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A missional symposium

24 December 2009

Yesterday I had a long chat with Prof Fr Germanos Marani, SJ, of the Gregorian University in Rome about an idea he had for a missional (or missiological) symposium, primarily between Orthodox and Roman Catholic missiologists.

It sounded like quite an exciting prospect to me, and I hope that some of the ideas we tossed around will bear fruit.

I’ve been to many academic conferences on missiology, at which people read their learned papers to their peers, and a few questions are asked from the floor, and everyone goes home to mull over the ideas that have been presented in private, and perhaps incorporate them into their own journal articles or papers to be read a future conferences.

In our discussions, it seemed to me, we were looking for something different, applied missieology, perhaps, where “missional” might be a better description than missiological. One aim would be to have a comparative look at Roman Catholic and Orthodox mission practice, and the theological assumptions on which it is based,  to see what similarities and differences there are, and how far the theology is reflected in the mission practice, and what works and what doesn’t.

One of the inportant questions is that of the Gospel and Western culture. For those living in the West, part of that means understanding the West as a mission field. But other places are also influenced by Western culture. Africa, for example was influenced by Western culture through colonialism, and more recently globalisation has made Western culture all pervasive. During the Bolshevik period in Russia, for example, one of the things that kept Christianity alive was Russian Orthodox culture, which pervaded books like those of Dostoevsky. But since the fall of Bolshevism there has been a much greater degree of multiculturalism. Bookstalls outside Moscow metro stations had more books by Stephen King than by Dostoevsky.

Akiviadis Calivas put his finger on it at an Orthodox mission conference in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1995, when he said “As the culture of the contemporary world has become universally secular, it is not the medieval model of synthesis between culture and religion which is applicable, in practical terms in our situation, but rather the model of early Christianity, which the Church was conscious of its ‘otherness’ and its eschatological mission.”

Protestant Christians involved in the “emerging church” movement have been saying something similar, but based on very different assumptions, experiences and perceptions. I suspect that their perception of early Christianity is very different from that of Orthodox Christians, and far more shaped by modernity than many of them realise. But it is those assumptions that need to be taken out and examined, and that is one of the things that I hope such a symposium might accomplish.

Further discussion of this topic in the Missiological and Orthodox Missiology forums.

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