This is an edited version of the final address of the “One Christ — Many Witnesses” symposium, which celebrated the Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, September 4, 2015.

Introduction

Archbishop William Temple was a steward at the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference, 1910.[1] He was influenced by it for the rest of his life. At one stage he had felt called to serve with the Church Missionary Society at St John’s College, Agra, India, but Archbishop Randall Davidson dissuaded him. William Temple’s mother once said to him: “Ah, William, you know so much more than I do, but I know so much better.”[2]

The Regnum Edinburgh Centenary book series is extraordinary in its breadth and depth. 28 books have been published so far, and this is set to rise to 36 in total. All emanate from the 2010 centenary conference in Edinburgh.Congratulations are due to the series editors: Knud Jorgensen (Norwegian School of Theology); Kirsteen Kim (Leeds Trinity University); Wonsuk Ma (Oxford Centre for Mission Studies); and Tony Gray (Words by Design the publisher of this astounding project).

This is indeed a unique series. It takes the whole world to understand the whole gospel, and this series is international, ecumenical, and generous. The various grants received for the project have allowed each of the 28 published books to be downloaded free from the web and for the complete set to be given to 25 theological libraries in the Global South. Both hardback and paperback copies are available for purchase; Lambeth Palace Library has recently ordered the complete set.

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In looking to the future, into which changing landscapes of the world is God sending his people? This question reminds me of Romans 15:19-33, where Paul writes to the Christians in Rome that he has fully preached the gospel from Jerusalem right round to Illyricum and would like to be sent on by them in Rome hopefully to Spain. It also sounds to me rather like Star Trek: “To boldly go where no one has gone before,” and that resonates with Paul’s words in Romans 15:20-21.

I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”

I remember walking up Mount Kenya in 1990. At 16,000 feet, which is the highest point you can reach without climbing equipment, I could make out the curvature of the earth. We need to raise our horizons to see the landscape.

So, briefly, let us consider four such “landscapes” of the world and of mission studies: digital, doctrinal, bloody, and biographical.

1. Digital landscape

In early September we were all moved by the photo of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, drowned on a Turkish beach. The response from people on social media forced a change of attitude and policy from the British Prime Minister. Similarly, during the Vietnam War, Phan Thi Kim Phuc was photographed running naked away from her home after a napalm attack on her village. During the Bosnian War, photos of emaciated Muslim prisoners at Srebrenica, captured by the Serbs, brought back memories of the Nazi concentration camps.

ISIS is using social media to great effect in recruitment. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has started its own Twitter account to counteract ISIS.

In St John’s College, Durham, there is a fine research centre called CODEC, which explores the interface between the Bible, the digital environment and contemporary culture.

2. Doctrinal landscape

As part of the Church of England’s Mission Theological Advisory Group, Kirsteen Kim and I were involved in writing an Anglican and ecumenical book, which was published in 2002, Presence and Prophecy: Mission at the Heart of Theological Education. “Presence” referred to particular courses in mission studies and World Christianity, and “Prophecy” involved influencing other subjects from missiological perspectives. Here, I mention two.

(a) The early Christian period

 Kwame Bediako, the late lamented Ghanaian theologian of mission, pioneered the reflection on the early Christian period and mission. His 1992 book, Theology and Identity: the Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa, was one of the first published by Regnum, and he was deeply involved in the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

Michael Poon taught for many years at Trinity Theological College, Singapore. He wrote his Oxford DPhil thesis on John Chrysostom and has written many articles on mission studies and the early Christian period. On Saturday, December 5, 2015, there will be a day conference at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London on “Engaging with Poverty in the Early Church and Today,” sponsored by Caritas and Tear Fund.

(b) Systematic theology

Stephen Bevans SVD, Professor at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, has developed profoundly the interweavings between systematic theology and inter-cultural theology, as has Joseph Galgalo, who gave the inaugural seminar of the Mission Theology Anglican seminar at Lambeth Palace on October 20, 2015.

3. Bloody landscape

Earlier this year, Pope Francis mentioned the “ecumenism of blood,” referring to the persecution and martyrdom of Christians in different parts of the world, especially in the Middle East. The modern icon of the Coptic martyrs of Libya is very moving. Members of ISIS do not ask “Are you a Catholic or an Orthodox Christian?” before they begin their gruesome dismemberment this is the “ecumenism of blood.”

Volume 28 in the Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series is entitled, Freedom of Belief and Christian Mission,[3] and I am very grateful for it. I have been involved with the Anglican Network for Inter Faith Concerns, producing Out of the Depths: theological resources in times of persecution, which will be published early next year.

Dr Hielke Wolters, Associate General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, is arranging with others the Global Christian Forum on “Discrimination, Persecution and Martyrdom: Following Christ Today” in Tirana, Albania at the beginning of November. This will be a very significant, and widely representative, conference.

4. Biographical Landscape

Dana Robert, Professor of World Christianity at Boston College, has stressed the importance of “testimony” in mission. This is vital for the history of Christian missions, as well as for current witness and interviews in church services. From October 29-31, 2015, she is hosting a conference of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography project at Boston College, where it is based, directed by Jon Bonk, former editor of The International Bulletin of Missionary Research. It is worth consulting the extensive web site of the project. There is an excellent Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity web site, but we need similar projects on the Middle East and Latin America.

Conclusion

So, these are some of the many changing landscapes into which God is sending his people: digital, doctrinal, bloody and biographical. May the excellent Regnum Edinburgh Centenary series inspire further series of books, as we pray Paul’s prayer in Romans chapter 15.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may be filled with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)

Graham Kings’s other posts may be found here. The featured image of Mount Kenya was taken by Robbert van der Steeg (2008). It is licensed under Creative Commons. 

 


 

[1] F A Iremonger, William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury: his life and letters (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), pp. 390-92.

[2] Ibid p. 67.

[3] Hans Aage Gravaas, Christof Sauer, Tormod Engelsviken, Maqsood Kamil and Knud Jorgensen (eds.), Freedom of Belief and Christian Mission (Oxford and Edinburgh: Regnum and Edinburgh University Press, 2015).

About The Author

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Graham Kings (@GrahamRKings) is Honorary Assistant Bishop of Southwark, parish priest at St. Matthew’s at the Elephant, London, and a Senior Common Room member, St Chad’s College, Durham University.

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