was assumed that, if it did exist, was already beginning to disintegrate. The colonial context—the assumption that mission went from the “Christian” to the non-Christian parts of the world, that Western culture was superior to others, and the nearly complete absence of Christian leaders from Asia and none from Africa—led to a failure to address issues that we know to be essential today. The various authors, mostly from Majority World nations, make valid criticisms of the conference on these and other points.
The Church and the world have changed in ways Edinburgh could never have imagined. The “Christian“ heartland as it was understood in 1910 now finds a Church struggling for existence, while the center of the Church (and indeed the missionary movement) has shifted to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Today, the Lausanne Movement sees itself as the successor of Edinburgh 1910, while the members of the World Council of Churches, including the International Missionary Council, which merged with the WCC in 1961, have witnessed a precipitous decline in their missionary effort. Except for the chapter by Rosemary Dowsett, the book fails to address this critical issue. Unity was to be for the sake of mission, but (in my judgment) because of theological and structural erosion, the modern ecumenical movement seems to have turned its back on the historical understanding of mission. That said, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to look back at Edinburgh in light of today’s missiological issues.
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