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Analytical Evaluation of the Edinburgh 2010 Conference


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Lecture delivered in Kansas USA, August 2011

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Analytical Evaluation of the Edinburgh 2010 Conference

  1. 1. Una evaluación analítica al Congreso de Edinburgo 2010An analytical evaluation of the Edinburgh 2010 Conference Revd. Canon Mark OxbrowOn a warm summer’s evening you can sit on Arthur’s Seat and look down on the ancientcity of Edinburgh. The ‘seat’ is in fact a small rugged hill, just 250 meters high, that rises upalmost in the centre of the city. One evening last year, during the Edinburgh 2010Conference, I did just that. Together with an Anglican bishop from the indigenous people ofCanada and a Pentecostal church leader from Ghana I climbed the winding path and sat onthe rocks at the top to reflect on a hundred years of mission history. At our feet we couldsee the roofs of the Assembly Halls where mission and church leaders gathered in 1910but I was more interested in the further horizons.A mile away to the West we looked out on Edinburgh castle, the seat of power from which,centuries before Scottish kings and a queen ruled over a deeply Christian, but at timesdivided and bloody, nation. Turning to the north, the, now decaying, docks of Leith come into view. A port which for 300 years and more was the ‘gateway to the world’, bringing homethe wealth of Africa, the Americas and Asia and sending out in return, soldiers, colonizers,missionaries, and doctors. Now looking south your eye strains to see the distant hills whichmark the border with England, the nation that ended Scotland’s independence and fromwhich it still seeks to set itself free. Finally we turn to the east and look out across the coastat Dunbar to the waters of the North Sea – the waters that lead to Europe and what manysee as the future for a small nation playing its part in a modern community of nations.I tell you about my evening walk because it helps me to put Edinburgh and its conference incontext. Edinburgh has been a place of Christian power, of colonialism, and missionsending. It has also known what it means to be colonized (by the English) and today lookstowards a future in post-Christendom Europe. As 300 of us reflected together in Edinburghlast year we needed to take seriously those issues – the issues of power, of vulnerability, ofChristian vocation, and of witness in a world that believes it has outgrown its Christian past.Edinburgh in ContextWhy did we meet in Edinburgh? A decade into the third Christian millennium it would seemmore appropriate for mission leaders to meet in Africa, as the Lausanne movement did inOctober, or Asia, as others did earlier in the year. Edinburgh is now a small city withemptying churches in a very secular nation on the edge of Europe. But it has not alwaysbeen so, and history is important. Millions of Muslims flock each year to Mecca on the Hajjand Christians from every nation are to be found ‘following the steps of Jesus’ acrossIsrael. Remembering correctly is a key theme in both Old and New Testaments. So whatdid we remember in Edinburgh as we gathered there, like mission pilgrims, last year?Perhaps even more so than England, Scotland has been a nation of missionaries –missionaries of civilization, commerce, education, health and, not least, the gospel of JesusChrist. Go to tiny villages in the Caribbean and you will find them called Edinburgh andStirling. In Malawi you will find a bustling commercial city called Blantyre, named after thehome town of David Livingstone. Across Asia churches are dedicated to St. Andrew, thepatron saint of Scotland. Scottish missionaries, women and men, have been responsible forsome of the most amazing evangelistic work and Christian service in almost every part of 1
  2. 2. the world. Today in the city of Edinburgh small congregations of elderly people worship inaging churches whose walls carry long lists of young people who set out from thosechurches years ago to carry the gospel to “the ends of the earth”, and died there.With this strong missionary history it was quite natural that in 1910, when mission leadersfrom around the world were to gather, they chose Edinburgh as their meeting place.Edinburgh 1910 was not the first international missionary conference, nor the last, but it hasbecome the most famous. Although William Carey first suggested such a conference aslong ago as 1810 the first significant international gathering took place in Liverpool, UK, in1860, with two more in London in 1878 and 1888 and another in New York in 1900.Edinburgh 1910 probably became the most famous, however, because (a) the 1,200people who attended came as official representatives of their mission agencies, (b) therewas a careful study process before they met, and (c) it led to the formation of the WorldCouncil of Churches as well as providing a new vision for the “evangelization of the world inthis generation”.Edinburgh 2010 mirrored Edinburgh 1910 in each of these respects. Last year the 300delegates were all officially appointed to represent their church, mission agency or college.A two year study process led up to the conference and shaped its discussions. And, finallyit was a celebration of the unity as well as the mission of the church. But more of this later.The documents produced for Edinburgh 1910, especially the nine commission reports,remain important historical documents for the mission of the church. That conference wasfollowed by subsequent gatherings in Jerusalem in 1928 and Chennai, India, in 1938, andthen the formation of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948.Returning to Edinburgh last year we were all aware that the hundred years since 1910 hadbrought about massive changes in the world, the church, and the international missionarymovement. Since 1910 the British Empire had collapsed; two world wars, and hundreds ofregional wars since, had dampened the optimism so evident in Edinburgh in 1910; thechurch had become a predominantly ‘Global South’ movement deeply influenced by thegrowth of Pentecostalism; and for the conference organizers “Witnessing to Christ” hadreplaced “Evangelisation” as the core of mission. It is also perhaps significant to note thatthe conference, originally planned for over 1,000 delegates, had to be slimmed down toaround 300 mainly because of the limited finances available within denominationalstructures for such a mission-focused event today.From Tokyo to Boston via Edinburgh and Cape TownOthers at this conference will be speaking about Tokyo 2010 and the Lausanne Congressin Cape Town, South Africa but it would not be appropriate to speak about Edinburgh 2010without mentioning these other two conferences and the meeting of missiologists in Boston,USA, at the end of the year. From the outset those planning Edinburgh 2010 expressed ahope that “others will celebrate this significant anniversary in ways more appropriate to theirexperience and context”. The Edinburgh Conference was seen as only part of a year-longcelebration of mission and efforts were made to connect to the others. Tokyo 2010 made apresentation on the first full day in Edinburgh and later Doug Birdsall, Lausanne’sInternational Director was invited to address delegates. The speaker at the opening plenarysession in Edinburgh, Dr. Dana Robert, was later to give a key note address in Boston.When we gathered in Cape Town for the Lausanne Congress the organizers there claimedto be hosting “the most representative gathering of Christians ever”. Although there wereover 4,000 delegates in Cape Town it is questionable whether that claim was correct – at 2
  3. 3. least in one sense. Edinburgh 2010 brought together representatives of 115 denominationsfrom 71 countries speaking 61 different mother tongues and had a much better balance ofwomen and men and those of a younger generation than we found in Cape Town (althoughmore nations were represented at the Lausanne meeting). This breadth of representationof course also brought its challenges. Whereas the Lausanne Congress could, on thewhole, speak an agreed ‘evangelical language’, Edinburgh 2010 had to create some sort ofunderstanding between Catholics and Pentecostals, Orthodox Christians and Baptists, andwrestle with understandings of mission which ranged from “evangelism leading for personalsalvation” to “working in harmony with creation and the Creator”. It is perhaps not surprisingthat Edinburgh 2010 produced a “Common Call” running to just 732 words whilst the CapeTown “Commitment” runs to 79 pages!More of a process than a conferenceIn speaking about Edinburgh 2010 it is quite inappropriate to focus on just the conference,the six days we spent together in Edinburgh. Those six days only really worked because avery large number of us, including hundreds who did not get to the conference, had beenworking together on a wide range of issues for at least two years beforehand.The study process began in 2002 when a Scottish Committee began hosting annualconferences to reflect on the themes of the Commission Reports produced in 1910. At eachof these Scottish conferences well known missiologists, such as Kwame Bediako andAndrew Walls, led contemporary reflection on one or more of the 1910 commission topics.The papers from these conferences were published and provided a background for thoseplanning Edinburgh 2010. Then in 2007 a new international study process began whichwas to involve several hundred people from every part of the world.During the three year period 2007-2010 nine study groups were formed to look at differentaspects of mission. These ranged from a theological study of “Foundations for mission” tomore praxis orientated discussions of “Mission and Postmodernity”, “Mission and Power”and “Mission spirituality and authentic discipleship”. In each case two conveners, normallyfrom different continents drew together a study group who worked together for two or threeyears, mainly electronically but also meeting face to face at least once. In my own case Iserved as one convener of the group looking at “Forms of Missionary Engagement” – howwe do it! My co-convener was a woman theologian from South Africa and together weformed a group of about 35 people who represented every continent and most Christiantraditions. Group members wrote papers on many different topics and then the Core Group(ten of us) met twice to prioritise issues, write a final summary document and plan oursessions for the conference.Throughout the three year process each study group also received input from the othergroups; from several ‘transversal groups’ representing, for example, the concerns of youthor the work of Bible translators; from a large number of pre-Edinburgh conferences heldaround the world; and from those who contributed to our thinking via the Edinburgh 2010website and virtual discussion forums. Before attending the conference each delegatereceived a copy of the report from these study groups, “Edinburgh 2010 : Witnessing toChrist Today”.I hope I have said enough to indicate that the conference itself, though important as a face-to-face gathering, only represented the tail end of a long and intense discussion of a widerange of mission issues, a discussion which at some levels was open to whoever wanted tojoin in via the web. In my personal opinion this was where Edinburgh 2010 had a majoradvantage over the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town where, despite a major effort to get 3
  4. 4. participants engaged in the Lausanne Global Conversation beforehand, most arrivedhaving thought little about the issues we were to discuss during the week.I have already mentioned the pre-Edinburgh conferences which took place around theworld mainly during 2009 and the early months of 2010. Some of these were speciallyarranged conference whilst others were existing conferences which chose to focus on thistheme. For example the annual consultation of the Centre for Mission Studies in Pune,India adopted the Edinburgh theme and published their papers as “Edinburgh 1910revisited – Give us friends : An Indian Perspective on 100 Years of Mission”, whilst in May2009 in Wuppertal, Germany, 35 theologians from five continents gathered to consider thefuture of mission. Their report is published as “Mission Continues : Global Impulses for the21st. Century”.The Edinburgh 2010 process, as I have indicated, started in 2002. It has not yet ended.Some study groups are continuing their work and the publication of their work will continuefor a year or so more. It is anticipated that there will eventually be over 30 books in theEdinburgh 2010 series.The Whole ChurchSo much for the process, now I must return to the issues and the discussions of these atEdinburgh 2010. The strap line for the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town last year was“The whole church, taking the whole gospel, to the whole world”. In many ways this couldalso have been adopted by Edinburgh 2010.The whole church. As I have already indicated Edinburgh 2010 really did attempt to bringtogether the whole church. This was so different from Edinburgh 1910 when nobodyattended from Latin America, and only a handful of church leaders from Asia and Africa.Now in 2010, with the growth of the Global South church, a more positive ecumenical spirit,and a younger generation who embrace diversity and difference, it was possible to gatheralmost the whole church. Of particular significance of course was not only the presence ofOrthodox and Roman Catholic delegates but the large number of Pentecostal Christianswho joined us. Indigenous peoples from several parts of the world were very much inevidence as were the African Instituted Churches and Christians from China, Russia andCuba. Although still rather small in number, younger participants under 30 years of ageplayed key roles during the study process and the conference itself. More challengingly, atleast in terms of trying to reach consensus, theological positions ranged from veryconservative to extreme liberal!Whatever else was achieved by Edinburgh 2010, the fact that 300 people representingevery strand of Christian discipleship could spend a week together discussing missionstands as a beacon of hope for the future.The Whole GospelEdinburgh 1910 focused clearly on evangelization, Tokyo 2010 set out to ‘finish the task’,and Cape Town paid much attention to holistic mission amongst the ‘unreached’ and‘unengaged’ peoples of our generation. Deeply influenced by the theology of Missio Deiand the contemporary experience of ‘World Christianity’ Edinburgh 2010 set out to ‘Witnessto Christ Today’. The understanding that the call to the church is to be Christ’s witnessesand that the work of conversion belongs to the Holy Spirit ran deep within the conference,which is not to say that it remained undisputed.A brief examination of the study themes, transversal groups, and pre-Edinburgh 4
  5. 5. conferences clearly indicates that Edinburgh 2010 was working with a fully holisticunderstanding of the gospel. In fact for some conservative participants the ‘whole gospel’ ofEdinburgh 2010 was more than whole, it had become a ‘catch all’ for everything that anyparticipant thought was ‘a good thing’. Highly significant was a real concern that care forcreation should be seen as a gospel priority and that protecting endangered environmentsshould be clearly understood as a part of holistic mission. In a similar way justice issues,particularly as they relate to marginalized and indigenous peoples, were owned as centralto our Christian witness to a God who is just and righteous.The ‘whole gospel’ became more contentious when it was suggested that it should indicatea more liberal attitude towards issues of sexual orientation and practice and our ‘unity’ withthose of other faith communities. The question which was not really answered in Edinburghwas whether a whole gospel has any boundaries, or to put it another way, whether God’s‘good news’ implies there might also be ‘bad news’.The Whole WorldIn 1910 the title of the report of the first commission is “Carrying the Gospel to all the Non-Christian World”. In 1910, at the height of European colonialism, in the minds of missionleaders there was very clearly a ‘Christian world’ (Europe and the Americas) and a ‘Non-Christian world’ (Asia, Africa and most of the Middle East including Turkey). By 2010 thatdivision of the world into Christian and non-Christian no longer made any sense at all.Uganda is now much more clearly Christian than France. Mongolia sees new churchesopening almost every week whilst churches in Britain are closed at a similar rate. WhileAmerican still go as missionaries to Brazil, Brazilians serve Christ in North Africa and NorthAfrican Christians bear witness to their new found faith in secular Spain. The whole world isclearly, today, God’s mission field. The transformation of individuals and communities bythe breaking in of the Kingdom of God is what is required in every city and village on earth.During the conference sessions at Edinburgh the need for ‘Christ witnesses’ in so manydifferent contexts was made very clear. Whilst one group spoke of the need to discipleurban youth in Senegal, another shared the needs of the Aborigonal people in Australia, oryoung affluent executives in Toronto. One of the new mission challenges which becamevery clear during Edinburgh 2010 is how we prepare, equip and train Christians to serve aswitnesses to Christ in such diverse contexts. The person who knows how to disciple tribalpeople in India will probably have no idea how to share the gospel with an Austrianbusinessman. Mission today demands diversity of approach and a mutuality of respect aseach of us discovers our own calling and modality for mission.At this point I want to add two brief comments by way of critique of the Edinburgh 2010conference process. Firstly, whilst taking care to bring into the conference a wide range ofrepresentatives and concerns, the conference process itself – the ways in which we met,discussed, decided and communicated – remained firmly within the grip of WesternEuropean culture. Little attention was given to African cultural ways or reaching aconsensus, or Asian ways of gaining respect and listening to one another. Secondly, mainlyfor understandable financial reasons, far too many of the delegates representing Africanand Asian counties were actually people resident in Europe or North America (whosecontribution is not to be devalued, but is somewhat different from those still resident in theirhome contexts).Key IssuesWhat were some of the key issues to come out of Edinburgh 2010? 5
  6. 6. At both theological and practical levels I detected a concern for discipleship, authenticdiscipleship, running deep within all our discussions. After two centuries of the rapidgrowth of the church in Africa and Asia we have come to see, and not only there, that whatcounts is not just conversion but rather an authentic discipleship that has the power totransform whole communities. The issue of discipleship is related to what has becomeknown as ‘integral mission’ a refusal to force a divide between proclamation and socialaction, word and deed. When our mission is whole then our (Christ’s) disciples are far morelikely to allow the gospel of Jesus to infect and inform the whole of their living. TheEdinburgh 2010 Common Call says, “We are challenged to witness and evangelism in sucha way that we are a living demonstration of the love, righteousness and justice that Godintends for the whole world.” More powerfully the Cape Town Commitment from theLausanne Congress quotes the Micah Declaration as saying, “Integral mission is theproclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and socialinvolvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission ourproclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in allareas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bearwitness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world, we betray theword of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God, we havenothing to bring to the world.”One issue which was high on the agenda in Edinburgh but somewhat masked in Tokyo andCape Town was the issue of power. At the theological level there was a challenging ofConstantinian ecclesiology where the church finds itself, both conveniently andinconveniently, enmeshed with the power of elite political groups and states. Historicallythere was an attempt to deal with the injustices and pain of colonialism. And in terms ofcurrent mission praxis there was much reflection on the tensions between the vulnerabilityof the cross and such practices as ‘power evangelism’ and the preaching of a ‘prosperitygospel’. In fact one of the nine study groups was focused entirely on “Mission and Power”and brought to us moving presentations from the indigenous peoples of North America,whilst my own study group (on “Forms of Missionary Engagement”) received two significantpapers on “Vulnerabily in Mission”, one from India and the other from Kenya. At this point inthe twenty-first century we need to reflect again on the powerful vulnerability of Christcrucified.In her reflections on the conference, the Study Programme Director, Dr. Kirsteen Kim,having addressed issues of power and plurality, draws our attention to the issues ofmigration in our world today. The study group looking at “Mission and Unity” also reflectedon the implication for mission of living in a world which is seeing more migration than everbefore in history. My own study group noted that migration has become a major driver ofmission as thousands of Christians from the Philippines, Nigeria, Brazil and Poland migratein search of employment, education, or a better future for their children. As they settle innew countries, perhaps France, Algeria, Japan or Saudi Arabia they become witnesses toChrist in those places. The mission community is only just beginning to wake up to theopportunities that now exist to train, deploy and support these migrants as effectivemissionaries in their new homes.At Edinburgh we also recognized that there is a negative side to migration. An alarmingnumber of women and men are now ‘involuntary migrants’ leaving home to become childlabourers, sex workers in foreign cities, or simply as refugees from conflict. Our response tothese issues of justice and care is also an important aspect of mission.As noted earlier, Edinburgh 1910 clearly identified a ‘Christian world’ (in Europe and the 6
  7. 7. Americas) which was to send missionaries to the ‘Non-Christian world’. The recognition thattoday mission is ‘Everywhere to Everywhere’ forces us to take seriously the challenge ofPostmodernity. The third Edinburgh 2010 study group was on “Mission andpostmodernities” recognizing that currently no single worldview predominates in the wakeof the demise of modernity. If planting the gospel on Islamic soil is like planting it amongstthistles, then seeking to plant it within postmodern cultures requires some serious breakingup of rocky ground. Any missionary working in the Czech Republic or Belgium will tell youthat. The Edinburgh 1910 conference review of world evangelization has a section on “TheWestern Hemisphere” which identifies only “Indians” (indigenous peoples) and “Imigrants”as in need of evangelization. A hundred years later we recognize that we now have overone billion people in Europe and North America who see little relevance for Jesus and thereign of God within their postmodern, materialistic, and to a large extent prosperous lives.To understand what Christian discipleship might look like, and what really is ‘good news’ forthese people, is perhaps our major missionary challenge today.And if we are to successfully address that challenge then we will need to learn how to plantand grow missional churches. Edinburgh 2010, together with Cape Town, had a strongfocus on mission being primarily the responsibility of the local church. Mission agencies,denominational structures, training centers and mission thinkers can all support this missionbut in the end if local churches are not, by their nature, missionary then the mission of Godwill not go forward. There was a clear call at Edinburgh 2010 for a much closer and moreeffective partnership between churches and agencies in mission.ImpactJust fifteen months afterwards it is far too early to judge the impact of Edinburgh 2010.Much will depend on the future ministries of those 300 or so who attended, the 1,000 pluspeople who worked on the study process and the thousands who will read the reports,attend conferences like this one or simply be inspired by a conversation about somethingthat happened in Edinburgh last year. Of one thing, however, I am certain, in years to comewe will be talking of the impact of the “2010 conferences” (Tokyo, Edinburgh, Cape Town,Boston and others) not just the impact of Edinbugh. Much of the creative thinking will comeout of a dialogue between these conferences such as happening this week.Outstanding QuestionsAs I conclude I am aware that there are many outstanding questions which Edinburgh 2010only just touched on, but which remain very important questions for us to address. I havetime here only to hint at a five of these – there are many more. • China We are told that within a decade there will be more Christians in China than in any other country on earth, and they are already very active in mission. How will China take its leadership role in mission? • Children and Youth At Edinburgh we were reminded (in the Common Call) of “God’s continual calling of children and young people to further the gospel” and in opening the Boston conference Dana Robert reminded us that much of the energy behind Edinburgh 1910 came from the Student Christian Movement. Initiatives like the 4-14 Window movement remind us that children and young people can be some of our most effective witnesses to Christ. • Orthodox Mission Some of the largest Orthodox communities in the world, the Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians for example, have long and powerful mission histories but living under communism for many years were denied that opportunity. They are now rediscovering their mission heritage and bringing with them gifts which 7
  8. 8. include an experience of recent mass martyrdom, a strong creation theology which addresses issues of environment care, and an ability to build worshipping community. • Short-termism in mission Many of us, especially in the Global North, live in a short-term culture and this has been mirrored in an exponential growth in the number of people engaging in short-term mission – sometimes on ‘trips’ as short as two weeks. We need to ask serious questions about what this does to the need for long-term, dug-in, missionary engagement in hard-to-reach cultures. • Christian theology of faiths How mission engages with those of another faith was probably one of the most contentious issues at Edinburgh 2010. We will continue to struggle with this issue until we have done a lot more work on how Christians understand, theologically, the existence of other faith communities.I feel very privileged to have been one of those selected to attend Edinburgh 2010 but evenmore privileged to have worked for three years with colleagues from around the world in thestudy process. My greatest privilege however is to be a humble servant of God as day byday, together, we discover His call to mission in His world in new and exciting ways.Rev. Canon Mark OxbrowInternational DirectorFaith2Share 8