Noll’s chapter 12 is devoted to the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910. Many people consider this event the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement. The 19th century did see some important progress in missions (and other ministry activities) via various “voluntary societies” – Noll notes how many more people became Christians during that century. However, it was not until the 20th century that we saw true ecumenical cooperation, that is, joint work at the level of whole denominations.
Two other notes about the chapter before we get to the discussion questions:
- First, a contemporary reader will likely note that, while this conference seems really important, it doesn’t seem to represent worldwide Christianity. Indeed, this early event was pretty Anglo- and Protestant-focused. Happily, the later ecumenical movement was much more diverse.
- Second, I was impressed to see the Moravians come up yet again. They are not a large group within Christianity, numerically speaking, but they seem to keep showing up via their missionary and theological emphases.
Two potentially helpful links on this material:
- On early missions: William Carey’s Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians…: http://www.reformedreader.org/rbb/carey/an_enquiry_into_the_obligation_o.htm
- On the denominational cooperation of the World Council of Churches: the Toronto Statement (1950): http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/central-committee/1950/toronto-statement
Now, for some questions to consider:
- This “worldwide conference” on missions was overwhelmingly represented by people with English or other European ancestry, and it was entirely Protestant. Do you know of examples of groups (religious or otherwise) that are supposed to be “representative” but are actually skewed so as to represent only one or two sub-groups? How can this skewing affect the life of that group?
- The missionaries at the Edinburgh conference saw the evangelization of the entire world as imminent. Do you think this goal is one that can be truly achieved, or is it simply an ideal to aim for? What shapes your opinion on this question?
- Another question that the conference took up was how much Christianity, in the forms they knew it, should be considered as the single, true revelation of God to humankind. In your opinion, how much of God is revealed in other world religions? How would you address that question with a friend from another world religion?
- One aspect of Noll’s chapter has to do with the question of “indigenization,” that is, making Christianity “native” in a new culture. This indigenization can happen by means of music, cultural influences, worldviews, etc. What are some ways in which Christianity has become indigenized in the United States? (Two manifestations I can see, on the positive side, are the use of American English in our worship services and the native composition of most of our worship songs. On the other hand, one negative manifestation would be the creeping individualism that is growing in our churches as it grows in our culture.) What do you think?
- Some missionaries and many early converts to Christianity lost their lives for their faith. How do their stories strike us, given our cultural condition in which the Christian faith is protected and (generally) accepted by outsiders? Are these stories simply to be admired? Do they inspire us in some way? How so?
- Many historians and culture-observers note that, relatively speaking, Christianity is on the decline in the United States as it has been in Europe for many decades. Can you imagine a world in which North American Christians are actually on the fringes of world Christian society? In other words, can you imagine a world in which “southern” and “eastern” Christians come to North America to encourage the Christians here? What would that be like?
Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1910_World_Missionary_Conference (cropped by the blogger)
Suggested next click: Chapter 13