Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back from Boston

by Tim K. Snyder

I arrived home late last night from Boston 2010, the last of four conferences celebrating the centennial celebration of the historic Edinburgh 1910 World Missionary Conference. To put this event in its historic context, one of the keynote speakers (I believe it was Peter Phan) said that Edinburgh 1910 was to Protestantism what Vatican II was to Catholicism in the 20th century. Many historians consider Edinburgh 1910 the beginning of the modern day ecumenical missions movement. That being said, this centennial celebration was filled with both reflection and constructive dialog that sought to set the stage for a new movement (and hopefully paradigm) for Christian mission.

Though some of them are a bit "academic"'s some of my reflections on the event:

I was very encouraged by the emphasis on student scholarship and research. The event gave considerable time and resources to make this be a center piece of the event. The event sponsor, the Boston Theological Institute (BU School of Theology, BC School of Theology & Ministry, Harvard Divinity School, Andover-Newton Theological Seminary, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Episcopal Divinity School, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary and St. John's Seminary), brought together students from all sorts of backgrounds and interests. I had the pleasure of presenting a paper on one of the eight panels. I presented my research on Alt. Worship in the UK as a Case Study on the "Changing Contours of Christian Unity" panel. Overall I was quite impressed with the panels, but sadly the moderator during my session did not allow equal time for discussion and so I didn't get much of a chance to really engage the audience. It was a great learning experience though to present a paper at such a big event. I'm grateful for the opportunity.

I'm struck by the importance of our reflective work on missions over the past century. I'm humbled and encouraged that there is a keen sense that we must reject the Colonialism of Edinburgh 1910. Post-Colonial and post-Christian/post-secular perspectives were assumed; if not in concept then in concern. I was however reminded of my on-going frustration with so much of mission studies being dominated by historians. I was quite affirmed on this point when Brian Stanley (University of Edinburgh), perhaps THE historian on mission, repeated often the "there are limits to the usefulness of the history of missions." I'm biased here, but I'm think a lot about the connections between mission and ecclesiology (theology of church). I'm struck how much of doing church/mission ought to be a matter of critical (prophetic if you'd rather use the Biblical term) engagement with the culture, with the context in which its done. If Christianity really is a "way of life" then it just seems like J├╝rgen Moltmann was right when he wrote that the church has a "witness of existence." I take it Moltmann meant existence in the past, present and future, but the focus of scholarship leans to heavy towards the past.

Perhaps there was the most clarity around this question: what is the relationship between Christianity and the world in a post-Colonial, post-Christian world? No small question I realize, but it is in many ways THE question. We are more aware today of how just how complicated our world is than ever before. We're also aware of how complicated Christian identity is. The relationship between the two doesn't simplify either of those two realities...of course it complexifies it all!


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