Archive for the ‘Edinburgh 2010’ category

Unintended consequences

June 3, 2010

The one phrase I will take with me from this morning’s opening plenary of the Edinburgh 2010 Mission Conference is ‘unintended consequences’. Dana Roberts challenged delegates to take a long view of mission and to consider the unintended consequences following the Edinburgh 1910 World Mission Conference. She outlined these as the destruction of the churches of the near east, the suppression of the Orthodox churches in Soviet Russia, the growth of the Churches in Africa and Latin America, the  decline of the churches in Europe in the face of overwhelming secularism and indifference.

In his reply, Bertil Ekstrom, Executive Director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Mission Commission, replied that in the face of such decline, the churches of Europe had to face honestly the need for repentance and a renewed commitment in their witness to Christ today. That’s certainly the case but I was interested in what the possible unintended consequences over the next century are likely to be.

Chatting with my neighbour after the presentation we were talking about the emerging forms of evangelicalism that are developing in parallel to the historic denominations. That’s a challenge for traditional mission agencies which in many instances look to particular evangelical champions who, in several instances, are quite critical of the emerging streams. How can mission agencies work with and draw upon the missional energy and vision of emerging churches and streams in a way that makes the best possible use of partnerships?

If the next century is to be a post-denominational future (and that’s a big ‘if’) then one unintended consequence of the missionary endeavour might be that traditional mission agencies fail to make the connect with these streams and movements and become a mere missiological sideshow. Direct church to church partnerships within Europe are increasingly common. Basic cross-cultural mistakes will be made. Individuals and agencies involved in cross-cultural preparation within the existing structures of mission agencies may increasingly need to take account of how to work at the church-to-church level.

There will be many more unintended (and unforeseen) consequences of mission passion and vision. God, in the name of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, remains able to prompt and lead in such a way that we can sometimes be a part of the ‘new things’ that God is doing. Our task remains one of listening prophetically, speaking boldly, and acting in humility.

Edinburgh 2010: Continuing before beginning

June 2, 2010

The legacy of Edinburgh 1910 was, among other things, the establishment of a continuation committee. Out of its activity sprang, as just one example, the International Review of Mission, still widely read and consulted today by students of mission. Informal conversations with delegates here have already raised the question of ‘What next?’ It might seem a bit premature to be thinking about this even before registrations for the 2010 conference have opened, but it seems that the mood may well turn towards the best way of dealing with the differences that still exist among delegates and the Christian traditions they represent.

I suspect that Edinburgh 2010 will be far from the mythical ‘cosy ecumenism’ that critics like to believe exists. I hope we will allow our differences to show, will acknowledge them with honesty, and pray for a future together that will not allow simplistic harmonising ‘Statements’ to obscure the important and necessary work of  developing ways of living and witnessing together that are faithful to Christ and his church.

Within Europe it is possible to point to many ways in which joint witness has enriched the witnesses and equally many areas in which co-operation in mission has struggled to produce any meaningful fruit. Speakers and delegates here in Edinburgh are likely to reflect together on what we can learn from both success and failure. If Europeans are to be more effectively ‘introduced to Christ’ in a non-partisan or non-nationalistic fashion,  ‘introduced to our Christ’, then churches are going to have to begin the painful task of finding ways of co-operating in mission.

What has to live beyond June 6th 2010? In reality I’m not sure, but the mission legacy of Edinburgh 1910 deserves more respect than the prospect of multiple celebrations, even more than the current two or three main alternatives, in the year 2110. Many delegates here in Edinburgh will be making the journey to Cape Town later in the year for the Lausanne meetings. At the very least it ought to be possible for national European reviews following both events to be joint reviews, drawing on delegates who have attended both events. That may not quite be a strategy for a continuation committee, but it would be a good way to start.

Welcome to Edinburgh 2010!

June 1, 2010

I’m imagining that the regular passengers getting off the train this afternoon in Waverley station exhibited a greater degree of ethnic diversity than did the delegates to the world mission conference of Edinburgh 1910. The arrival of the ‘great and the good’ of the global mission community arriving in Edinburgh this week will certainly bring diversity and colour to this week’s World Mission Conference meeting at the Pollock Halls of the University of Edinburgh.

But, the welcome’s not been all that it should have been. One of the contributor’s to the Study Theme I will moderate (‘Mission and Unity: Mission and Ecclesiology’) was refused a visa by the British Consulate in Kinshasa. He had been officially invited, was a listed contributor, is a theological educator, and a member of Roman Catholic missionary order. he was denied the visa because he couldn’t show that he had enough funds in a bank account for the duration of his stay. Apparently, British authorities now expect visiting members of religious orders who have taken a vow of chastity and poverty to have a bank account (and a stock of condoms?) just in case!  This despite the fact that the conference organisers had guaranteed all expenses whilst he would be in Scotland.

The first welcome I got was from a Hungarian colleague, already installed in his ‘student apartment’ (students have it a lot easier than I did when I was an undergraduate!). He texted me whilst I was still on the train from Gloucester. He’s a pretty nifty mission historian and will be here, doubtless reflecting on the failure of the conference in 1910 to consider Europe a mission field. Thankfully we don’t need anybody’s permission to discuss it in those terms here in 2010 – I suspect that Archbishop Rowan’s probably a bit grateful for the help that the Church of England receives from its ecumenical sisters and brothers.

So, Europe is officially on the mission map (see the excellent Atlas of World Christianity) and missionaries are most welcome here! Can somebody now please bring the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office up to date?

One World, One Mission… is not enough

May 4, 2010

With its theme of ‘One World, One Mission’ the recent 2010 British Baptist Assembly offered vibrant and truly inspiring moments in the main venue, Prism venue, and seminar venues. I hope regular readers will forgive my referring to my own church family but I think that our own short-sightedness and amnesia are shared by other church and Christian traditions in terms of our commitment to mission in Europe.

One glaring omission seems to have bypassed the Assembly programme committee and it points to a serious malaise that is characteristic of too many Christian communities, confessions, and denominations in Europe. Why was there no reference, given the theme, to either of the two major World mission conferences about to take place in 2010? The Lausanne III event in Cape Town will even offer a chance for revisiting the theme of ‘The whole church taking the whole Gospel to the whole world’. There’s more than a little overlap with the Assembly theme: yet there was a complete absence of discussion of either Cape Town or of the Edinburgh 2010 conference taking place in a little over four weeks.

All the more amazing that both events will commemorate the 1910 World Mission Conference, a conference for which William Carey had fervently dreamed of nearly a century earlier and – oh yes – Carey founded the Baptist Missionary Society! It was the Edinburgh 1910 Conference that launched the contemporary ecumenical movement and which continues to inspire the evangelical Lausanne movement.

British Baptists will be present at both the Edinburgh 2010 and the Cape Town 2010 Conferences and the lack of mention, presentation, discussion, or debate at the annual Assembly leaves them ill-prepared to adequately represent the views of Baptists at either of the Mission Conferences. The omission represents a missed opportunity and has, I fear, not served well our sisters and brothers who will speak as Baptists in either place.

It’s also disappointing because the theme of ‘One World, One Mission’ can only take us so far. It is vital that British Baptists consider the part they play in taking the whole gospel to the whole world alongside other labourers in the harvest. These may be Baptists from other countries (and BMS World Mission reflects this reality well) but they will also be Christians from other parts of the worldwide church. There is a worldwide church but Baptists are not it, merely an essential part of it. If we truly proclaim one mission then we have to take this reality utterly seriously.

Oh yes, and if you’re not Baptist, try inserting your denominational name into the appropriate gaps. I suspect that too many denominations are still struggling to come to terms with the nature of contemporary mission in Europe – that it is from everywhere to everywhere and gloriously diverse.

One world, one mission, one church under Christ.

Europe: culturally captive and a mission field

April 16, 2010

Just a century ago, Europe was not seen by everybody as a mission field. The Edinburgh 1910 World Mission Conference published a World Atlas portraying mission stations geographically. Within Europe, only missionary work among the Jews was mapped. This reflected the dominance of the Anglican Churches which insisted that Europe was not to be considered a mission field due to the presence there of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Europe and North America were described as mission fields at the Tambaram meetings of the 3rd World Mission Conference of the International Missionary Council in 1938. Europe was gradually being toppled from its throne as ‘top Christian continent’. With it would go view that the Christian Gospel was synonymous with the advance of Western civilisation and universal norms although the links were still being argued well into the 1950s.

At the World Mission Conference held in Bangkok, 1972, the cultural superiority and dominance of western Christianity was categorically proclaimed. By the 1996 World Mission Conference of the WCC in Salvador de Bahia saw acclaimed missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin, pointedly ask how the western churches which proposed to evangelise the whole world in one generation could be saved from their own cultural captivity.’ Salvador’s acceptance of cultural diversity and plurality within global Christianity marked the end of Eurocentric forms of thinking within ecumenical missiology.

It seems obvious now that Europe is a mission field. Surveys, anecdotes, the popular media, and our own daily encounters, together paint a picture of a continent populated to a very large extend by practical secularists. The churches haven’t quite managed to shake off these tendencies either.

Despite this, the New Testament doesn’t seem to allow us to retreat into pessimism, insisting that the light of Christ always shines in the darkness (Jn 1:5). If Europe is truly the ‘Dark Continent’ (and personally I don’t find this kind of language helpful) then we would expect to find the light of Christ shining in it – even to the extent that it is not overwhelmed by the darkness.

It’s true that European theology is not universal theology. That can be hard at times for evangelicals who have struggled to come to terms with the churches of the global south who have argued that social justice should be seen as a constituent part of the Gospel. It has also been equally challenging for enlightenment evangelicals to accommodate the world-view of the global south that has little difficulty in making room for spirits, demons, and the so-called ‘supernatural’. The consequent emphasis on exorcism, spiritual warfare, and other forms of spirit activity has not always been widely welcomed by western evangelicals who function as practical materialists in this sense.

Despite this, the de-throning of European theology has been accompanied by a growing awareness of the reductionist character of western evangelicalism’s dogmas and an accompanying appreciation of the contribution of global missiology to our own limited understandings and practice of mission.

Comments welcome!