Highlights of the ASM meeting, Dr. Robert delivers key address
The American Society of Missiology (ASM) used its 40th annual meeting to consider the future of the discipline. Two hundred people attended, a forty percent increase over any previous ASM gathering. The sessions, June 21-23, were structured around four plenary presentations which acted as springboards for smaller organized conversations about the future of the society and the discipline of missiology. Periodic breakout paper presentations demonstrated the current vitality and fecundity of mission studies.
Dana Robert led the first plenary session through “Forty Years of the American Society of Missiology: Retrospect and Prospect.” Through a thick description of the early years of the society, she demonstrated that the ASM overcame suspicion about the academic legitimacy of missiology through the tools of collaboration and convergence, church growth, and contextualization. Between 1989 and 1991, she observed, mission studies demonstrated how much it had grown. A series of events and publications revealed how missiology was no longer an embattled or tangential area of study, but a source of generative ideas that was influencing theology, ecclesiology and church history. Finally, around the year 2000, she suggested that the awareness of Christianity as a worldwide religion moved beyond mission studies. The global reality of Christianity energized missiological thinking, even as it challenged some of the inaugural aspects of the ASM itself. In a global age, for instance, she asked what is uniquely American about the American Society of Missiology. Subsequent discussions returned to her description of the past and questions about the future, especially as people tried to think through what collaboration and convergence might mean for the ASM now.
The other plenary sessions explored missiology from different angles. Dwight Zscheile (Luther Seminary) offered a “Next Generation Perspective.” His presentation prompted participants to explore how missiology could foster an atmosphere for churches to experiment and even fail. Later, Jehu Hanciles (Emory University) spoke to the ASM from a “Global South Perspective,” which sparked numerous conversations on how the society could become more inclusive. In his Presidential address, Craig Van Gelder (Luther Seminary) advocated for local congregations to be seen as the primary missionaries. The discipline of missiology, he suggested, needs to be calibrated according to its congregational subject.
The meetings ended with summations from the small group conversations. The future of the discipline of missiology remains an open question, but the liveliness of the conversations and breadth of the papers presented over the weekend suggest missiology is rapidly expanding, and traveling in multiple directions.
–Reported by Daryl Ireland