Two weeks ago today I attended the American Society of Missiology’s annual conference, this year held in St. Paul, Minnesota. The American Society of Missiology (ASM) describes itself as an inclusive, diverse and professional association comprised of Independent (Evangelical, Pentecostal), Conciliar, and Roman Catholic communities of the Christian Church. ASM officially began in 1973 with the intention of being an organization which would promote scholarly research, discussion, publication, and teaching in the field of mission studies. ASM currently describes itself as the ecumenical, professional association for mission studies in North America, including more than 600 academicians, mission agency executives, and missionaries in a unique fellowship of scholarship and mission. While attending the annual gathering, I also learned that in the last five years ASM has moved in the direction of including more young people involved in mission and has become more sensitive to the need of promoting the significant role of women in mission. This year’s gathering reflected these changes.
Every annual gathering has a theme, and this year’s theme was “Missiology and Public Life: Mission's Constructive Engagement with Societies, Change, and Conflict.” Plenary addresses were given, along with papers submitted and presented on a host of topics as diverse as “Race, Justice, and Participation in the Mission of God” to “Public Religion, Faith, and National Politics.” One of the plenaries was delivered by Sebastian Kim, who serves as Chair of Theology and Public Life at York St. John University in the UK. The title of his address was “Mission’s Public Engagement.” He made the point that theology is inherently “public” and available to all, and helped us to think about both the private and public components of our faith traditions. He also named the tension in missiological thought between salvation and liberation, encouraging the expansion of mission to be both evangelistic and socially minded. He poignantly stated that Public Theology often focuses upon the world, while Missiology focuses upon issues related to mission. He inferred that there needs to be stronger correlation between the two.
The night previous Gregory Leffel who serves as 2016 ASM President and directs One Horizon Institute gave an address entitled “The Missiology of Trouble.” His presentation was equally thought provoking. He touched on issues related to modernism and post-modernism, and then framed a new sociological construct he labelled “Metamodernism.” He first highlighted our American society’s strong tradition of liberalism, liberty and liberality. He then skillfully dissected the current state of affairs as the Left is in tension with the Right, both sides reflecting different ideals from people to property, communitarianism versus individualism, and democracy in relation to free market domination. He introduced the idea of “metaxis,” which seeks to integrate two contrasting elements, finding a coherent organizing structure or idea to help us think about and address the pressing issues of our times. He made the point that “Public Missiology,” a new term submitted for thoughtful reflection during ASM 2016, is essential to accomplish the work of ‘metaxis’ in finding things that unite us while respecting differences. I have to confess that I had to have my “A-game” on to follow some of the highly technical jargon and head spinning concepts both speakers espoused. I did my best, and was even able to offer a somewhat lucid question to Sebastian Kim regarding how to stand in solidarity with colleagues and friends, encouraging public engagement in the context I serve in Congo. Dr. Kim along with others gave me some helpful food for thought.
As part of ASM 2016 I actually presented a paper as well. The paper’s title is “Faith and Politics: Rwanda, a Case History.” I was quite nervous about presenting and spent lots of hours preparing. Thankfully my paper presentation was well received and I was greatly encouraged by my facilitator, by fellow presenters, and by those who came to listen and learn. Honestly, I felt quite empowered and felt like maybe I actually fit into this body of mission-minded scholars and practitioners. I was also able to connect with and make a few new friends, as well as connect with former professors and classmates from Fuller Theological Seminary. We had lots of fun conversations around meals that were both light hearted but also cut deep into our own personal histories, hopes and dreams. I felt so edified participating in ASM’s annual conference. Praise God for such a thoughtful group of people seeking to bring glory to God and expand His Kingdom here on earth!