The Future In The Past: Eschatological Vision In British And American Protestant Missionary History -- By: Brian Stanley

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 51:1 (NA 2000)
Article: The Future In The Past: Eschatological Vision In British And American Protestant Missionary History
Author: Brian Stanley


The Future In The Past:
Eschatological Vision In British And American Protestant Missionary History1

Brian Stanley

Summary

This article examines the strategic significance of different eschatological positions in British and North American Protestant missions. By the late nineteenth century the postmillennial expectation of a world transformed through the work of missions was being challenged by premillennial emphases, particularly in the ‘faith’ missions. Premillennial mission theorists were not, however, necessarily pessimistic nor indifferent to social concerns until after the First World War. Postmillennial mission theory in the twentieth century moved first towards an expectation of religious convergence, and, after 1968, towards a theology of the kingdom being realised independently of Christian evangelism. The article concludes with some suggestions for a missionary eschatology founded on the biblical vision of a new heaven and a new earth.

On 30 September 1908 the celebrated Scottish biblical scholar, George Adam Smith, preached a sermon to the autumn session of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), held in Bradford. Smith, at that time a Professor of Old Testament in the United Free Church College in Glasgow, came from stock which had close connections with missions. Throughout his childhood his parents lived at the renowned Baptist mission centre of Serampore, north of Calcutta. His father,

George Smith, had been the editor of two newspapers that owed their origins to the early Baptist missionaries, The Friend of India and The Calcutta Review, and was the biographer of William Carey, Henry Martyn, and Alexander Duff. George Adam Smith chose as the theme of his sermon ‘Mohammedanism and Christianity’. His central concern was to address a problem of theodicy—that is, a question of how to reconcile what appears to be happening in the world with what is known of the character and purpose of God as they are revealed in Scripture:

Among the religions which face us in India and elsewhere, it is of course Mohammedanism which furnishes the most serious and doubtful elements in our anticipations of the future…From the very rise of this Monotheism there has been no greater problem to the faith of Christians, no more obdurate indifference to their Gospel, nor any so dangerous rival in the task of converting the polytheist and idolatrous races of the world.2

He went on to review what he called the ‘awful facts’ of the historical triumph of Islam over Christianity in its original heartlands of Asia Minor and N...

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