There are several ways of answering the question: what is Christian mission? First, there is are biblical responses. That is, trying to define mission in scriptural categories. Even within this category, you have hermeneutical approaches that point to salvation history, or to the grand biblical narrative itself. It gets more complicated, but lets move on. Second, is a theological approach. The theologian quickly asserts that the work mission is a Latin derivative word and thus not in the Bible, so we should understand it theologically, the missio Dei. Of course, there isn’t unanimity here either. Still, there are other approaches: ethical, philosophical, political, social, historical, etc. Its a complex subject that really hasn’t been approached in a comprehensive manner, at least that I can think of. Usually, one approaches the subject from their pet perspective. Still, in some introductory/survey type works, multiple perspectives are at the least mentioned. Perhaps the difficulty in taking a comprehensive approach is that the subject matter is so broad. To give the multitude of approaches a fair say, we’d be talking about one massive tome, with some serious research, perhaps lifelong for a single person.
Today, I’ll be attending a conference at Duke University, organized by Wheaton College’s Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals. The conference will be approaching the subject of the change in Christian mission in light of the events of the past century, between the Edinburgh Missionary Conference in 1910 to its centenary celebration held in South Africa in 2010. The history of missions is an important part of a comprehensive approach to understanding what is Christian mission.
The conference is entitled “Saving the World? The Changing Terrain of American Protestant Missions.” I’m really excited to go; some of the brightest minds will be presenting papers on a host of important historical questions. I especially look forward to a presentations by Xi Lian, Brian Stanley, Alvyn Austin, Heather Curtis, and Dana Robert. You can view the schedule here: http://isae.wheaton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/ISAE-Saving-the-World-program.pdf
If you are in the Raleigh/Durham area, and you can get away for the next two days, come to the conference. If not, I’ll blog some of the highlights of the conference over the next couple of days. I may also be tweeting the conference as well.