What happened at The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910 (A book review)

I recently read Brian Stanley’s new book “The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910 (Studies in the History of Christian Missions).”

I read this book wondering what may have been learned among Protestant church mission leaders during the 20th century. My biggest question as I read this book: DID THIS EVENT “ENLARGE THE STORY”? In other words, was the presence of “younger churches” heard? Brian Stanley has provided a thorough and useful study, a snap shot of the state of Christian Missions at the height of Western Christendom.

Probably the most important appeal made at the conference was that the “individualistic view of the missionary task must now be ‘entirely abandoned’.” (p.133)

I have selected some excerpts for those interested in what happened at that event.

p. 4 – “…however vibrant the state of missionary passion among the evangelical public may have been in 1910, the intended appeal of the conference was not to the popular Christian imagination so much as to the concentrated attention of serious Christian minds. “A Grand Council for the Advancement of Missionary Science.”

p. 16 – Two intermingled voices of the conference:

The first and most audible – boundless optimism and unsullied confidence in the ideological and financial powers of western Christendom.

The second – “the more muted and discerning voice, heard periodically throughout the text of the Commission reports, and deriving from the more astute serving missionaries whose questionnaire replies formed the raw material for the reports. The voice spoke of crisis and opportunity, of challenge and competition, and occasionally even of threat and danger.”

p. 25 – “emphasis was to be on study and consultation by the leaders of the foreign missionary forces of the world concerning the large and most vital questions of missionary opportunity and policy.” (Apparently following the template of the Shanghai conference in 1907)

p. 33 – Eight Commissions – reports allowed only 7 minutes.

p. 99 – If the African churches were deemed to be insufficiently ‘advanced’ to merit their own representatives, it was not simply because these churches were young in years, but also because their members were thought to be starting from much further back in the process of human development than were Christian converts in Asia. Africans were regarded as “primitive, childlike, and at the bottom of the evolutionary hierarchy, relatively unimportant in the future of the world church.”
There were no Africans present and no one noticed.

p. 108 – The young Chinese made a profound impact, even “disturbing” through two speeches. … urging … not to be afraid to allow Chinese Christians to assume the challenge of sustaining and managing its own life. Cheng’s second speech to the debate of the report of the Commission VIII on “cooperation and the promotion of unity” – “Without question, the best speech.” Cheng presented a vision of a church in China without the denominationalism of Europe. Was this the beginning of post-denominationalism?
Was Cheng correct saying denominationalism and nationalism limit apostolic missionary power? If so, how do we now respond 100 years later?

However, some commissioners, including Gairdiner, pushed back – claiming Cheng was “artless” and apparently naive of fundamental ecclesiology.

p. 111- Nationalism issue emerged with Japan’s delegates. “The spirit of nationalism, so deeply stirring in all lands, found utterance again and again at the conference. …China, Japan, India must bring their own traditions and their own passion of patriotism into a Church of Christ, truly become also the Church of China, Japan, India. Missions exist to make missions unnecessary.” Japan especially demanded autonomy.

p. 112 – Rev Dr. Harada Tasuku (studied at Chicago, Yale, with Ph.D in England and Germany.) Prof. Japanese History, Literature, Language – Dean of new dept. of Asian studies at U. Hawaii. Spoke three times at Edinburgh – Expressed his indebtedness to western theology, while arguing for uniquely Asian expressions of Christianity. He argued that “a church’s expression of faith should grow naturally out of the distinctive Christian life and spiritual experience of its adherents.” He urged that christianity’s should teach bible without too much of our interpretation, and then be patient as well as watchful to await the outcome of the Christian life in non-Christian lands.”

p. 113 – The heart of Harada’s paper was an exposition from an organic liberal Protestant perspective of the essential qualities of the three Asian nations could offer to the body of Christ.

p. 123 – Samuel Azariah – Anglican from S. India – very upset about his 3rd class treatment during his travels, later being told to dress in a turban, etc.

p. 124 – Made remarks with this backdrop “The problem of race relationships is one of the most serious confronting Christianity today.” He went on to complain of ‘a certain aloofness, a lack of mutual understanding and openness, a great lack of frank intercourse and friendliness’ between European missionaries and their national Christians.

p. 125 – He identified the problem as the “financial structures of mission movement.” Which he revealed was a “failure of basic Christian spirituality.”

p. 128 – This speech was the first shot in what became the campaign against missionary imperialism.

p. 130 – Speer’s review of these key Asian speakers was that “true listening to their message had been, at best, partial.” Speer had a “progressive enthusiasm” for “a substantial modification of our interpretation of Christianity.”

p. 133 – Important general conclusion – “individualistic view of the missionary task must now be ‘entirely abandoned’. The church on the mission field could no longer be regarded as a mere by-product of mission work, but the ‘most efficient element in Christian propaganda.” – The church was not simply the goal but also the instrument of mission.

p. 136 – church structures and emergence of new “overtly episcopal role of missionaries” among independent Baptist and Congregationalists guaranteeing voice for laity.

p. 145 – only one Indian church being wholly self-governing, self supporting, self propagating in Orrissa
Baptist do not have power over churches, so no transfer necessary

p. 160 – theology “must be written afresh for every fresh race” and “not misrepresented as if it were no more than a precipitation from the antiquated text-books of the West.”
“what was conspicuously lacking was a ‘living form of Christian knowledge’ …

p. 163 – “a vigorous theology..is likely to arise…”

p. 176 – “three aims of missionary education – evangelization, edification, and leavening”

p. 164 – “the churches of Europe & america should…give “full authority” to modify western forms…”

p. 195 – The vision of heaven is one where the cultural gifts of the nations are brought to the holy city

p. 198 – determined mission boards should not emphasize leavening function of christianity education

p. 216 – Howells saw no comparison between Christianity & Hinduism, rather approach should be the commendation of the person of Christ.

p. 222 – Hogg rejects view that Christianity is fulfillment of Hinduism.

p. 224 – The missionary should point out differences, to “upset the equilibrium of Hindu consciousness” -a dialectic approach offering Christ as Satisfier to those with a newfound sense of need.

p. 228 – Gaidner (Anglican expert on Islam) said it’s explicit attitude was to “supersede” the original Revelation of Jesus. Therefore, not compatible.

p. 229 – “Islam is the greatest direct contradiction of christianity.. (and) could not be said to be a preparation for christianity.”

p. 236 – The Commission found nothing in Africa “fetish belief” that was a help, consolation.

p. 238 – Most respondents saw no congruence with tribal high god and Christian deity.

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