Continuing Education with Lamin Sanneh
Last week I participated in an academic conference with the Yale – Edinburgh Group on the History of the Missionary Movement and World Christianity. This is an annual conference sponsored by Professor Lamin Sanneh of Yale Divinity School, Professors Andrew Walls and Brian Stanley of the Centre for the study of World Christianity at Edinburgh University, Scotland. The conference was a fascinating and eclectic mix of world renowned scholars in the area of world Christianity, graduate students, and church leaders from around the world. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to get outside the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) conversations, and connect with the growth, vitality and energy of Christianity all around the world.
It was a particular delight for me to have the opportunity to listen to and have some conversation with Professor Lamin Sanneh. I have been reading his academic work in the area of world Christianity for some time. Most recently, his amazing autobiography, Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an African tells his remarkable life story from his upbringing in a scholarly, aristocratic Moslem home in impoverished Gambia, West Africa to his journey into the Christian faith and now his status as one the leading scholars in World Christianity. His professional career has included teaching positions in Nigeria, Aberdeen, Harvard, and now Yale.
For sure, one of the most influential books for me in the past decade is Lamin Sanneh’s Translating the Message. This is one of the unique, powerful and truly transformative books that has the power to change one’s whole perspective which it did for me. This book changed my understanding of world Christianity and, most of all, helped me appreciate the amazing contribution which the classic missionary movement, including our Presbyterian contributions, made to the vitality of the Christianity in the world today. At the Yale Divinity School website, Sanneh’s biography describes the thesis of Translating the Message this way: “One influential book, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture, argues that Christianity’s success and proliferation, ancient or modern, have hinged on the faith’s ability to translate the gospel from culture to culture, adopting and adapting in local languages and idioms, refusing to enshrine any particular civilization as the exclusive or normative expression of the faith.”
The Yale- Edinburgh group is essentially a collection of scholars and students who seek to follow in the important theological trail blazed by Lamin Sanneh and Andrew Walls in understanding and celebrating world Christianity. Listening to the many papers presented, the discussions, and, maybe most of all, chatting informally with Christians from around the world convinced me again that we must, in our little expression of the church where we are, make an intentional effort to live in a larger, global Church and connect ourselves with the remarkable vitality of Christian faith in our world today.