The centenary of the famous World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910 was the occasion for nearly one hundred conferences and study projects in all continents. Just over a decade later, it is time to ask what we have learned from the reflections in and around 2010 and how that can inform mission today. First, I will look back at three significant centenary events; second, I will consider the remarkable book series that emerged from Edinburgh 2010; and third, I will suggest how these resources inform and support mission in the wounded world of the 2020s.
It is time to ask what we have learned from the reflections in and around 2010 and how that can inform mission today.
In 1978, Ralph Winter, formerly professor at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, and by then heading up the US Center for World Missions nearby, looked back on what he called a ‘marriage’ twenty years before. He was referring to the decision made in Accra, Ghana, by the International Missionary Council (IMC), the continuation committee of Edinburgh 1910, to merge into the World Council of Churches (WCC), a body that also traced its origin to the World Missionary Conference. It was intended that the integration of the IMC and the WCC would bring about structural unity in mission between the agencies of the West and the churches of the formerly colonized countries, or the Third World. But Winter argued that in fact this ‘marriage’ had brought forth three different missionary ‘children’. The first child was the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) within the World Council of Churches. The second child was the Lausanne Movement which had by then held its historic first congress in Lausanne, Switzerland. The third ‘child of Ghana’ was envisioned in the ‘call’ that Winter and other American missiologists had drafted for a conference of missionaries committed to ‘cross-cultural missions’.
As I look back on the year 2010, it strikes me that Winter’s prediction was largely fulfilled. On the occasion of the centenary of the World Missionary Conference, Winter’s ‘three children of Ghana’ each held large-scale events.
While being committed to one particular expression of the centenary, Winter did not see this diversity of global mission networks as a problem but as an expression of ‘a fruitful marriage’. I agree in the sense that these events, having one parentage, were faithful to the memory of Edinburgh 1910 but each in a different way. Since they evinced a common desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ, it is instructive that all three children learn from one another and collaborate.
The series offers a wide cross-section of mission thinking in the early twenty-first century.
The Edinburgh 2010 project began in 2005 as both a study project and a conference. It was initiated by the World Council of Churches, but in order to bring together the widest possible gathering of churches, it was not owned by that body. The Edinburgh 2010 ‘Common Call’ was affirmed in worship by representatives of Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Protestant churches, and Independent churches. The ‘Call’ expressed the open and receptive ethos of the project and formed the basis for the extensive book series that came out of it, the Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series (RECS). Inspired by the nine volumes published by Edinburgh 1910, a key architect of the series was the late Knud Jørgensen. He oversaw the Edinburgh 2010 research project and was at the same time one of the leadership team members of Cape Town 2010. He collaborated with Wonsuk Ma, at the time the Director of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, and its publishing arm, Regnum Books International. I joined the team of editors as the staff person from the Edinburgh 2010 project and Tony Gray was the production editor at Regnum.
The series, which was published between 2009 and 2016, comprises 35 volumes plus a two-volume Compendium in 2018. Each volume is intended to represent diverse perspectives that are not necessarily reconciled. Collectively, it offers a wide cross-section of mission thinking in the early twenty-first century. Many of the volumes in the series arose directly from the Edinburgh project itself. For example, volume 2, Witnessing to Christ Today, is the book that all the delegates carried at the Edinburgh conference in 2010. It comprises the reports of the nine study groups which had been working for several years across continents and ecclesial divides on current themes in mission: foundations for mission; Christian mission among other faiths; mission and post-modernities; mission and power; forms of missionary engagement; theological education and formation; Christian communities in contemporary contexts; mission and unity— ecclesiology and mission; and mission spirituality and authentic discipleship. The conference volume of the Centenary Series sets the tone for the rest in its aim ‘to renew mission spirituality, stimulate further reflection, and encourage common action by the churches at this unique point in history.’
These reports formed the basis of the discussion at the conference itself and of the ‘Common Call’. All nine groups subsequently produced books for the series and the work of other groups examining these themes are also included. For example, there are two volumes on ‘mission among other faiths.’ The series also includes books on mission from the perspective of different regions of the world: Latin America, Korea, North-East India, and Central and Eastern Europe, together with works on different confessional theologies of mission, including Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Pentecostal. Other collectives contributed volumes on different kinds of mission—holistic, glocal, diaspora, and learning mission; on mission and the Bible, the child, unity, formation, and religious freedom; and on mission as reconciliation, from the margins, as service, and as creation care.
All three ‘children of Ghana’ are represented by books in the series: Ecumenical Missiology (volume 35), The Lausanne Movement (volume 22), and Evangelical and Frontier Mission (volume 9), respectively. Together the series makes an unrivalled resource for understanding ourselves and others in mission and world Christianity today.
The world in 2021 seems a darker place than a decade ago. Although there was strong criticism of colonial models of mission, the atmosphere at Edinburgh 2010 was one of celebration. In contrast to the Christendom mindset that located Christianity only in the West, the conference gave thanks for world Christianity in the sense of the presence of churches witnessing to Christ across the globe and Christians in mission from multiple centres. In keeping with this vision, the ‘Common Call’ expresses the strong sense of global interconnectedness through the Holy Spirit, leading to ‘mutuality, partnership, collaboration, and networking’ (para. 8). Its approach to the world is hopeful and characterized by ‘bold confidence,’ while mindful to approach others sensitively through ‘authentic dialogue, respectful engagement and humble witness’ (para. 2).
Although there was strong criticism of colonial models of mission, the atmosphere at Edinburgh 2010 was one of celebration.
Edinburgh 1910 took place in a world that was globalized by the British Empire, and these conditions enabled missionaries and church leaders from fields around the world to gather together in person for the conference. It is salutary to be reminded that only four years later, much of the world was torn apart by the First World War. After that, it was ravaged by a pandemic, separated by the protectionism that precipitated the Great Depression and antagonized by rising nationalism that resulted in an even more global war, before settling into the ideological stand-off known as the Cold War.
The era of globalization that succeeded the Cold War facilitated the coming together in 2010 of Christians from East and West, North and South in Edinburgh, Cape Town, and Tokyo. However, in the last few years there are signs that this age of global connectedness is breaking down. Instead, there is growing nationalism, trade protectionism, and greater restriction on human mobility. These trends have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has exposed the woundedness of our world; not only its diseased nature and the extent of human suffering and selfishness but also the deep inequities of wealth, access to health care, and quality of the environment. Most of these inequalities are structural in that they map closely onto race, ethnicity, and location. The current situation cries out for the world to come together to address these common problems, yet in many respects we seem to be growing further apart. Even the new media and technologies that have intensified globalization and have enabled communication to continue despite the pandemic are susceptible to technological nationalism and to manipulation by powerful leaders.
The year 2010 was a precious moment for the world’s Christians to meet together and discern the mission of God in order to participate together in it. The resources from those gatherings point a way forward. The Cape Town Commitment describes the way that ‘God’s plan for the integration of the whole creation in Christ is modelled in the ethnic reconciliation of God’s new humanity’ (CTC II-B-1). As governments and transnational non-governmental organizations struggle to hold the world together, how much more important it is for Christians of every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 7:9) to collaborate.
The good news of Jesus Christ encompasses this world and the next, body and soul, near and far. In Christ, there is the potential for us to overcome divisions, whether of our own making or imposed on us. Reconciliation is not automatic. It is a process that involves building relationships, addressing hurts and injustices, and structuring a way forward together. The Edinburgh 2010 ‘Common Call’ concludes: ‘As we look to Christ’s coming in glory and judgment, we experience his presence with us in the Holy Spirit, and we invite all to join with us as we participate in God’s transforming and reconciling mission of love to the whole creation.’
Kirsteen Kim, PhD, holds the Paul E. Pierson Chair in World Christianity, and is also Associate Dean for the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, USA. Her teaching and research are inspired by living and working in India and Korea. Her publications straddle missiology, world Christianity, intercultural theology, development, and religious studies. Kim was the research coordinator for the Edinburgh 2010 project, while also belonging to the Lausanne Theology Working Group and to the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches.